Americans Listening: Huey Long and Father Coughlin

Maryland State Archives
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Louisiana Governor and United States Senator, Huey P. Long, and Catholic priest, Father Charles E. Coughlin both rose to national prominence during the Great Depression. Both men strongly voiced their concerns about the unbalanced distribution of power and wealth and formed national organizations to promote their causes. They had similar beliefs, goals, tactics, and downfalls. They were charismatic and headstrong during a time when Americans were desperately searching for solutions. Both of their movements were plagued with chaotic and disordered organization. While Long and Coughlin were capable of whipping up emotions and support through passionate radio oratories that appealed to ordinary Americans, neither was able to effectively lead a national organization capable of carrying out the intended goals. Nonetheless, their movements had a wide range of followers across the United States and as such represented a large segment of Americans, downtrodden by the Depression.

Huey Long first entered politics as the Governor of Louisiana in 1928. It was there that his tyrannical characteristics and flamboyant lifestyle became evident to the public. Traditional figures of Southern authority despised him, but he quickly gained a following among small independent farmers. Reminiscent of the 1890s Populist movement, he was the first governor in Louisiana to divide the constituency along real economic lines as opposed to religious, ethnic, or racist lines. He produced entertaining news material because of his outrageous behavior, like wearing green pajamas during business and political meetings. Although his political opponents and the southern upper class accused him of dictatorial practices and using patronage to gain power in office, he still garnered the support of most Louisianans. Long also increased Louisiana's highway system and poured money into Louisiana State University.  

Long was able to spread his popularity first by taking advantage of the radio. Many Americans had a radio in their home by the end of the 1920s and through this device, Long became a household name. In 1932, Senator Long began throwing his energies into a new plan to rid the nation of its most integral problem: the concentration of wealth. His Share Our Wealth Plan and Share Our Wealth Society (established late 1934) proposed a heavy tax on the wealthy and established a maximum limit to accumulated wealth. The plan also guaranteed a specific subsistence level for all citizens. Although Long ignored any detailed questions of how this plan would be instituted and enforced, he had a tremendous national following which proved just how desperate and radical the majority in America had seemingly become. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first “Hundred Days” of New Deal legislation, Long began to criticize the President through his radio addresses for not solving the nation’s economic problems and not redistributing the nation’s wealth among all Americans. Just as he began to gain even more support and threaten the 1936 election for Roosevelt, he was assassinated by a relative of one of his political opponents.

While Long was busy with gubernatorial duties in the South, Father Charles Coughlin was taking advantage of the radio in Detroit, Michigan. Needing to gain financial support for his Church and combat the local anti-Catholic sentiment, Coughlin began delivering religious sermons over the radio in 1926 in what he coined the Radio League of the Little Flower. In his radio sermons, Coughlin increasingly began to express his own concerns about society and politics. As he did so, more desperate Americans of all religions began tuning in to hear the activist priest. Through the National Broadcasting Corporation network, Coughlin’s fantastic energy reached most of the Midwestern cities. As an only child who was babied and spoiled tirelessly by his mother, Coughlin adored the attention and craved more. He learned quickly that social activist sermons would gain him much more celebrity status than religious sermons.

By 1930, Father Coughlin had transitioned his sermons almost entirely into social and political tirades. He fervently attacked communism, the disproportionate concentration of wealth, and Prohibition. He called for a change in the structure of American society to lift the nation from the Depression, but never detailed a specific solution. When he did offer solutions to economic problems, they were overly simplistic and far-fetched. He catered to the opinions of a wide stratum of the population by passionately complaining about the Depression and wealthy businessmen whom he believed brought the nation to its desperate state of affairs. Eventually, his sermons became so controversial that all the major networks refused to provide him airtime, and instead he created his own network out of Detroit. In 1934, Coughlin organized his supporters and formed the National Union for Social Justice whose main objectives were to engage in rallies for and against political candidates. Through this organization, Coughlin attacked New Deal reforms (which he deemed not radical enough) and pushed tirelessly for absolute federal control of the country’s economic system. In 1932 just before his election, Roosevelt met with and charmed the popular Coughlin. Walking away from the meeting voicing his full support of the democratic candidate for President, Coughlin showered Roosevelt with adulation on his radio programs and was convinced that the President would take his advice on the economic future of the nation. Coughlin believed the New Deal programs started off well, but by 1934 he criticized them for not completely ridding the nation of its economic woes. His reverence for the President began to dwindle because he felt he had been cheated, mislead, and most importantly because Roosevelt was not instituting his economic reforms. By 1935, Roosevelt successfully rid his administration of any threat posed by Coughlin. In a series of political maneuvers, the President dissolved any influence Coughlin had on incumbent Congressmen and although Coughlin remained in the public eye for many years thereafter, Americans had devoted their full support to Roosevelt above and beyond the radio priest.

