The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

rights record, and his long-standing ties with organized crime-a subject il-
luminated by the authors' judicious use of FBI files.
Earl K. Long has many strengths, but it also has its limitations. The book is
almost devoid of electoral analysis, a serious oversight in a study of mass poli-
tics. Although Kurtz and Peoples tell us a great deal about Earl Long, they tell
us next to nothing about the thousands of Louisianans who voted for him. The
authors reconstruct the grass-roots political culture of Louisiana from the top
down, reinforcing the stereotype that constituents are passive and relatively
unimportant historical characters. Kurtz and Peoples have given us an emi-
nently readable biography, free of social science jargon. But they have done so
at the expense of social history.
The book also suffers from a curious disjunction between the early chapters,
which offer an overly harsh portrait of the politics of Longism, and the con-
cluding chapters, which flirt with pro-Long hagiography. The depiction of
Long as a racial liberal is overdrawn, and the assertion that "his tangible record
in office shows that he fulfilled more than 98 percent of his campaign prom-
ises" (p. 261) is implausible and almost certainly unprovable, at least at this level
of precision. Similarly, the conclusion that Earl Long "was the true people's
politician, living and dying in his ceaseless crusade for the poor" (p. 272) is a
hyperbolic overstatement that Earl himself would have relished. Such misstate-
ments, though problematic, represent minor problems in an otherwise fine bi-
ography. Kurtz and Peoples devoted twenty years to this study, and they should
be proud of the result. After two decades of research in the bayous and cane-
brakes, who among us could claim total immunity to the charms of Uncle Earl?
University of South Florida RAYMOND ARSENAULT
Arkansas Democratzc Politzcs, 1896-1920. By Richard L. Niswonger. (Fayette-
ville: University of Arkansas Press, 1990. Pp. 332. Preface, index, notes,
appendix, bibliographical essay. $29.95.)
During the Populist and Progressive era, the Democratic party maintained
firm control over Arkansas politics. Although the state remained one of the
most rural, the People's party never seriously threatened Democratic domi-
nance. That resulted in no small part from election laws- that the Democrats
pushed through early in the 1890os, one of which shifted control of election ma-
chinery from county judges to the State Board of Election Commissioners,
while the other, a poll tax, substantially reduced the voting strength of blacks
and poor whites. With an electorate confined largely to middle-class whites, a
negative view of government prevailed during the 1890os.
Developments that became pronounced early in the twentieth century led
the Arkansas democracy to embrace Progressivism. The first manifestation of
the new movement embodied the idiom and appeal of Populism. Capitalizing
on the shift to direct primaries, Jeff Davis went over the heads of established
party leaders and took his campaign to the rural electorate. Like other south-
ern demagogues of that era, he appealed strongly to anti-Negro sentiment, but

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed August 21, 2014.