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Agrarian Unrest and Huey P. Long


Huey P. Long
Huey P. Long

By 1900 Louisiana’s population was 1,381,625, of whom 287,104 lived in New Orleans. Outside New Orleans the population was overwhelmingly rural and agrarian. From 1900 to 1910 substantial oil deposits were discovered, and, in the next decade, sources of natural gas were uncovered in various parts of the state. The large-scale exploitation of oil and gas resources resulted in much industrial activity in northern Louisiana, particularly at Shreveport. In 1938 more major oil deposits were discovered in the tidelands off the coast. Large-scale exploitation of the offshore deposits, as well as of major coastal deposits, was begun shortly after World War II (1939-1945). The mining of sulfur and salt in southern Louisiana, which began in the 19th century, also stimulated economic growth.

While the development of Louisiana’s mineral resources gave a new measure of strength to the economy, widespread poverty continued to prevail among the farm population. During World War I (1914-1918) a sharp rise in the price of cotton brought about some improvement in the farmers’ lives, but then their situation worsened as cotton prices declined sharply in the early 1920s. The farm recession lingered through the decade.

During the agricultural recession of the 1920s, Huey P. Long rapidly rose in Louisiana politics. In part, Long’s rise was made possible by the hard times and agrarian discontent. Long was known as “Kingfish” and possessed a blunt, freewheeling, even brutal manner that appealed to many poor white Louisianians, particularly in rural parishes. Championing the interests of small farmers and laborers against those of powerful corporations, particularly the Standard Oil Company, Long was elected governor in 1928.

In 1930 he was elected U.S. senator from Louisiana, but he remained governor and did not take his Senate seat until 1932, when his choice for successor became governor. Long maintained almost dictatorial control over the state government until his assassination in 1935. During Long’s political ascendancy, a vast program of public works was instituted in Louisiana, some with state funds, but most with federal assistance. These programs helped to alleviate the economic effects of the disastrous worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s. At the time of his death, however, Long was serving his own political ends by blocking badly needed federal relief and public works programs. After his death, considerable federal funds were spent to relieve the effects of the depression in Louisiana. Long’s political machine—an organization to control public offices and patronage—continued under the leadership of his brother, Earl K. Long, and his son, Russell Long. From 1928 to 1960, the real contest for governor of Louisiana was fought in the primary elections between the Long and anti-Long factions of the Democratic Party. The flamboyant, populist, often corrupt Long faction candidates advocated continuous expansion of state services; they were opposed by reformers who stressed their personal integrity and fiscal conservatism. "Louisiana" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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