The two men were most similar in that they were the last remnants of an old, yet not forgotten, Populist ideology. The transformation of America from a small community based rural society to a large modernized urban industrial nation occurred gradually and not without challenges from the mass population. The Populist movement, which confronted these societal changes and especially the centralization of power and wealth, did not completely die out in the 1890s. Its ideology and concerns lingered within some areas of the country and by the 1930s had reemerged in a new yet familiar form, as evident by the enormous popularity of both Long and Coughlin.

SOURCES: Brinkley, Alan. Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the Great Depression. New York: Vintage Books, 1982.

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 7: The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Standard 3: How the United States changed from the end of World War I to the eve of the Great Depression.

Standard 3C: The student understands how new cultural movements reflected and changed American society.

5-12: Analyze how radio, movies, newspapers, and popular magazines created mass culture. [Examine the influence of ideas]

 Era 8: The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)

Standard 1: The causes of the Great Depression and how it affected American society.

Standard 1B: The student understands how American life changed during the 1930s.

7-12: Analyze the impact of the Great Depression on industry and workers and explain the response of local and state officials in combating the resulting economic and social crises. [Analyze multiple causation] 

Standard 2: How the New Deal addressed the Great Depression, transformed American federalism, and initiated the welfare state.

Standard 2C: The student understands opposition to the New Deal, the alternative programs of its detractors, and the legacy of the New Deal. 

7-12: Identify the leading opponents of New Deal policies and assess their arguments. [Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas and values] 

5-12: Evaluate the significance and legacy of the New Deal. [Evaluate the implementation of a decision] 

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION:  A more well-to-do miner listening to the radio when he returns home in the morning after working on the night shift. He is Polish, his wife Hungarian. These "foreigners" are generally thrifties and their houses are cleaner than the Negros or "Americans." Westover, West Virginia.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1938 September
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    SOURCE:  America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC

  2. DESCRIPTION:  Huey tells them about it
    SOURCE:  New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to obtain copies of this item
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC
  3. DESCRIPTION:  Huey P. Long, half-length portrait, standing, facing left, gesturing with both arms, as he speaks
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Between 1933 and 1935
    SOURCE:  New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to obtain copies of this item
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC
  4. DESCRIPTION:  Herr Adolf Hitler and Huey S. ("Hooey") Long versus Josef Stalin and Benito Mussolini
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to obtain copies of this item
    SOURCE:  Caroline and Erwin Swann Collection of Caricature & Cartoon
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC

  5. DESCRIPTION:  "Social Justice," founded by Father Coughlin, sold on important street corners and intersections. New York City.
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    SOURCE:  America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC

  6. DESCRIPTION: Royal Oak, Michigan. Father Coughlin's Shrine of the Little Flower. 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1939 December
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    SOURCE:  America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, DC

