Union Party (United States)
The Union Party was a short-lived political party
Political party
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating their own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, formed in 1936 by a coalition of radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

 Father Charles Coughlin
Charles Coughlin
Father Charles Edward Coughlin was a controversial Roman Catholic priest at Royal Oak, Michigan's National Shrine of the Little Flower church. He was one of the first political leaders to use radio to reach a mass audience, as more than thirty million tuned to his weekly broadcasts during the...

, old-age pension
In general, a pension is an arrangement to provide people with an income when they are no longer earning a regular income from employment. Pensions should not be confused with severance pay; the former is paid in regular installments, while the latter is paid in one lump sum.The terms retirement...

 advocate Francis Townsend
Francis Townsend
Dr. Francis Everett Townsend was an American physician who was best known for his revolving old-age pension proposal during the Great Depression. Known as the "Townsend Plan," this proposal influenced the establishment of the Roosevelt administration's Social Security system...

, and Gerald L. K. Smith
Gerald L. K. Smith
Gerald Lyman Kenneth Smith was an American clergyman and political organizer, who became a leader of the Share Our Wealth movement during the Great Depression and later the Christian Nationalist Crusade...

, who had taken control of Huey Long
Huey Long
Huey Pierce Long, Jr. , nicknamed The Kingfish, served as the 40th Governor of Louisiana from 1928–1932 and as a U.S. Senator from 1932 to 1935. A Democrat, he was noted for his radical populist policies. Though a backer of Franklin D...

's Share Our Wealth
Share Our Wealth
Share Our Wealth was a movement begun during the Great Depression by Huey Long, a governor and later United States Senator from Louisiana.-Major provisions of "Share Our Wealth":The key planks of the Share Our Wealth platform included:...

 movement after Long's assassination in 1935. Each of those people hoped to channel their wide followings into support for the Union Party, which proposed a populist
Populism can be defined as an ideology, political philosophy, or type of discourse. Generally, a common theme compares "the people" against "the elite", and urges social and political system changes. It can also be defined as a rhetorical style employed by members of various political or social...

 alternative to the New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

 reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 during the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...



Many observers at the time felt that there was a place for a party more radical
Extremism is any ideology or political act far outside the perceived political center of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common moral standards...

 than Roosevelt and the Democrats but still non-Marxist
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

 in the political
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

 spectrum of the time.

Rumored political aspirations of Huey Long

Although many people expected Huey Long, the colorful Democratic senator from Louisiana, to run as a third-party candidate with his "Share Our Wealth" program as his platform, his bid was cut short when he was assassinated in September 1935.

It was later revealed by historian and Long biographer T. Harry Williams
T. Harry Williams
Thomas Harry Williams was an award-winning historian at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge whose career began in 1941 and extended for thirty-eight years until his death at the age of seventy...

 that the senator had never, in fact, intended to run for the presidency in 1936. Instead, he had been planning with Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest
Priesthood (Catholic Church)
The ministerial orders of the Catholic Church include the orders of bishops, deacons and presbyters, which in Latin is sacerdos. The ordained priesthood and common priesthood are different in function and essence....

 and populist
Populism can be defined as an ideology, political philosophy, or type of discourse. Generally, a common theme compares "the people" against "the elite", and urges social and political system changes. It can also be defined as a rhetorical style employed by members of various political or social...

 talk radio
Talk radio
Talk radio is a radio format containing discussion about topical issues. Most shows are regularly hosted by a single individual, and often feature interviews with a number of different guests. Talk radio typically includes an element of listener participation, usually by broadcasting live...

 personality, to run someone else on the soon-to-be-formed Share Our Wealth Party ticket. According to Williams, the idea was that this candidate would split the left-wing
Left-wing politics
In politics, Left, left-wing and leftist generally refer to support for social change to create a more egalitarian society...

 vote with President Roosevelt, thereby electing a Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 president and proving the electoral appeal of SOW. Long would then wait four years and run for president as a Democrat in 1940.

