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Payback for the Straight-shooters


In 1933 the six-month power struggle that had grid-locked the executive branch of the federal government ended with the widely anticipated dismissal of the Attorney General, Huey Pierce Long on Christmas Eve. Less than three years later, the Kingfish would die a tragic and mysterious death at the age of just forty-two.

In July the Justice Department issued federal warrants ordering the arrest of the former governor of New York Al Smith and also Irenee du Pont, a chemical industrialist. Charged with un-American Activities, zealous departmental officials alleged that Smith and du Pont were the financial and organizational backbone of the so-called business plot. The central piece of evidence for such a conspiracy was a sworn deposition presented to Long by the retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler. Old Gimlet Eye claimied to have been offered the all-powerful Cabinet position of Secretary of General Affairs. Such an appointment of super-secretary would of course have reduced the role of President to a figure head, placing the control of the administration firmly in the hands of the military-industrial complex.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt had little cause to doubt either Smedley or Long. Both men were principled lone-wolf individuals of long standing profession who had built untarnished reputations for honesty.

A decade before, it was the case of Cumberland Tel & Tel Co. v. Louisiana Public Service Commission, 260 U.S. 212 that had delivered Long to the national stage. Chief Justice William Howard Taft described Long as one of the best legal minds he had ever encountered after he successfully argued the case on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922. Yet Long's desire for justice had a strong social dimension, declaring proudly that he never took a case against a poor man. Following in the foot-steps of his Revolutionary ancestor Richard Vince, Long was expelled aged just fifteen for petitioning to fire the school principal. Despite winning a debating scholarship, he was too poor to finance textbooks and forced to turn down his place at Louisiana State University. Finally after taking the bar after just one year at the University of Oklahoma School of Law, Long spent a decade in private practice representing small plaintiffs against large businesses, including workers' compensation cases.

Intimately involved with workers' compensation cases himself, Smedley Darlington Butler shared two common traits with Long. A high achiever, Butler was the most decorated Marine in U.S. History by the time of his death (in his book My First Days in the White House, Long stated that, if elected to the presidency, he would name Butler as his Secretary of War). Also a man of the people, Butler addressed the Bonus Army in 1932, backing their demands for the immediate payment of bonuses due them according to the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924. Days later, their tent camps would be destroyed by US Army cavalry troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.

In the 1932 election both Butler and Long had supported Roosevelt, yet FDR was right to sense that both men had moved away from him. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not want to pay the bonus, instead issuing an executive order allowing the enrollment of 25,000 veterans in the Civilian Conservation Corps for work in forests. Realising that both Long and Butler were disimpressed with this watered-down compromise measure, the President feared that the pair would mount their own business counter-coup, going much further than FDR's own plans for a New Deal.

An an ardent critic of the Federal Reserve System, Long was privately advocating a new wealth redistribution measures in the form of a net asset tax on large corporations and individuals of great wealth to curb the poverty and crime resulting from the Great Depression. Yet Long would not live to implement these plans. Running on the Every Man a King platform in the 1936 election with Butler as his running mate, Long was shot dead at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge; he died two days later. His last words were reportedly, God, don't let me die. I have so much left to do. Until his own death in 1940, Butler would allege that fellow serviceman Douglas MacArthur organised the assassination, a central charge in his explosive post-election book, War Is a Racket.

Author's Notes

Today in Alternate History Guest Historian Mr Eric Oppen originated the idea that Huey Long might exploit both ends against each other in the Business Plot, and Mr Robbie Taylor was of a similar mindset. We therefore propelled Long into a more central position in the drama, illustrating the odd paralells between both men from strong religious family backgrounds.

Steve Payne

Editor of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.