  7. DESCRIPTION:  Father Coughlin addresses convention
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to obtain copies of this item
    SOURCE:  New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection.
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC
  8. DESCRIPTION:  Royal Oak, Michigan. A family listening to the radio and reading Father Coughlin's newspaper "Social justice"
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1939 December
    REPRODUCTIONS: How To obtain copies of this item
    SOURCE:  Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC
  9. DESCRIPTION:  Father Coughlin addresses large Cleveland rally
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to obtain copies of this item
    SOURCE:  New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC
  10. DESCRIPTION:  Father Coughlin, full-length from behind, with arms raised and holding a bible, facing a crowd of striking workers with two sheriffs(?) standing behind him
    REPRODUCTIONS: How to obtain copies of this item
    SOURCE:  Ben and Beatrice Goldstein Foundation Collection
    REPOSITORY:  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC
  11. DESCRIPTION:  "Share the Wealth": Huey Long Talks to the Nation
    SOURCE:  Courtesy of Andy Lanset.
    REPOSITORY:  George Mason University
  12. DESCRIPTION:  Huey Long speaks on his "Share the Wealth" Program
    SOURCE:  Eyewitness to
  13. DESCRIPTION:  Sample of Coughlin Radio Broadcast
    NOTES: In this excerpt from a broadcast in 1937, Coughlin is discoursing on the subject of Christianity vs. Communism. He is doing a "Q & A" format with another priest who is posing questions for Coughlin to answer. In this brief clip, Coughlin is contrasting the "Christian" approach to the issue of a "living wage" to that of the Communists. Implicitly, he is criticizing the traditional free-market philosophy of wages. Although he is criticizing capitalism, he is not endorsing communism or socialism. Like Huey Long, Coughlin was in some respects a political populist, for whom a critique of capitalism did not imply an embrace of left-wing alternatives. Populism as a political tradition was very much an active force during the Depression-era, and a major part of Coughlin's appeal was his ability to sound the clarion call of populist sentiment.
    SOURCE:  Social Security Online: History
    REPOSITORY:  Social Security Administration History Archives
  14. DESCRIPTION: "Somebody Must Be Blamed": Father Coughlin Speaks to the Nation
    NOTESThis 1937 sermon, “Twenty Years Ago,” reflected much of what made Coughlin popular.
    SOURCE:  Courtesy of Andy Lanset.
    REPOSITORY:  George Mason University

Additional Media Resources

Social Security Online: Huey Long

Louisiana Secretary of State: Huey Pierce Long

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: Long, Huey Pierce

The Louisiana Almanac: Huey Long

Huey Long PBS

Radio Memories: Father Coughlin

Additional Instructional Resources 

Huey Long for Educators, PBS

"The Riddle of the Kingfish"

The Stock Market Crash and the Origins of the New Deal, 1929-1935

Secondary Resources

Huey Long

Abernathy, Elton. “Huey Long: Oratorical ‘Wealth Sharing’.” Southern Speech Journal 21 (Winter 1955): 87-102.

Ader, Emile B. “An Analysis of the Campaign Techniques and Appeals of Huey P. Long.” Master’s thesis, Tulane University of Louisiana, 1942.

Beals, Carleton. The Story of Huey P. Long. 1935. Reprint. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1971.

Bormann, Ernest Gorden. “A Rhetorical Analysis of the National Radio Broadcasts of Senator Huey P. Long.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Iowa, 1953.

Brinkley, Alan. “Comparative Biography as Political History: Huey Long and Father Coughlin.” History Teacher 18 (November 1984): 9-16.

___. “Huey Long, The Share Our Wealth Movement, and the Limits Of Depression Dissidence.” Louisiana History 22 (Spring 1981): 117-34.

Brogan, Hugh. All Honorable Men: Huey Long, Robert Moses, Estes Kefauver, Richard J. Daley. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Cassity, Michael J. “Huey Long: Barometer of Reform in the New Deal.” South Atlantic Quarterly 72 (Spring 1973): 255-69.

Christman, Henry M., ed. Kingfish to America, Share Our Wealth: Selected Senatorial Papers of Huey P. Long. New York: Schocken Books, 1985.

Cortner, Richard C. The Kingfish and the Constitution: Huey Long, the First Amendment, and the Emergence of Modern Press Freedom in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Davis, Forrest. Huey Long: A Candid Biography. New York: Dodge Publishing Co., 1935.

Dethloff, Henry C. “The Longs: Revolution or Populist Retrenchment?” Louisiana History 19 (Fall 1978): 401-12.

___, ed. Huey P. Long: Southern Demagogue or American Democrat? Boston: Heath, 1967.

Fields, Harvey G. A True History of the Life, Works, Assassination, and Death of Huey Pierce Long. Farmerville, LA: Fields Publishing Agency, 1945.

