'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Plot to Seize the White House 

Reader G. informs me that someone has made available for download the entire text of Jules Archer's 1973 book, The Plot to Seize the White House. The book is rare and out-of-print -- if you see a copy in a used bookstore somewhere expect to pay through your teeth. Here, for example, an Amazon store is asking $650.

Archer's book is about a nearly forgotten chapter in American history, known as "The Business Plot" or "The White House Putsch", in which a group of wealthy industrialists conspired to overthrow FDR during the early years of the Great Depression, attempting to establish a fascist government in the USA. Our knowledge of the plot is due to the testimony of Marine Corps General Smedley Butler.

Butler is an interesting character: the most decorated marine in US history, one of only nineteen people to be awarded the Medal of Honor twice, he became a hard leftist after retiring from the service, a speaker at socialist and pacifist rallies, and penned the antiwar classic, War is a Racket. Because of his popularity within the military the conspirators attempted to recruit Butler to lead the coup. Butler blew the whistle on the conspiracy leading to the McCormack-Dickstein Committee investigation in 1933. Here's the Wikipedia:

During the McCormack-Dickstein Committee hearings, Marine Corps General Smedley Butler testified that through Gerald MacGuire and Bill Doyle, who was then the department commander of the American Legion in Massachusetts. The conspirators attempted to recruit him to lead a 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 support for Roosevelt in the election, and his reputation as a strong critic of capitalism, the plotters felt his good reputation and popularity were vital in attracting support amongst the general public, and saw him as easier to manipulate than others.

Butler was approached by Gerald MacGuire. MacGuire was a bond salesman for Robert Clark, an heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, an art collector who lived mostly in Paris, and one of Wall Street's richest investors. One of Wall Street's richest bankers and stockbrokers. Gerald MacGuire was a former commander of the Connecticut American Legion and had been an activist for the gold currency movement that Clark sponsored.

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, Butler said MacGuire told him, "We want to see the soldiers' bonus paid in gold. We do not want the soldier to have rubber money or paper money." Although such names as Al Smith, Roosevelt's political foe and former governor of New York, and Irene DuPont, a chemical industrialist were said to be the financial and organizational backbone of the plot, hard evidence has never surfaced. Butler stated that once the conspirators were in power, they would protect Roosevelt from other plotters.

Given a successful coup, Butler would have 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.

For what it's worth, the Congressional committee report, which is included in full in Archer's book, confirmed Butler's allegations:

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.

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