Prior to Long's death, leading contenders for the role of the sacrificial 1936 candidate included Senators
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 Burton K. Wheeler
Burton K. Wheeler
Burton Kendall Wheeler was an American politician of the Democratic Party and a United States Senator from 1923 until 1947.-Early life:...

 (D-Montana) and William E. Borah
William Edgar Borah
William Edgar Borah was a prominent Republican attorney and longtime United States Senator from Idaho noted for his oratorical skills and isolationist views. One of his nicknames later in life was "The Lion of Idaho."...

 (R-Idaho), and Governor
Governor of Minnesota
The Governor of Minnesota is the chief executive of the U.S. state of Minnesota, leading the state's executive branch. Forty different people have been governors of the state, though historically there were also three governors of Minnesota Territory. Alexander Ramsey, the first territorial...

 Floyd B. Olson
Floyd B. Olson
Floyd Bjørnstjerne Olson was an American politician. He served as the 22nd Governor of Minnesota from January 6, 1931 to August 22, 1936. He died in office from stomach cancer. He was a member of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, and was the first member of the Farmer-Labor Party to win the...

 (FL-Minnesota). After the assassination, however, the two senators lost interest in the idea (Borah ran as a Republican, garnering only a few delegates and losing the nomination to Kansas governor Alf Landon
Alf Landon
Alfred Mossman "Alf" Landon was an American Republican politician, who served as the 26th Governor of Kansas from 1933–1937. He was best known for being the Republican Party's nominee for President of the United States, defeated in a landslide by Franklin D...

) and Olson was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer
Stomach cancer
Gastric cancer, commonly referred to as stomach cancer, can develop in any part of the stomach and may spread throughout the stomach and to other organs; particularly the esophagus, lungs, lymph nodes, and the liver...


Problems and controversies

The Union Party suffered from a multiplicity of problems almost from the moment of its inception. A primary one was that each of the party's three principal leaders seemingly saw himself, not its Presidential
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 nominee William Lemke
William Lemke
William Frederick Lemke was a United States politician.-Life and career:He was born in Albany, Minnesota, and raised in Towner County, North Dakota, the son of Fred Lemke and Julia Anna Klier, pioneer farmers who had accumulated some of land...

, as the real power figure and natural leader of the party. His charisma attracted more people than did the other candidates. Another was that each man's movement was largely held together by personality more than a truly cohesive ideology: in the case of Coughlin and Townsend their own personalities; in the case of Smith, the memory of the late Huey Long's charisma
The term charisma has two senses: 1) compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others, 2) a divinely conferred power or talent. For some theological usages the term is rendered charism, with a meaning the same as sense 2...

tic personality. Smith himself was considered a far less charismatic figure. Some critics charged that the Union Party was in fact controlled by Father Coughlin, a former Roosevelt supporter who had broken with Roosevelt and by 1936 had become an antisemite. Smith had also turned to antisemitism, which was not consistent with the views of Long, Townsend, and Lemke, and reduced the appeal of the group among many progressives
Progressivism is an umbrella term for a political ideology advocating or favoring social, political, and economic reform or changes. Progressivism is often viewed by some conservatives, constitutionalists, and libertarians to be in opposition to conservative or reactionary ideologies.The...


The Union Party attracted modest support from populists on both sides of the political spectrum who were unhappy with Roosevelt and from the remnants of earlier third parties such as the Farmer-Labor Party
Farmer-Labor Party
The first modern Farmer–Labor Party in the United States emerged in Minnesota in 1918. Economic dislocation caused by American entry into World War I put agricultural prices and workers' wages into imbalance with rapidly escalating retail prices during the war years, and farmers and workers sought...

. Others such as The Nation magazine were wary of the new party and backed Roosevelt. Presaging more recent debates over the Reform Party, the Green Party, H. Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader is an American political activist, as well as an author, lecturer, and attorney. Areas of particular concern to Nader include consumer protection, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and democratic government....

