Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

This dissertation argues that there existed in the South between the 1890s and World War II a leftist dissenting tradition which frequently included or had a good deal in common with Socialism. Southern Socialism, broadly defined as a shared set of leftist values among a diverse population, was unique to the region because it was a native-born movement established in response to the region’s unique social, labor, and economic conditions. Huey Long capitalized on this tradition in his rise to power. He went after the voters that political machines and large interests ignored. He echoed the complaints poor Southerners had expressed through Populism, labor unionization, and Socialism for the five decades preceding his gubernatorial election in 1928.

Southern dissidents relied heavily on history to justify their agendas. Long used Thomas Jefferson’s words to mitigate the worst aspects of the Lost Cause as he advocated an alternative vision for the New South. Long, a capitalist with socialist leanings, frequently referenced Jefferson and the Bible to justify the redistribution of wealth; he epitomized and was the culmination of Southern socialist dissent for the period examined.

Long sought to establish a new relationship between the state and individuals. Like other malcontents, he blamed local and national monopolies and their favorable relationship with the government for economic hardship among the common people. Like the Populists and many Socialists before him, Long concerned himself with the “little man” and aimed to establish a government which protected him through his Share Our Wealth program. As a generalized leftist movement, Southern Socialism was influenced by Populist, Socialist, and Progressive values, especially the expansion of educational opportunities and democratic participation.

This dissertation reexamines Long as a serious, if complicated, political figure. Long was a product of the South’s economic depression which predated the Great Depression and he spoke the language of the common people, making him an immensely popular (and incredibly controversial) figure in state and national politics. Long is frequently referred to as a demagogue, which in some ways is true, but he was also far more than that.

Date

5-27-2019

Committee Chair

Isenberg, Nancy

Available for download on Wednesday, May 20, 2026

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