THE BUSINESS PLOT TO OVERTHROW ROOSEVELT
In the summer of 1933, shortly after Roosevelt's "First 100 Days,"
America's richest businessmen were in a panic. It was clear that
Roosevelt intended to conduct a massive redistribution of wealth
from the rich to the poor. Roosevelt had to be stopped
at all costs.
The answer was a military coup. It was to be secretly financed and
organized by leading officers of the Morgan and Du Pont empires. This
included some of America's richest and most famous names of the time:
The plotters attempted to recruit General Smedley Butler to lead the
coup. They selected him because he was a war hero who was popular
with the troops. The plotters felt his good reputation was important
to make the troops feel confident that they were doing the right
thing by overthrowing a democratically elected president. However,
this was a mistake: Butler was popular with the troops because he
identified with them. That is, he was a man of the people, not
the elite. When the plotters approached General Butler with their proposal
to lead the coup, he pretended to go along with the plan at first,
secretly deciding to betray it to Congress at the right moment.
- Irenee Du Pont - Right-wing chemical industrialist and founder of
the American Liberty League, the organization assigned to execute
- Grayson Murphy - Director of Goodyear, Bethlehem Steel and a group
of J.P. Morgan banks.
- William Doyle - Former state commander of the American Legion and a
central plotter of the coup.
- John 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
- John J. Raskob - A high-ranking Du Pont officer and a former chairman
of the Democratic Party. In later decades, Raskob would become a
"Knight of Malta," a Roman Catholic Religious Order with a high
percentage of CIA spies, including CIA Directors William Casey,
William Colby and John McCone.
- 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 the key recruiter to
What the businessmen proposed was dramatic: they wanted General
Butler to deliver an ultimatum to Roosevelt. Roosevelt would pretend
to become sick and incapacitated from his polio, and allow a newly
created cabinet officer, a "Secretary of General Affairs," to run things
in his stead. The secretary, of course, would be carrying out the
orders of Wall Street. If Roosevelt refused, then General Butler
would force him out with an army of 500,000 war veterans from the
American Legion. But MacGuire assured Butler the cover story would
"You know the American people will swallow that. We have got
the newspapers. We will start a campaign that the President's health
is failing. Everyone can tell that by looking at him, and the dumb
American people will fall for it in a second…"
The businessmen also
promised that money was no object: Clark told Butler that he would
spend half his $60 million fortune to save the other half.
And what type of government would replace Roosevelt's New Deal?
MacGuire was perfectly candid to Paul French, a reporter friend of
"We need a fascist government in this country… to
save the nation from the communists who want to tear it down and
wreck all that we have built in America. The only men who have the
patriotism to do it are the soldiers, and Smedley Butler is the ideal
leader. He could organize a million men overnight."
Indeed, it turns out that MacGuire travelled to Italy to study
Mussolini's fascist state, and came away mightily impressed. He wrote
glowing reports back to his boss, Robert Clark, suggesting that
they implement the same thing.
If this sounds too fantastic to believe, we should remember that by
1933, the crimes of fascism were still mostly in the future, and its
dangers were largely unknown, even to its supporters. But in the early days,
many businessmen openly admired Mussolini because he had used a
strong hand to deal with labor unions, put out social unrest, and
get the economy working again, if only at the point of a gun.
Americans today would be appalled to learn of the many famous
millionaires back then who initially admired Hitler and Mussolini:
Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, John and Allen Dulles (who, besides
being millionaires, would later become Eisenhower's Secretary of
State and CIA Director, respectively), and, of course, everyone on
the above list. They disavowed Hitler and Mussolini only after their
atrocities grew to indefensible levels.
The plot fell apart when Butler went public. The general revealed
the details of the coup before the McCormack-Dickstein Committee,
which would later become the notorious House Un-American Activities
Committee. (In the 50s, this committee would destroy the lives
of hundreds of innocent Americans with its communist witch hunts.)
The Committee heard the
testimony of Butler and French, but failed to call in any of the
coup plotters for questioning, other than MacGuire. In fact, the
Committee whitewashed the public version of its final report,
deleting the names of powerful businessmen whose reputations they
sought to protect. The most likely reason for this response is that
Wall Street had undue influence in Congress also. Even more alarming,
the elite-controlled media failed to pick up on the story, and even
today the incident remains little known. The elite managed to spin
the story as nothing more than the rumors and hearsay of Butler and
French, even though Butler was a Quaker of unimpeachable honesty
and integrity. Butler, appalled by the cover-up, went on national
radio to denounce it, but with little success.
Butler was not vindicated until 1967, when journalist John Spivak
uncovered the Committee's internal, secret report. It clearly
confirmed Butler's story:
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…
Needless to say, the survival of America's democracy is not
an automatic or sure thing. Americans need to remain vigilant
against all enemies... both foreign and domestic.
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 principle, Robert Sterling Clark,
of New York City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various form
of veterans' organizations of Fascist character.
Return to Timeline
Jonathon Vankin and John Whalen, The 60 Greatest Conspiracies
of All Time (Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group, 1997)
Jules Archer, The Plot to Seize the White House (New York: Hawthorne
George Seldes, Even the Gods Can't Change History (Secaucus, N.J.:
Lyle Stuart, Inc., 1976)
John Spivak, A Man in His Time (New York: Horizon Press, 1967)