, many considered the party either a left-wing spoiler
Spoiler effect
The spoiler effect describes the effect a minor party candidate with little chance of winning has in a close election, when that candidate's presence in the election draws votes from a major candidate similar to them, thereby causing a candidate dissimilar to them to win the election...

 party which would hurt Roosevelt, or an unworkable alliance between left-wing and right-wing populists. More traditional parties on the left such as the Socialist Party denounced the Union Party.

1936 Presidential nominee

William Lemke, a U.S. Congressman
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 from North Dakota
North Dakota
North Dakota is a state located in the Midwestern region of the United States of America, along the Canadian border. The state is bordered by Canada to the north, Minnesota to the east, South Dakota to the south and Montana to the west. North Dakota is the 19th-largest state by area in the U.S....

, was chosen as the party's nominee for the 1936 Presidential election. Lemke received 892,378 votes nationwide, or less than 2 percent of the total popular vote, and no electoral votes. However, even this meager showing was among the best for a U.S. third party between the 1924 Progressives and the 1948 Dixiecrat
The States' Rights Democratic Party was a short-lived segregationist political party in the United States in 1948...

s, although, according to Svend Petersen's "A Statistical History of the American Presidential Elections," Norman Thomas' percentage in 1932 was 2.23 percent.

The vice-presidential nominee was Thomas C. O'Brien, a labor lawyer
A lawyer, according to Black's Law Dictionary, is "a person learned in the law; as an attorney, counsel or solicitor; a person who is practicing law." Law is the system of rules of conduct established by the sovereign government of a society to correct wrongs, maintain the stability of political...

 from Boston.

Other notable candidates

Jacob S. Coxey of Coxey's Army
Coxey's Army
Coxey's Army was a protest march by unemployed workers from the United States, led by the populist Jacob Coxey. They marched on Washington D.C. in 1894, the second year of a four-year economic depression that was the worst in United States history to that time. Officially named the Army of the...

 fame, socialist leader and frequent independent candidate for the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

, ran for Congress in 1936 on the Union Party ticket in Ohio's 16th District. He received 2,384 votes or 1.6% of the vote (4th place).

Demise of the Union Party

The Union Party was disbanded shortly after the 1936 elections. Presidential nominee Lemke continued to serve in Congress as a Republican, eventually dying in office while serving an eighth term. Father Coughlin announced his retirement from the airwaves immediately after the disappointing returns of the 1936 election, but returned to the air within a couple of months; upon U.S. entry into World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 ordered Father Coughlin to retire from the airwaves and return to his duties as a parish priest, and he died in obscurity in 1979. Townsend, already quite elderly, saw his movement largely supplanted by the enactment of Social Security
Social Security (United States)
In the United States, Social Security refers to the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program.The original Social Security Act and the current version of the Act, as amended encompass several social welfare and social insurance programs...

 the next year and also largely became quite obscure afterwards, although he lived until 1960. Smith became even more of a radical fringe figure who eventually became an early proponent of Holocaust denial
Holocaust denial
Holocaust denial is the act of denying the genocide of Jews in World War II, usually referred to as the Holocaust. The key claims of Holocaust denial are: the German Nazi government had no official policy or intention of exterminating Jews, Nazi authorities did not use extermination camps and gas...

. He died in 1976.

Other namesakes

In the 1864 Presidential election the Republican Party of incumbent President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 ran as the National Union Party or Union Party. The name was in reference to the Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 faction of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...


In the Presidential election of 1980, John Anderson's independent bid for the Presidency against Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

 and Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

was frequently run on the party ballot line of the "National Union Party". Anderson won 6.6% of the popular vote and no electoral votes. (1)

Further reading

  • Bennett, David Harry. Demagogues in the Depression;: American radicals and the Union Party, 1932-1936. 341 pages. Rutgers University Press. 1969. ISBN 0-8135-0590-9.
  • Brinkley, Alan. Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, & the Great Depression. 384 pages. Vintage. 1983. ISBN 0-394-71628-0.
  • Tull, C.J. Father Coughlin and the New Deal. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0-8156-0043-7.
  • Williams, T. Harry. Huey Long. 944 pages. Vintage. 1981. ISBN 0-394-74790-9.
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