The attempted coup of FDR
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The Business Plot or The Plot Against FDR or The White House Putsch was an alleged conspiracy of moneyed interests intended to strip President Franklin D. Roosevelt of his political power during the early years of the Great Depression. The allegations came to light when Marine Corps General Smedley Butler testified to the existence of the plot before the McCormack-Dickstein Committee in 1933. In this testimony, Butler claimed that a group of several men had approached him as part of a plot to overthrow Roosevelt in a fascist military coup. In their final report, the Congressional committee supported Butler's allegations on the existence of the plot, but no prosecutions or further investigations followed, and the matter was mostly forgotten.
1 Alleged Conspirators
2 The Butler Affair
3 Public reaction
The allegations center on a group of wealthy business interests, led by the Du Pont and J. P. Morgan industrial empires. Among the individuals cited as conspirators:
? Irénée du Pont Chemical industrialist and founder of the American Liberty League, the right-wing organization assigned to execute the plot.
? Grayson Murphy Director of Goodyear, Bethlehem Steel and a group of J. P. Morgan banks.
? William Doyle (American Legion) Former high-ranking member of the American Legion and a central plotter of the coup.
? John W. Davis Former Democratic presidential candidate and a senior attorney for J. P. Morgan.
? Al Smith Roosevelt's bitter political foe from New York. Smith was a former governor of New York and a codirector of the American Liberty League.
? John J. Raskob A high-ranking DuPont officer and a former chairman of the Democratic Party.
? Robert Clark One of Wall Street's richest bankers and stockbrokers.
? Gerald MacGuire Bond salesman for Clark, and a former commander of the Connecticut American Legion. MacGuire was to be the key recruiter of General Butler.
The Butler Affair
The conspirators are alleged to have attempted to recruit Marine Corps General Smedley Butler to lead the coup, promising him an army of 500,000 men for a march on Washington, D.C., unlimited financial backing, and generous media spin control. Despite Butler's sworn loyalty to Roosevelt, the plotters supposedly felt his good reputation and popularity were vital in attracting support amongst the general public, and saw him as easier to manipulate than others.
In attempting to recruit Butler, MacGuire is said to have played on the general's passionate loyalty toward his fellow veterans and soldiers. Knowing of an upcoming bonus in 1945 for World War I Veterans, MacGuire allegedly told Butler, "We want to see the soldiers' bonus paid in gold. We do not want the soldier to have rubber money or paper money." The conspirators are also said to have claimed that once in power, they would protect Roosevelt from other plotters.
Given a successful coup, Butler would have supposedly held near-absolute power in the newly created position of "Secretary of General Affairs," while Roosevelt would have assumed a figurehead role. Butler would then have implemented fascist measures to combat the Depression, as some conservatives at the time felt that such steps were necessary to ward off communist influence while preventing drastic changes in the economic structure.
Butler testified to the existence of such a plot before the McCormack-Dickstein Committee in 1933. The majority of media outlets ridiculed or downplayed his claims, saying they lacked evidence. Those accused of the plotting by Butler all professed innocence. However, MacGuire was the only figure identified by Butler who testified before the committee.
Butler's story was corroborated by Veterans of Foreign Wars commander James Van Zandt, who testified that he had been approached to lead the 500,000-man march on Washington.
Reaction to Butler's testimony by the public was lukewarm. Those who hold with the existence of the conspiracy propose several scenarios in explaining why the affair did not become a cause celebre, among which are:
? The story was an embarassment to people of influence, and it was best to sweep it under the rug as quickly as possible.
? In 1934, newspapers were controlled by a relatively small elite according to then-Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes, 82% of all dailies had monopolies in their communities. Proponents of the theory thus suggest that the media downplayed Butler's testimony based on the interests of their advertisers and owners.
? Some of Roosevelt's advisors were in on the plot, and downplayed it when it was exposed to prevent their dirty laundry from being aired in public.
Those who doubt Butler's testimony claim that it simply lacked evidence. Another scenario, proposed by historian Clayton Cramer in a 1995 History Today article, reminds readers that Roosevelt's first term was characterized by fierce political fighting between conservatives and liberal proponents of the New Deal; FDR's advisors could have fabricated the plot in order to discredit conservatives opposed to his program.
Cramer also recalls that the devastation of the Great Depression had caused many Americans to question the foundations of liberal democracy. Several liberals flirted with socialism and communism, while several conservatives viewed countries such as Mussolini's Italy as examples of how fascism could return stability and prosperity to countries ravaged by the Depression. Thus, it is not inconceivable that American business leaders could have viewed fascism as a viable system to both preserve their interests and end the economic woes of the Depression.
The uncensored report of the Congressional committee investigating the matter confirmed Butler's testimony. This report was published in the 1973 book The Plot to Seize the White House, by Jules Archer:
In the last few weeks of the committee's life it received evidence showing that certain persons had attempted to establish a fascist organization in this country... There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution if the financial backers deemed it expedient... MacGuire denied [Butler's] allegations under oath, but your committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made to General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization. This, however, was corroborated in the correspondence of MacGuire with his principal, Robert Sterling Clark, of New York City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various form of veterans' organizations of Fascist character.
(Excerpt from "The Plot to Seize the White House.")
? History Today article examines Butler's testimony from both sides
? House Committee on Un-American Activities report part 1
? House Committee on Un-American Activities report part 2
? House Committee on Un-American Activities report part 3
? John L. Spivak's two articles in socialist magazine New Masses
"The Plot to Seize the White House", Jules Archer, Hawthorne Books, 1973