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Huey Long Filibusters New Deal Legislation

June 12-13, 1935

Photo of Senator Huey Long

Described as "the most colorful, as well as the most dangerous, man to engage in American politics," Louisiana's Huey Pierce Long served in the Senate from 1932 until his assassination less than four years later. Today, visitors to his six-foot, eight-inch bronze likeness in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall see this master of the Senate filibuster captured in mid-sentence.

Long gave the Senate's official reporters of debates a Bible because his wife wanted the reporters to "take those supposed quotations you are making from the Bible and fit them into your speeches exactly as they are in the Scripture." She might also have suggested donating a copy of the U.S. Constitution, for he loved to quote his version of that document as well.

On June 12, 1935, the fiery Louisiana senator began what would become his longest and most dramatic filibuster. His goal was to force the Senate's Democratic leadership to retain a provision, opposed by President Franklin Roosevelt, requiring Senate confirmation for the National Recovery Administration's senior employees. His motive was to prevent his political enemies in Louisiana from obtaining lucrative NRA jobs.

Huey Long spoke for 15 hours and 30 minutes, the second-longest Senate filibuster to that time. As day turned to night, he read and analyzed each section of the Constitution, a document he claimed the president's New Deal programs had transformed to "ancient and forgotten lore."

Looking around the chamber at several of his colleagues dozing at their desks, the Louisiana populist suggested to Vice President John Nance Garner, who was presiding, that every senator should be forced to listen to him until excused. Garner replied, "That would be unusual cruelty under the Bill of Rights." Finished with the Constitution, Long asked for suggestions. "I will accommodate any senator on any point on which he needs advice," he threatened. Although no senator took up his offer, reporters in the press gallery did by sending notes to the floor. When these ran out, Long provided his recipes for fried oysters and potlikker. At four in the morning, he yielded to a call of nature and soon saw his proposal defeated. Two days later, however, he was back, refreshed and ready to fight for a liberalization of a controversial new plan known as the Social Security Act.