Throughout the Great Depression the United States went through tremendous change. When there is a time of great change, there are always people who oppose it, whether the change is good or bad. The issue of this report is not to discuss if the changes in America throughout the depression were positive or negative, but to discuss the people who opposed it; primarily focusing on Huey Long and Charles Coughlin, or Father Coughlin, and their reasoning and methods of protest.
Huey Long and Father Coughlin were extremely influential politicians who opposed the creeping new society of Big Business and high technology. They blamed certain companies and they’re owners (Carnegie, Rockefeller, Pullman, ect.) of Big Business for the financial distraught of America, and were very successful in conveying their argument. However, they were not so successful in achieving their goal in the destruction of this new technological society, for the simple reason that they were too late. The society of America and the world had already turned towards this economic change.
To understand the views of Long and Coughlin you must understand the people that they are. Huey Long was a fiery young man from the start. At the age of twenty he made the prophecy that he would run for election “first to secondary stated office in Louisiana, then for governor, then for United States Senator, and finally for president” (page 8). He had the combination of ruthless ambition, along with compassion of the downtrodden. Throughout his life he completed all of his predictions, except for the most prestigious: the presidency. Many believe the only reason he did not succeed in becoming president is because he was assassinated before he got the chance. He was known to many as “the Kingfish,” referring to his near dictatorship on Louisiana. He constantly went off into filibusters during congressional meetings, whether it be to pursuade against or in favor of a new bill. He killed many bills in this way, many being essentially “dangerous” to the common people. He lived a very flamboyant lifestyle, constantly headlining in the newspaper in one way or another. Even after all the graft and controversy in the Louisiana political system was finally proven after his death, people of Lousianna generally still supported him. His impromptu speeches and campaigning were very appealing to his audiences, as mobs of twenty thousand people clustered to hear him. Longs beliefs that Big Business was corrupting the society were the main platform throughout his political life. At times he was known to filibuster for twelve hours on the injustices that “Mr. Morgan and Mr. Rockefeller” spread on the society. His speaking abilities and his use of radio made him known all over the nation. And finally, he was, if anything, very hard to ignore.
Coughlin, although fundamentally different than Long, used many of the same tactics and ideas as Long. Coughlin was born into a Catholic family in Canada. He virtually had no choice but to become a priest. He went to many very accomplished Catholic schools. He finished top in his class in college, and he taught at the college of Assumption for seven years. These years were rewarding, and he first got involved in society at this time. He soon decided to go the distance and become a parish priest. He made a life time friendship with Bishop Gallagher, who first realized Coughlin’s rare skills. Father Coughlin was given his own parish in a tiny village of North Branch, Michigan. This church is the sight of Coughlins ingenious idea to use radio as a unit of advertising. His first goal in the use of radio was to get people to attend his church, but he soon realized what a gold mine he had run into. As little as two years later the “Radio Priest” had as many as six million people listening to his Sunday sermons at a given time. His charismatic speeches, carefully drawn up each week, caught the United States on fire. Coughlin also started using his newly found power to express some of his political views. He spread his influential opinion on the danger of Big Business and was known to tell tales of “the Carnegies and the Rockefellers.” He denounced “greed, corruption, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of few” (page 96). He also made reference to the plight of farmers, and sometimes even the League of Nations for its international ties. Coughlin had an absolutely huge audience, and he used it to spread upon his ideals for the nation.
All of Huey Long and Father Coughlins ideals stemmed from the then ancient Jeffersonian and Jacksonian times. They, along with Jefferson and Jackson, believed in the common man. They felt that power should be distributed among the masses and not amongst a few select men. They believed a “Nobel Yeoman” or a “Horatio Alger” existed in everybody. They often argued that “no citizen should be allowed to accumulate so much wealth that his ownership of it became injurious to the rest of the community;” (page 145-145). Alan Brinkley so brilliantly states when referring to the Big Businesses as “Large, faceless institutions; wealthy, insulated men; power and controlling wealth that more properly belonged in the hands of ordinary citizens.” Long and Coughlin hailed all these ideals to the public, and like Long and Coughlin the public believed the solution lay in the businesses themselves. But, what most people either failed to understand or failed to admit is that the real problem lay even deeper in the society. The real problem, which obviously does not exclude Big Business, lay deep in the roots of the economic system, and could not be so easily fixed. The Big Businesses and their technology were already a part of American society, and that could not be changed. Coughlin and Long were too late for the issue, although they so brilliantly stated their case.
Long and Coughlin played a huge role in the protest movements during the Depression. Although being somewhat unsuccessful in their overall goal, they did complete many beneficial things. They brought rise to the monopolies during the Depression. They revolutionized the radio. They provided “an affirmation of threatened values and institutions, and a vision of a properly structured society in which those values and institutions could thrive” (page 143). Long and Coughlin were “creations of the moment”, which rested on “some of the oldest and deepest impulses in American political life” (page 144). They gave immediate hope to their followers that the depression could be ended soon. They represented the peoples hopes and dreams, and although both men’s’ dreams ended tragic, they earned their respective place in history.
Brinkley, Alan. Voices of Protest. First Vintage Books Series. Random House Inc., New