The Causes of Inequality in the United States

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Several speeches were presented by American leaders to address the issue of inequality in the nation. The speeches that will be analyzed in this paper are; President Franklin Roosevelt’s “First Inaugural Address” (1933), Franklin Roosevelt’s speech on The Four Freedoms (1941), and Huey Long’s speech “Every Man A King” (1934). The central theme discussed by the three documents is equality. This paper will analyze ways in which Huey Long and Franklin Roosevelt petitioned for equality in the United States during The Great Depression and the Second World War.

Both Franklin Roosevelt and Huey Long support the coverage of the old-age pension stating that the old people should be given money to sustain themselves. Huey Long said, “Another thing we propose is old-age pension of $30 a month for everyone that is 60 years old. Now, we do not give this pension to a man making $1,000 a year, and we do not give it to him if he has $10,000 in property, but outside of that we do.”[1] Huey Long’s program called “Share Our Wealth Society” was aimed at ensuring that people above sixty years of age received an old-age pension of about 30 dollars per month. However, there was some limitation to the people who would receive the pension. In Franklin Roosevelt’s speech on “The Four Freedoms,” he said, “We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-­age pensions and unemployment insurance.”[2]

The two leaders realized that the old people could not work to cater for their needs and they needed to receive an old-age pension. 

Both Franklin Roosevelt and Huey Long advocate for equality in the distribution of wealth and opportunities. Huey Long says, “…it is the fact that the rich people of this country -- and by rich people I mean the super-rich -- will not allow us to solve the problems, or rather the one little problem that is afflicting this country, because in order to cure all of our woes it is necessary to scale down the big fortunes, that we may scatter the wealth to be shared by all of the people.”[3] Huey Long’s speech is mainly about equal distribution of wealth which is in the hands of few men. He claimed that rich people were unwilling to help in solving the domestic issue. Long continues to say, "We hold the view that all men are created equal.”[4] In the Four Freedoms, Roosevelt said, “Equality of opportunity for youth and for others…The ending of special privilege for the few.”[5] He suggested that there should be equal opportunities for all the citizens. When there is equity and equal distribution of wealth, all citizens will be able to cater for their basic needs and cases of starvation will be minimized.

Inequality in the nation led to an increase in the unemployment issue. In his first inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt said, “More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return…Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.”[6]

The high rates of unemployment caused many citizens to struggle to exist and to provide for themselves. He suggests that the solution is to get job opportunities for the citizens who can work. Huey Long says, “…we would have to distribute wealth every so often, in order that there could not be people starving to death in a land of plenty, as there is in America today. We have in American today more wealth, more goods, more food, more clothing, more houses than we have ever had. We have everything in abundance here.”[7] Long’s argument is that even though America is a land of plenty, people still starve due to inability to afford the basic needs. When the rates of unemployment are high, it is difficult for most people to provide their families with basic needs.

Unequal distribution of opportunities and wealth led to economic instability. Huey Long says, “So, we have in America today, my friends, a condition by which about 10 men dominate the means of activity in at least 85 percent of the activities that you own. They own the banks, they own the steel mills, they own the railroads, they own the bonds, they own the mortgages, they own the stores…there is not any kind of business that a small, independent man could go into today and make a living.”[8] Franklin Roosevelt stated that, “Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement…We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.”[9] The two leaders noted that there was an issue with their social economy and it needed to be solved. Almost all the properties were owned by a small percentage of the whole American population.

The US government accumulated a lot of debts due to the inequality in the nation. Huey Long said, “We have in American today, ladies and gentlemen, $272,000,000,000 of debt…The entire currency of the United States is only $6,000,000,000.”[10] It was clear that the US could not pay-off its debts. For this reason, Long proposed that the money owned by the rich people to be decentralized. Franklin Roosevelt mentioned the same issue in his first inaugural address when he said, “…taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade.”[11]

It is evident that the unequal distribution of wealth with most of the people being extremely poor, the nation’s debt had accumulated. The high level of poverty prevented them from paying off the debts.

Both Huey Long and Franklin Roosevelt tried to provide solutions to the national issues related to equality. Huey Long mentions that, “…there should be a guaranty of a family wealth of around $5,000; enough for a home, and automobile, a radio, and the ordinary conveniences, and the opportunity to educate their children.”[12] His society, “Share Our Wealth Society,” aimed at facilitating the equal distribution of wealth. In his first inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt provided one of the solutions by saying, “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”[13]It is evident that both leaders recognize that the problems are solvable and they provide measures to curb the spreading issue. 

The three documents provide detailed information on how the two leaders addressed the issue of inequality in the nation. Similar problems were talked about in the speeches. For instance, both leaders mentioned the need to address unemployment issues, old-age pension, equality in the society, inability to pay off debts, the improvement of the economic state of the nation, and possible solutions to the problems.  The problems mentioned above were as a result of the great depression and the Second World War.


Works cited

McManus, Alex J. Sharing the hate: The Louisiana establishment and Huey Long. Tulane University, 2016.

Roosevelt, Franklin Delano. Great Speeches. Courier Corporation, 2012.

Engel, Jeffrey A., ed. The four freedoms: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the evolution of an American idea. Oxford University Press, 2016.


McManus, Sharing the hate: The Louisiana establishment and Huey Long, 52.


Engel, The four freedoms: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the evolution of an American idea, 102.


McManus, Sharing the hate: The Louisiana establishment and Huey Long, 10.                                                                                                                                        


McManus, Sharing the hate: The Louisiana establishment and Huey Long, 23.


Engel, The four freedoms: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the evolution of an American idea, 100.


Roosevelt, Great Speeches, 43.


McManus, Sharing the hate: The Louisiana establishment and Huey Long, 27.


McManus, Sharing the hate: The Louisiana establishment and Huey Long, 52.


Roosevelt, Great Speeches, 67.


McManus, Sharing the hate: The Louisiana establishment and Huey Long, 72.


Roosevelt, Great Speeches, 105.


McManus, Sharing the hate: The Louisiana establishment and Huey Long, 84.


Roosevelt, Great Speeches, 120.

November 13, 2023
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American History

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