sketch of Long and his meteoric career as a political and social dissenter. Long and other mass leaders -- such as Father Charles Coughlin, Francis E. Town- send, Upton Sinclair, Governor Floyd Olson, and Norman Thomas -- reflect the turbulence of the depression and the deficiencies of the New Deal. They were a vital part of the setting within which Roosevelt maneuvered, and any interpre- tation of the New Deal must come to terms with what they represented and what they might have become.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.: The Messiah of the Rednecks
Of all the national political leaders who competed with Roosevelt for the votes and loyalties of America's restless millions, Huey Long was the most gifted and, until his death in September, 1935, the most successful. Contemporaries knew he was no marginal figure, but a primary politician with an attractive, radical program and a growing audience. Roosevelt him- self judged Long "the second most dangerous man in America" (Douglas MacArthur was the first, in Roosevelt's opinion), and the President came to this view well before receiving reports that Long could poll up to four mil- lion votes on a third-party ticket if he chose to run against the New Deal in 1936. Does the fact that Long -- and others -- could build such a base on the left edge of Roosevelt's New Deal mean that a majority of the voting public was ready for more drastic measures than Roosevelt would attempt?
Long was killed before he could test his belief that the majority of Ameri- cans did want something more radical than the New Deal. Our efforts to judge whether the New Deal actually functioned to restrain social reform, therefore, lead us to his career although we can find no concrete answer there. In speculating whether a New Deal under Huey Long would have led America into more desirable paths, we must first attempt to clarify what sort of political ideas and impulses he really represented. On this there is conflict- ing evidence, and sharp interpretive disagreement. Long saw himself as a man of the left, who would lead the mass of common citizens to reclaim eco- nomic and political power from the capitalist elites -- and without the sacri- fice of any but some of the more tedious trappings of parliamentary democ- racy. Others saw him as a power-hungry dictator with no real commitment to redistribution of wealth and no tolerance of the system of counterbalanc- ing powers which are vital to any democratic social order. The distance be- tween the revolutionary socialist and the fascist is often not so great; Long gave evidence of both inclinations. In the essay below, Arthur M. Schlesin- ger, Jr., presents one of the most vivid and compact portraits of Long in the 1930s. Schlesinger leans to the view that Long would have taken America into dictatorship, probably with a rightist cast. But others, most notably T. Harry Williams in his prize-winning biography, Huey Long ( 1969), see Long
From Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Politics of Upheaval, pp. 15-16, 42-45, 58-68. Copyright © by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Publication information: Book title: Perspectives on 20th Century America:Readings and Commentary. Contributors: Otis L. Graham Jr. - Editor. Publisher: Dodd, Mead. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1973. Page number: 145.
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