aka WALL STREET’s ‘COCKTAIL’ PUTSCH
1934: The Plot Against America
by Scott Horton / July 28, 2007
“…In November 1934, federal investigators uncovered an amazing plot involving some two dozen senior businessmen, a good many of them Wall Street financiers, to topple the government of the United States and install a fascist dictatorship. Roth’s novel is developed from several strands of this factual account; he assumed the plot is actually carried out, whereas in fact an alert FDR shut it down but stopped short of retaliatory measures against the plotters.
A key element of the plot involved a retired prominent general who was to have raised a private army of 500,000 men from unemployed veterans and who blew the whistle when he learned more of what the plot entailed. The plot was heavily funded and well developed and had strong links with fascist forces abroad. A story in the New York Times and several other newspapers reported on it, and a special Congressional committee was created to conduct an investigation. The records of this committee were scrubbed and sealed away in the National Archives, where they have only recently been made available.
The Congressional committee kept the names of many of the participants under wraps and no criminal action was ever brought against them. But a few names have leaked out. And one is Prescott Bush, the grandfather of the president. Prescott Bush was of course deep into the business of the Hamburg-America Lines, and had tight relations throughout this period with the new Government that had come to power in Germany a year earlier under Chancellor Aldoph Hitler. It appears that Bush was to have formed a key liaison for the group with the new German government. Prescott Bush, of course, went on to service as a U.S. Senator from Connecticut…”
GANGSTERS for CAPITALISM
Remembering when bankers tried to overthrow FDR and install a fascist dictator
by Matt Davis / 21 March, 2019
“I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested. During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continentsSmedley Butler, USMC.” – Major General
“When we look back at history, we have the benefit of knowing how things turned out — not true for those who were living through history’s tensest moments. At key inflection points in history and in response to crises, most of the actors had no idea what would happen or what the right thing to do was. Sometimes, this uncertainty can drive people to bold and ill-advised actions. Take the Great Depression. Something had to be done, but nobody knew what for certain. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected on a campaign that promised to abandon the gold standard and provide government jobs for the unemployed, many in the grips of the crisis thought that this was certainly the wrong way to go.
“This is despotism, this is tyranny, this is the annihilation of liberty,” wrote Republican Senator Henry D. Hatfield of West Virginia to a colleague. “The ordinary American is thus reduced to the status of a robot. The president has not merely signed the death warrant of democracy but has ordained the mutilation of the Constitution, unless the friends of liberty, regardless of party, band themselves together to regain their lost freedom.” Again, it was clear during the time that something drastic had to be done. However, it was not clear, for many, that FDR’s plan of action was the right kind of drastic.
Fascism had reared its head in Europe, and the world had yet to make up its mind what it thought about it — that would come later, in World War II. Many thought that the best way to pull America out of the Great Depression was to install a dictator — even the New York Herald-Tribune ran a headline called “For Dictatorship If Necessary.” Although the newspaper’s article was in support of FDR, a group of wealthy financiers believed that America should indeed have a dictator, just not in the form of FDR, who was suspected of being a communist. So, they began to plot a coup d’état that would later come to be known as the Business Plot, or the Wall Street Putsch.
The conspirators included Gerald MacGuire, a bond salesman; Bill Doyle, commander of the Massachusetts American Legion; investment banker Prescott Bush, the father of George H. W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush; and others. The Business Plot nearly involved another individual as well: Retired Major General Smedley Butler, who was at that time the most decorated soldier in U.S. history. After his military career, however, Butler became a vociferous critic of war and its place in American capitalism. Later, he would write the famous War is a Racket and an article in the socialist magazine Common Sense stating, “I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
Butler was also an influential figure in the so-called Bonus Army, a group of 43,000 marchers — among them many World War I veterans — who were camped at Washington to demand the early payment of the veteran’s bonus promised to them for their service. Although his politics leaned more to the left than the Business Plot conspirators would like, Butler was extremely well-respected among veterans and the military, who, like everybody else, was fed up. What’s more, MacGuire believed that Butler could be more easily manipulated than other generals. And the conspirators needed a general.
