Notes Concerning the Author
After receiving his PhD, the Illinois native, Thomas Harry Williams (1909-1979), taught at colleges in Wisconsin and Nebraska. I n 1941, he joined the faculty of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he taught history for 38 years until his death in 1979. Williams authored 20 books, primarily on American history, with such disparate subjects as Abraham Lincoln and P. G. T. Beauregard. His book Huey Long: A Biography was published in 1969, and it won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. Long’s assassination at the State House in Baton Rouge occurred only six years before Williams arrived in the city, so many of Long’s contemporaries were still alive, and Williams was able to interview them while researching his book.
Williams’ biography contains 944 pages of meticulously researched information. We learn about the small, very poor Louisiana parish of Winn, where Huey Long was born in 1893; a parish that did not support the state’s 1861 secession ordinance. In fact, many residents refused to take part in the Confederate military effort and some even supported the Union. Long’s birthplace was a strongly Populist area and the programs Long would later advocate were labeled neo-Populism, especially his “Share The Wealth” proposal.
Huey Long’s formal education was lacking but he was highly intelligent and an overly self-confident man. His speaking and debating skills were ideally suited for politics, and he soon sought the governorship of Louisiana. Once elected, he skillfully manipulated the trappings of the Governor’s office to get elected to the United States Senate. However, he had established such a power base in Louisiana that he was able to hand pick his successor to the governorship, a man that allowed Long to continue dictating state policies. Williams points out that Long’s policies were extreme, many bordering on ruthlessness. All state contracts included requirements for contributions to causes dictated by Long. His propaganda machine diminished and even destroyed political enemies by falsely accusing them of tax evasion and other uncommitted crimes. Long gerrymandered districts to prevent the reelection of officials who refused to kowtow to his demands.
Finally, although I highly recommend this book, I believe that Williams treatment of Huey Long may be too sympathetic and the author tends to embellish Long’s improvement of conditions for Louisiana’s underclass.
Availability of this Book
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