Excerpts From Huey Long's "Second Autobiography"
Wherein a New President Takes Office and Outlines a Program to Share Our Wealth
IT HAD happened. The people had endorsed my plan for the redistribution of wealth and I was President of the United States. I had just sworn upon the Bible from which my father read to us as children to uphold the Constitution and to defend my country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Yet standing there on the flag-draped platform erected above the East portico of the Capitol, delivering my inaugural address, it all seemed unreal. I felt that I was dreaming. The great campaign which was destined to save America from Communism and Fascism was history. Other politicians had promised to re-make America; I had promised to sustain it.
The campaign had been bitter. I was cartooned and caricatured unmercifully in some of the newspapers. . .
As my eyes swept the throng before me, I paused in my inaugural address and looked into the face of the retiring president. He seemed worn and tired. He wore the same expression of resigned fatigue that I had observed in the face of President Hoover on Inauguration Day in 1933 when Mr. Roosevelt declared so confidently that: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
And with all humility, fully conscious of the solemnity of the promise I was making, I laid aside my prepared speech and closed my inaugural address extemporaneously with these words:
"I promise life to the guaranties of our immortal document, the Declaration of Independence, which has decreed that all shall be born equal, and by this I mean that children shall not come into this life burdened with debt, but on the contrary, shall inherit the right to life, liberty and such education and training as qualifies them and equips them to take their proper rank in the pursuance of the occupation and vocation wherein they are worth most to themselves and to this country. And now I must be about my work."
The former president arose and seized my hands. He shouted something in my ear but his words were drowned by the roar from the crowd.
I left the platform immediately. The secret service men hurried me into an open car. On the twelve-minute ride to the White House we went down historic Pennsylvania Avenue, where hundreds of thousands of people lined the curb. When I reached the White House, into which so many Presidents had entered in confusion and from which they had departed in bewilderment, I sensed anew the tremendous responsibilities I had assumed as President of the United States. . .
Installed as the Chief Executive of the United States, and officially acting as such, I drafted a message to the Senate of the United States, as follows:
To the Senate of the United States:
I have the honor to nominate, and by and with your consent will appoint the following members of my cabinet, viz:
For Secretary of State: William E. Borah of Idaho.
For Secretary of the Treasury: James Couzens of Michigan.
For Secretary of War: Smedley D. Butler of Pennsylvania.
For Secretary of the Navy: Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York.
For Secretary of the Interior: Major General Lytle Brown of Tennessee.
For Secretary of Commerce: Herbert Hoover of California.
For Attorney General: Frank Murphy of Michigan.
For Secretary of Labor: Edward Heating of Colorado.
The farmers' organizations throughout the country had for many years been promised an administration of the Department of Agriculture by persons experienced in the farm work and problems. I concluded, at last, to make this promise a reality. Therefore, I announced that my choice for Secretary of Agriculture would be made from the recommendations of the farm organizations. . . I called my secretary and dispatched two messages to the Senate, inasmuch as I desired to send a special message to indicate the method by which the Postmaster General and Secretary of Agriculture had been selected. The Senate was to meet in special session at four o'clock for the purpose of receiving my cabinet nominations.
Then, I drew forward another form, used for the appointment of officials directly under the President. On it, I wrote:
The White House, January 20, 1937.
I hereby appoint Alfred E. Smith to be Director of the Budget.
HUEY PIERCE LONG.
All nominations were confirmed by the Senate at four o'clock P. M., without debate. . .
The appointments were entirely unexpected for not even the men I had selected for my Cabinet had the slightest suspicion that they were to be named.
About Senator Borah's acceptance I had no doubt. I knew him as a great public servant, an honest man and a man of great courage. He would not hesitate to accept the responsibilities of the State Department, I was certain, and later events proved that my faith was not misplaced.
Soon after I had sent the cabinet names to the Senate, my secretary informed me that Mr. Hoover was trying to get me on the telephone from Palo Alto, California. I had the call transferred to my study and after I had identified myself I heard the voice of that Quaker gentleman say:
"Er-r-r-r, Mr. President--er-r-r, this is Hoover. Is it true that you have tendered me the position of Secretary of Commerce?"
I said I had sent his name to the Senate.
"But, Mr. President, I should have been consulted," the former President said. "This has placed me in a very embarrassing position."
"In what way, Mr. Hoover?" I inquired.
"Why, I am a former President of the United States, and it's a terrible step down for me to be asked to serve in your cabinet," he replied.