The members of the Business Plot set up several meetings with Butler where they not-so-gradually informed him of their plan. The conspirators would provide the financial backing and recruit an army of 500,000 soldiers, which Butler was to lead. The pretext for the coup would be that FDR’s health was failing. FDR would remain in a ceremonial position, in which, as MacGuire allegedly described, “The President will go around and christen babies and dedicate bridges and kiss children.” The real power of the government would be held in the hands of a Secretary of General Affairs, who would be in effect a dictator: “somebody to take over the details of the office — take them off the President’s shoulders. […] A sort of a super secretary.”
However, Butler was not so willing a compatriot as they had originally suspected. After meeting with the men several times and learning of the extent of their plan, Butler went to Congress to expose them as traitors. When news broke, nobody really believed that such a coup attempt could even be considered, let alone planned or put into action.
In fact, the Times‘s initial reporting on the subject was full of quotes like “Perfect moonshine!”, “A fantasy!”, and “It’s a joke — a publicity stunt.” A second article from the Times‘s on the topic was sarcastically titled “Credulity Unlimited.” Initially, Congress’s reaction was similar, but with Butler’s testimony; the testimony of reporter Paul French, who was present at one of Butler’s meetings with MacGuire; and MacGuire‘s own unconvincing testimony, they began to take it more seriously and investigated the subject.
Ultimately, the Congressional investigation found that Butler was telling the truth: the seeds of a coup had indeed been planted. But Congress’s perspective was that the plot had little chance of getting off the ground at all — rather, it had been, in the words of Mayor La Guardia of New York, “a cocktail putsch.”
Nobody was prosecuted in the plot. In fact, some later went on to serve in office, such as Prescott Bush. Would the coup have been carried out had Butler merely turned down MacGuire’s offer, rather than report them to Congress? It’s impossible to say. But the Wall Street Putsch does show that dire times can drive people to make otherwise inconceivable — “moonshine” — plans.
Wall Street’s Failed 1934 Coup
by Michael Donnelly / December 2, 2011
“In the last few weeks of the committee’s official life it received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt 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 when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.” – Report of the McCormack-Dickstein Committee
“In November 1934, famed double Medal of Honor winner Marine Gen. Smedley Butler gave secret testimony before the McCormack-Dickstein committee – a precursor to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In it, Butler told of a plot headed by a group of wealthy businessmen (The American Liberty League) to establish a fascist dictatorship in the United States, complete with concentration camps for “Jews and other undesirables.”
Butler had been approached by Gerald P. MacGuire of Wall Street’s Grayson M-P Murphy & Co. MacGuire claimed they would assemble an army of 500,000 mostly unemployed WWI veterans and march on DC. The plutocrats wanted Butler to lead the coup, thinking that, like the Bolsheviks, taking one major city (DC as Petrograd) would lead to the fall of the government. They promised to put up $3 million as starters and dangled a future $300 million as bait. Butler went along with the plot until he could learn the identities of all the schemers. Not a one of them was ever called to testify or was charged with Treason. Virtually all of them were founding members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The League was headed by the DuPont and J.P Morgan cartels and had major support from Andrew Mellon Associates, Pew (Sun Oil), Rockefeller Associates, E.F. Hutton Associates, U.S. Steel, General Motors, Chase, Standard Oil and Goodyear Tires.
Money was funneled thru the Sen. Prescott Bush-led Union Banking Corporation (yes, those Bushes) and the Prescott Bush-led Brown Brothers Harriman (yes, that Harriman) to the League (and to Hitler, but that’s another story). The plotters bragged about Bush’s Hitler connections and even claimed that Germany had promised Bush that it would provide materiel for the coup.
This claim was entirely believable: a year earlier, Chevrolet president William S. Knudsen (who himself had donated $10,000 to the League) went to Germany and met with Nazi leaders and declared upon his return that Hitler’s Germany was “the miracle of the twentieth century.” At the time, GM’s wholly-owned Adam-Opal Co. had already begun producing the Nazi’s tanks, trucks and bomber engines. James D. Mooney, GM’s vice-president for foreign operations was joined by Henry Ford and IBM chief Tom Watson in receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Hitler for their considerable efforts on behalf of the Third Reich.
While the Committee found that Gen. Butler was telling the truth, discrediting such a stalwart was problematic for the plotters. Quickly, the corporate press weighed in and sought to raise doubts about the war hero, settling on branding him naive. The discredit Knudsen meme was: “it was all idle cocktail party chatter.” This red herring was trumpeted under the Associated Press headline “The Cocktail Putsch.” New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia dismissed the plot as “someone at the party had suggested the idea to the ex-Marine as a joke.”