Fineran, John Kingston. The Career of a Tinpot Napoleon. New Orleans LA: J.K. Fineran, 1932.

Gaske, Paul C. “Huey Pierce Long, Jr.” In American Orators of the Twentieth Century: Critical Studies and Sources, edited by Bernard K. Duffy and Halford R. Ryan, pp. 291-97. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.

Gillette, Michael L. “Huey Long and the Chaco War.” Louisiana History 11 (Fall 1970): 290-311.

Graham, Hugh Davis, ed. Huey Long. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Haas, Edward F. “Black Cat, Uncle Earl, Edwin and the Kingfish: The Wit of Modern Louisiana Politics.” Louisiana History 29 (Summer 1988): 213-27.

___. “Huey Long and the Communists.” Louisiana History 32 (Winter 1991): 29-46.

Hair, William Ivy. The Kingfish and His Realm: The Life and Times of Huey P. Long. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

Harris, Thomas O. The Kingfish, Huey P. Long, Dictator. New Orleans: Pelican Publishing Co., 1938.

Hodges, James Curtis. “The Politics of Huey P. Long.” Master’s thesis, Louisiana State University, 1940.

Hotaling, Burton L. “Huey Pierce Long as Journalist and Propagandist.” Journalism Quarterly 20 (March 1943): 21-29.

Jeansonne, Glen. “Challenge to the New Deal: Huey P. Long and the Redistribution of National Wealth.” Louisiana History 21 (Fall 1980): 331-39.

___. “Huey Long and Racism.” Louisiana History 33 (Summer 1992): 265-82.

___. “Huey P. Long, Gerald L. K. Smith and Leander H. Perez as Charismatic Leaders.” Louisiana History 35 (Winter 1994): 5-21.

___. “Huey P. Long: A Political Contradiction.” Louisiana History 31 (Winter 1990): 373-85.

___. Messiah of the Masses: Huey P. Long and the Great Depression. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1993.

___., ed. Huey at 100: Centenniel Essays on Huey P. Long. Ruston, LA: McGinty Publications, 1995.

Jones, Terry L. “An Administration Under Fire: The Long-Farley Affair of 1935.” Louisiana History 28 (Winter 1987): 5-17.

Kane, Harnett Thomas. Huey Long’s Louisiana Hayride: The American Rehearsal for Dictatorship, 1928-1940. 1941. Rev. ed. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 1970. Originally published as Louisiana Hayride.

King, Peter J. “Huey Long: The Louisiana Kingfish.” History Today 14 (March 1964): 151-60.

Leuchtenburg, William E. “FDR and the Kingfish.” American Heritage(October/November 1985): 57-63.

LeVert, Suzanne. Huey Long: The Kingfish of Louisiana. New York: Facts on File, 1994.

Long, Huey Pierce. Every Man A King. 1933. Reprint. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1964.

___. My First Days in the White House. 1935. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1996.

Louisiana State Museum. Huey Pierce Long, The Martyr of the Age. Edited by James J.A. Fortier. New Orleans: Press of T.J. Moran’s Sons, 1937.

Luthin, Reinhard H. “Huey P. Long: The Louisiana Kingfish.” In American Demagogues: Twentieth Century, pp. 236-71. 1954. Reprint. Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1959.

Malone, David. Hattie and Huey: An Arkansas Tour. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1989.

Martin, Thomas. Dynasty: The Longs of Louisiana. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1960.

McSween, Harold B. “Huey Long at His Centenary.” Virginia Quarterly Review 29 (Summer 1993): 509-20.

Moreau, John Adam. “Huey Long and His Chroniclers.” Louisiana History 6 (Spring 1965): 121-39.

Mugleston, William F. “Cornpone and Potlikker: A Moment of Relief in the Great Depression.” Louisiana History 16 (Summer 1975): 279-88.

Opotowsky, Stan. The Longs of Louisiana. New York: Dutton, 1960.

Schott, Matthew J. “Huey Long: Progressive Backlash?” Louisiana History 27 (Spring 1986): 133-45.