"Now let me put you straight," I said. "You say you are being embarrassed because, as a former President of the United States, it would be a step down for you to serve as a cabinet officer under another President. Just what is your position in public life today, Mr. Hoover?"
He hesitated and then:
"Well, suppose I decline any appointment upon the ground that I do not care to be associated with you?" came the now steady tones of the Quaker gentleman.
"All right, Mr. Hoover," I replied. "That is something for you to decide in your own conscience. I shall not attempt to influence you. It is something between you and the American people. You will have to explain to them why you will not serve your country again in its hour of need."
Mr. Hoover's voice lost its angry tone.
"All right, Mr. President," he replied. "I will consider it."
My secretary entered the room as I concluded my talk with Mr. Hoover.
"Governor Smith is here and wants to talk to you," my secretary said. "He looks madder than when he lost the nomination at Chicago."
A moment later, Alfred E. Smith entered the executive office.. He wore an overcoat and carried a derby hat in his hand.
"How are you, Governor?" I inquired, speaking first. I arose and held out my hand. My friendly attitude halted the storm of words that he apparently intended to say. He crossed the room and, somewhat hesitantly, shook hands with me.
"How are you, Governor ?" I asked again. "You're looking fit."
"I'm feeling fine, thank you," he responded. Then, unable to restrain himself another moment, he ejaculated:
"Say, Huey, what's the big idea?"
"Fine," I replied. "We agree right off the bat."
"What do you mean, agree?" he demanded.
"We agree your appointment as Director of the Budget is a big idea," I informed him. "I think it's better than big; I think it's a grand idea, or I wouldn't have appointed you. Here is your commission."
I handed him the executive order, naming him Director of the Budget. He took the paper and looked at it a moment.
"I can't understand your action," he said. "We've been political enemies for years. Why, in the Roosevelt campaign, I told his managers I wouldn't take the stump for him if they let you go out for him."
"Yes," I retorted, "and long before that I found out what a mistake I had' made when I tried to talk the people into electing you President of the United States. I guess I didn't do so badly at that, because if I had recommended Hoover that year, I would have had as much to apologize for." "And yet you have appointed both Hoover and me?" he inquired wonderingly.
"Not as President, Al,--and not as assistant President, but as men with vision and capacity to administer big jobs."
"It's preposterous," he said. "Do you think my ideas would change toward you? How well do you think you and I would get along together?"
"I've taken a page from your own political career, Al," I continued, "I have studied your record as Governor of New York. I found that you sought out the finest type of men, the best qualified men for the public appointments you made, though once in a while you let political consideration enter into your decisions.
"I want you to know why I named you. I know you are the father of the budget. As Governor of New York, you were the first man in public life to budget the appropriations. After that the Federal government established a budget and created the office of Director of the Budget. So you really are the father of this job."
"Huey; you amaze me," he ejaculated. "I thought you were naming me for the publicity of the thing."
"Well," I said, "I intend asking Congress to elevate the Director of the Budget to the Cabinet." . .
I had been told that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt would leave after the inaugural ceremonies to take a rest on an estate just outside Washington. Some minutes after ten o'clock that night I was called to the telephone.
I heard a voice:
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt. The last time he called me by that title was in greeting me in a telephone conversation the day before he was nominated for the Presidency by the Democratic convention at Chicago in 1932.
"Yes, Mr. President," I answered.
"What in the world do you mean by offering me a cabinet post, after all the things you have said about me as President?" he demanded.
"I only offered you a position which I thought you were qualified to fill."
"Well, I thank you for the gesture, Huey, but I can't feel that you have complimented me very much."
"Why not, Frank?"
"Well, it's a terrible fall from the Presidency to the Secretaryship of the Navy," he replied.
"You sound just like Hoover," I said, "but he couldn't call to mind any position he held just now.',
"Well, Huey, I'll have to give this more consideration," the former President told me. "I had a statement all prepared here, declining, but I'll destroy it. Say, suppose I accept and fail to become the best Secretary ? What's the penalty then ?"
"In that case," I replied, "people will hold me responsible, and they may punish me for your failure."
The former President chuckled:
"Well, Huey, that's almost reason enough to accept the position. You'll hear from me later."
It soon became practically certain that all members of the cabinet, as selected, would accept.
My worries about the completion of my cabinet being almost over, I undertook to set in motion my plan for a redistribution of the nation's wealth.
My plan was outlined in my first legislative message to the Congress, which I delivered orally on the second day of my Presidency. In it I recommended the creation of a giant national organization for a survey of all wealth and poverty. It was the first step in carrying out the Share Our Wealth program. . .