From 1934 through 1936, the League got thirty-five pro-League front page stories in the New York Times. TIME ridiculed Butler in a Dec. 3, 1934 cover story, even though Butler’s story was corroborated by VFW head James E. Van Zandt, who also said he was approached to lead the coup. Though, TIME did put a footnote on an early 1935 article stating; “Also last week the House Committee on Un-American Activities purported to report that a two-month investigation had convinced it that General Butler’s story of a fascist march on Washington was alarmingly true.”
Solely, the Scripps-Howard papers backed FDR and presented the truth. President Franklin D. Roosevelt labeled the plotters “economic royalists” and survived their, thankfully, ham-handed efforts. Jan. 3, 1936, FDR blasted the American Liberty League before a joint session of Congress where he announced the ban on military exports to Italy. “Our resplendent economic aristocracy does not want to return to that individualism of which they prate, even thought the advantages under that system went to the ruthless and the strong. They realize that in thirty-four months we have built up new instruments of public power. In the hands of a people’s government this power is wholesome and proper. But, in the hands of political, puppets of an economic aristocracy, such power would provide shackles for the liberties of the people. Give them their way and they will take the course of every aristocracy of the past – power for themselves, enslavement for the public.”
FDR was never able to bring any of the plotters to justice. He wasn’t even able to rein in Prescott Bush until 1942 when the government seized the assets of Bush’s pro-Nazi enterprises – garnering Bush a $1.5 million windfall once the assets were returned in 1951! It’s obvious that the fascist mindset of the “economic royalists” has never gone away and is the driving force behind the modern-day ascent (and the ultimate demise of) of the American Empire, the attacks on worker’s rights and pensions, the attacks on our minimal safety nets, etc.
In its day, the League promoted itself as a bastion of all concerned about “burdensome taxes imposed upon industry for unemployment insurance and old age pension.” The League sought to “combat radicalism” and to “teach respect for the rights of persons and property, and generally to foster free private enterprise.” J.P. Morgan and Chase are now one. The fortunes of the Mellon, Rockefeller, DuPont, Pitcairn (Pittsburgh Plate Glass) and Pew families have sky-rocketed. Pew and Rockefeller have morphed into a cabal of foundations that fund/neuter progressive grass roots efforts.
William S. Knudsen was the sole inside plotter who turned against the plot, renounced Hitler and is credited with pushing GM into a settlement of the Flint Sit-Down Strike . Underpaid, overworked workers took over and stayed in their plants, starting with Flint’s Fisher Body #3 and fought off attacks by GM-controlled police and hired goons. FDR and Michigan Gov. Frank Murphy called out the National Guard, not to roust the strikers, but to form a cordon between the strikers and the goons. Murphy’s father and grandfather had been hung by the British as Irish revolutionaries and many of the strikers were ethnic Irish laborers, so he as very sympathetic.
After 44 days, Knudsen, now GM vice-president, declared that “Collective Bargaining’s time has come” With his ally, two-time Flint Mayor, life-long civic booster/philanthropist, GM’s top shareholder and fellow board member C. S. Mott assisting; GM settled, leading the way to the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, union organizing rights, pensions, etc. Mott even saw to it that health clinics were set up in the factories for the workers and their families. Coup plotter/GM President and Chairman Alfred P. Sloan, who had wanted to reclaim the plants with guns blazing stepped partly aside as GM head and Knudsen replaced him as president. GM went on to become the world’s top corporation for 40 years, the country saw the rise of a middle class and wealth disparity was at the lowest levels ever in the US.
It likely was not entirely altruistic of Knudsen, as two years later FDR put Knudsen in charge of the National Defense Advisory Commission. On his watch, some $12 billion in armament contracts were awarded to GM by the U.S. War Production Board, which also was conveniently chaired by Knudsen. At the same time, GM’s Opal factories built most of Hitler’s trucks and bomber engines. This part of the “win-win” did not lead to any charges against Knudsen or GM. Instead, it led to the Danish immigrant Knudsen becoming the first civilian commissioned as a U.S. Army General.