Sindler, Allan P. Huey Long’s Louisiana: State Politics, 1920-1952. 1956. Reprint of 1968 ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Smith, Webster. The Kingfish, A Biography of Huey Long. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1933.

Snyder, Robert E. “The Concept of Demagoguery: Huey Long and His Literary Critics.” Louisiana Studies 15 (Spring 1976): 61-83.

___. “Huey Long and the Cotton-Holiday Plan of 1931.” Louisiana History 18 (Spring 1977): 133-60.

___. “Huey Long and the Presidential Election of 1936.” Louisiana History 16 (Spring 1975): 117-43.

Swan, George Steven. “A Preliminary Comparison of Long’s Louisiana and Duplessis’ Quebec.” Louisiana History 25 (Summer 1984): 289-319.

Towns, Stuart. “A Louisiana Medicine Show: The Kingfish Elects an Arkansas Senator.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 25 (Summer 1966): 117-27.

U.S. Congress. House. Memorial Services Held in the House of Representatives of the United States. 74th Cong., 2d sess., 1936. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1936.

Vaughn, Courtney. “The Legacy of Huey Long.” Louisiana History 20 (Winter 1979): 93-101.

Whisenhunt, Donald W. “Huey Long and the Texas Cotton Acreage Control Law of 1931.” Louisiana Studies 13 (Summer 1974): 142-53.

Williams, T. Harry. “The Gentleman from Louisiana: Demogogue or Democrat.” Journal of Southern History 26 (February 1960): 3-21.

___. Huey Long. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969.

___. “Huey, Lyndon, and Southern Radicalism.” Journal of American History 60 (September 1973): 267-93.

___. “The Politics of the Longs.” Georgia Review 15 (Spring 1961): 20-33.

Williams, T. Harry, and John Milton Price. “The Huey Long Papers at Louisiana State University.” Journal of Southern History 36 (May 1970): 256-61.

Father Coughlin

Atkinson, Terry. 1988. "Television Reviews: 'Radio Priest' shows televangelists have no new tricks." The Los Angeles Times , 13 December, 6,9.

Athans, Christine Mary. 1991. The Coughlin-Fahey Connection: Father Charles E. Coughlin, Father Denis Fahey, C.S.Sp., and Religious Anti-Semitism in the United States, 1938-1954. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

 Brinkley, Alan. 1991. "Father Charles E. Coughlin (Catholic priest and political activist)." The Reader's Companion to American History , January, 242.

Carpenter, Ronald H. 1998. Father Charles E. Coughlin: Surrogate spokesman for the disaffected. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press.

"Charles Edward Coughlin." 1999. Religious Leaders of America , 2nd ed. Gale Group.

Coughlin, Charles E. 1971. "A Series of Lectures on Social Justice." New York: De Capo Press.

Coughlin, Charles E. 1936. "Money! Questions and Answers." Royal Oak, Michigan: The National Union for Social Justice.

Fitzgerald, Joe. 1994. "Dont blame movement for actions of madman." The Boston Herald , 2 August, 4.

Freedman, Samuel G. 1996. "The Father Coughlin of 1996." The New York Times, 25 February, 15.

Kazin, Michael. 1995. "The first radio populist: a lesson from the 1930s." Tikkun, 10 (1), 37-41.

Schroth, Raymond A. 1997. "Radio Priest: Father Coughlin: The Father of Hate Radio." National Catholic Reporter, 33 (20), 15.

Kernan, William. 1940. The Royal Oak Ghost. Binghamton, NY: Vail-Ballou Press.

Sherrill, Robert. 1982. "American Demagogues." The New York Times , 11 July, 13.

Spivak, John L. 1940. Shrine of the Silver Dollar. New York: Modern Age Books, Inc.

Stevens, Carol & Richard A. Ryan. 1996. "Buchanan's fiery rhetoric reminds some of Coughlin." The Detroit News, 3 March.

Tull, Charles J. 1965. Father Coughlin and the New Deal. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Warren, Donald. 1996. Radio Priest: Father Coughlin: The Father of Hate Radio. New York: The Free Press.

Huey Long & Father Coughlin

Brinkley, Alan. Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982.

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

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This document packet was researched and developed by Sarah Davis.

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