Meet the Marine general who allegedly stopped a US government takeover
In 1933, a certain group of wealthy businessmen were very upset at the idea of Franklin D. Roosevelt being elected President. These titans of American industry thought the U.S. would be better off with a Fascist-style government akin to Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy.
So these early one-percenters teamed up to allegedly overthrow the government and FDR’s impending New Deal reforms. And while newspapers at the time called it a “gigantic hoax,” a House of Representatives Committee found the allegations “credible,” according to Today I Found Out.
The conspirators included the leaders from Maxwell House coffee, General Motors, Standard Oil, Goodyear, DuPont, Chase Bank, and famously, Prescott Bush, forerunner of America’s own Bushes 41 and 43. They also included the President of Heinz… And we make fun of Canada for using mayo instead of Ketchup.
But Americans don’t change governments through coups d’état. And because of then-retired Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, America never has. A two-time Medal of Honor recipient, Butler was also a patriot and a fan of FDR. Butler supported the rights of veterans from the First World War to receive their promised benefits early, given the state of the economy at the time. Those veterans marched on Washington in a demonstration as a group now known as the Bonus Army.
In 1932, Butler was a widely respected military figure, along the lines of how Colin Powell is thought of today. When Hoover ordered Gen. Douglas MacArthur to destroy the makeshift camps of the Bonus Army, Butler threw his support to Roosevelt in the election of that year.
As the story goes, the businessmen planned to raise a coup army of 500,000 men through various American Legion posts, and then present Roosevelt with an ultimatum which would end with Butler holding absolute power with Roosevelt as a figurehead.
The businessmen failed to anticipate Butler’s reaction to the plot. If they had even tried to anticipate this, they would have noticed Butler actually was a vocal supporter of FDR. Butler let Congress in on the business plot in 1934 and the conspirators avoided being charged for their disloyalty to the United States.
Congress appointed the McCormack-Dickstein Committee to investigate. They found the plot actually did exist, but never made it past the planning stage. The conspirators were still not brought up on charges, even though asking a Marine general to lead the coup seems as if it’s well beyond the planning stage.