The take-away lesson to never forget is that, as Roosevelt noted, economic royalists have their own decidedly non-populist agenda. Since they paid no price at all for their coup attempt, they have never wavered from their elitist ideology. They now simply rig elections, set up massive “security” apparatuses and roust anyone who stands up to their dominance. (NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the 12th richest American worth $19.5 billion, recently bragged: “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world. I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance.”)
Union busting goes on unabated. The US has a greater percentage of its people incarcerated than any country at any time in history. And, thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions, no one can match the political clout of the financiers. The “royalists” now own the government, as well as the press and their own armies. War profiteering still tops the agenda, followed closely by attacks on workers’ wages, pensions, health care… FDR and the Sit-Downers’ hard-won safety net is under assault. As the great populist Sen. Robert La Follette, Jr. said at the time, the American Liberty League (and all its following incarnations) cannot “be expected to defend the liberty of the masses of the American people. It speaks for the vested interests.”
“Three members of the advisory board of the American Liberty League—T.M. Cunningham, M.S. Lane, and Irenee Du Pont—confer as they meet privately before dinner, Jan. 1, 1936 in Washington. The group of business and industry heavyweights were implicated in a plot to overthrow FDR’s presidency.”
WAR is a RACKET
Wall Street millionaires literally plotted to overthrow the president
by Matt Reimann / Aug 11, 2017
“President Franklin Roosevelt made an enemy of the richest Americans with remarkable haste. By his first term, his heavily progressive New Deal taxes and the suspension of the gold standard inspired vocal opponents within the highest echelons of industry. Among them was an irate William Randolph Hearst, who filmed a message decrying the “impudent” and “despotic” new tax code. Yet of all of Roosevelt’s powerful enemies, perhaps none were more formidable, or incensed, than those who considered throwing him out of office by way of a fascist military coup.
It is impossible to say exactly how close the Business Plot — also called the White House Coup and Wall Street Putsch — came to overthrowing the president. Nearly all we know about the plot is the result of an investigation conducted by the House McCormack-Dickstein Committee in November, 1934. Its chief whistleblower was one Major General Smedley Butler, a respected and tenured military leader with a talent for rallying support to his side. His part in the story began on July 1, 1933, the day he met with two members of the American Legion who had ties to Wall Street heavies.
At the time, Butler was enjoying the boost of a positive public profile, as a result of his enthusiastic advocacy for veterans. American Legion members Bill Doyle and Gerald MacGuire wanted to harness this when they asked Butler to appear at the Legion convention in Chicago, as part of a campaign to undermine the body’s leadership. Butler was sympathetic: He had long known of the Legion’s capacity for ignoring its members.
In a second meeting, MacGuire, a $150-a-week bond salesman for the financier Grayson M. P. Murphy, proposed Butler bring along a few hundred veterans for support, and showed him bank statements amounting to $106,000, to pay for their travel expenses. A skeptical Butler surmised that no coalition of veterans could have gathered those funds. Adding to his bemusement was the speech they wanted him to deliver. It lacked populist, pro-veteran rhetoric, and read heavily as a screed in favor of the gold standard, a policy which President Roosevelt had suspended about a month earlier.
The gold standard, as Butler’s subsequent research would uncover, was a major concern for the country’s wealthiest citizens. Bankers especially did not want to be paid back on their gold-backed loans with cheaper, ever-inflating paper. Keynesian economics be damned: To the capital interests of the country, a break from gold meant ravaging the nation’s wealth and savings.
At this point, Butler knew MacGuire was taking orders from someone, and requested to speak up the chain of command. It was then he met with Robert Sterling Clark, whose net worth of $30 million owed much to a recent inheritance from the Singer sewing machine fortune. Butler remembered Clark as a “millionaire lieutenant,” from when they served together during the Boxer Rebellion. Clark was blunt about his concerns. He and his associates hoped Butler would encourage support within the Legion and perhaps the country for the reinstatement of the gold standard. “I am willing to spend half of the 30 million to save the other half,” Clark confessed. As Butler suspected, this appeared less and less to be about veterans’ interests.
Clark also bankrolled MacGuire’s seven-month trip abroad in December of 1933, in which the bond salesman was to survey the transforming political tides of Europe. He observed the ascending Nazis. He appreciated the Italian Fascists and their symbiotic relationship with the country’s powerful business interests. But MacGuire’s ultimate model ended up being a right-wing nationalist league in France called the Croix-de-Feu, which had managed to summon 150,000 supporters, many of whom were veterans.
Gerald MacGuire was a portly, sweaty man, and made a habit of talking to Butler about his concerns with frustrating vagueness and equivocation. But after his trip, he brought Butler up to speed and came forward with an even larger proposal. Yes, MacGuire admitted, it was true that the money came from a coalition of concerned captains of industry. At the moment, they had invested $3 million in the project, and MacGuire estimated he could raise $300 million need be. What he wanted, he told Butler, was for the major general to assemble a paramilitary force of some 500,000 veterans, and to use them to throw President Roosevelt out of office.
MacGuire informed Butler that the press would soon make an announcement about the league of businessmen fatigued by the president’s reckless economic reforms. They planned to plant stories about Roosevelt’s ill health, and expected the president to comply with orders from his fellow patricians to hand over the highest seat of government. He would be permitted a ceremonial position while Butler and his allies steered the country in the proper direction.
An astounded Butler debated where to turn first, and decided to enlist a liberal Philadelphia paper to verify the details of his outlandish story.
The paper sent their star reporter Paul Comly French who feigned anti-Roosevelt sympathies to interview MacGuire, who was candid about his views and details of the plot. He mentioned that the Remington arms manufacturers would supply the army, thanks to a working relationship with the DuPonts. “We need a Fascist government in this country,” he told the reporter, “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.”
Now that he had a second witness, Butler brought his story to the Feds. The committee began hearings on November 20, 1934. “To be perfectly fair to Mr. MacGuire,” Butler said, “He didn’t seem bloodthirsty. He felt that such a show of force in Washington would probably result in a peaceful overthrow of government.” French corroborated Butler’s testimony. Gerald MacGuire, however, denied everything but that the Legion solicited Butler’s support for the gold standard.
In a few days, the story hit the news cycle. “$3,000,000 Bid for Fascist Army Bared,” read one headline. Much of the press found the story risible. “Details are lacking to lend verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative,” wrote the New York Times. “The whole story sounds like a gigantic hoax … It does not merit serious discussion.” Those implicated agreed. Banker Grayson M.P. Murphy called it a “damned lie” and said he wasn’t “able to stop laughing” at the thought he, a prominent citizen and veteran of the Spanish-American War would attempt such treason. Thomas Lamont, a Wall Street banker implicated, called it “perfect moonshine. Too unutterably ridiculous to comment upon.”
Shortly before the committee hearings, in September of 1934, the newly formed American Liberty League—made up of leaders and captains of industry opposed to the president “fomenting class hatred” and his handling of the Depression—released a statement. Among its members were the DuPonts, S.B. Colgate, Sewell Avery, John Raskob, Alfred P. Sloan, and former secretary of State Elihu Root. Butler noticed Robert Sterling Clark’s name on the list, as well as Grayson M. P. Murphy, Gerald MacGuire’s boss. Also implicated in the plot was Al Smith, former New York governor and 1928 Democratic presidential nominee, as well as Prescott Bush, a banker, future Connecticut senator, and father to George H. W. Bush and grandfather to George W. Bush.
Of these wealthy and prominent people, none was called for testimony, and none was punished. Butler went on to rise in public profile, championing populism and pacifism with his 1935 book, War Is a Racket, but for the beneficial publicity, the committee as well as French agree that he was telling truth. And only recently has the public learned of a letter to Congress sent from an official at the company building the Hoover Dam, in which the writer warned of a plot by the “American Fascist Veterans Association” to overthrow the president.
What remains for many historians to debate is how wide the gap was in this scheme between contemplation and fruition. Butler’s whistleblowing certainly stopped it short, but one wonders if nothing else would have brought down such a complicated and inauspicious plan. Still, as historian Sally Denton points out, “The Fascist plot which General Butler exposed did not get very far, but that plot had in it three elements which make successful wars and revolutions: men, guns, and money.” In the 1930s, Germany and Italy proved that no form of government should be taken for granted. At this exigent time in America — brought forth by the Depression, a destabilized world, and a transformative president — the rich doubled down on what they always do: protecting their own.”
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