Business Plot

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The plot planned to install retired Major General Smedley Butler as dictator of the United States.

The Business Plot, also called the Wall Street Putsch[1] and The White House Putsch, was a political conspiracy in 1933, in the United States, to overthrow the government of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and install Smedley Butler as dictator.[2][3] Butler, a retired Marine Corps major general, testified under oath that wealthy businessmen were plotting to create a fascist veterans' organization with him as its leader and use it in a coup d'état to overthrow Roosevelt. In 1934, Butler testified under oath before the United States House of Representatives Special Committee on Un-American Activities (the "McCormackDickstein Committee") on these revelations.[4] Although no one was prosecuted, the congressional committee final report said, "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."

Early in the committee's gathering of testimony most major news media dismissed the plot, with a New York Times editorial characterizing it as a "gigantic hoax".[5] When the committee's final report was released, the Times said the committee "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" and "... also alleged that definite proof had been found that the much publicized Fascist march on Washington, which was to have been led by Major Gen. Smedley D. Butler, retired, according to testimony at a hearing, was actually contemplated".[6] The individuals involved all denied the existence of a plot.

While historians have questioned whether a coup was actually close to execution, most agree that some sort of "wild scheme" was contemplated and discussed.[7][8][9][10]


Butler and the veterans[edit]

Shacks erected by the Bonus Army on the Anacostia flats burning after being set on fire by the US military (1932)

On July 17, 1932, thousands of World War I veterans converged on Washington, D.C., set up tent camps, and demanded immediate payment of bonuses due to them according to the World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 (which made certain bonuses initially due no earlier than 1925 and all no later than 1945). Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant, led this "Bonus Army".[citation needed] It was encouraged by an appearance from retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, a popular military figure of the time.[11] A few days after Butler's arrival, President Herbert Hoover ordered the marchers removed and U.S. Army cavalry troops under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur destroyed their camps.[citation needed]

Butler, although a self-described Republican, responded by supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1932 US presidential election.[12] By 1933, Butler started denouncing capitalism and bankers, going on to explain that for 33 years he had been a "high-class muscle man" for Wall Street, the bankers and big business, labeling himself as a "racketeer for Capitalism".[13]

Reaction to Roosevelt[edit]

Roosevelt's election was upsetting for many conservative businessmen of the time, as his "campaign promise that the government would provide jobs for all the unemployed had the reverse effect of creating a new wave of unemployment by businessmen frightened by fears of socialism and reckless government spending".[14] Some writers have said concerns over the gold standard were also involved; Jules Archer, in The Plot to Seize the White House, wrote that with the end of the gold standard, "conservative financiers were horrified. They viewed a currency not solidly backed by gold as inflationary, undermining both private and business fortunes and leading to national bankruptcy. Roosevelt was damned as a socialist or Communist out to destroy private enterprise by sapping the gold backing of wealth in order to subsidize the poor."[15]

McCormack–Dickstein Committee[edit]

The McCormack–Dickstein Committee began examining evidence of an alleged plot on November 20, 1934. On November 24, the committee released a statement detailing the testimony it had heard and its preliminary findings. On February 15, 1935, the committee submitted its final report to the House of Representatives.[16]

During the committee hearings, Butler testified that Gerald C. MacGuire attempted to recruit him to lead a coup, promising him an army of 500,000 men for a march on Washington, D.C., and financial backing. Butler testified that the pretext for the coup would be that the president's health was failing.[17] Despite Butler's support for Roosevelt in the election[12] and his reputation as a strong critic of capitalism,[18] Butler said 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. Given a successful coup, Butler said that the plan was for him to have held near-absolute power in the newly created position of "Secretary of General Affairs", while Roosevelt would have assumed a figurehead role.[19] Those implicated in the plot by Butler all denied any involvement. MacGuire was the only figure identified by Butler who testified before the committee. Others whom Butler accused were not called to testify because the "committee has had no evidence before it that would in the slightest degree warrant calling before it such men ... The committee will not take cognizance of names brought into testimony which constitute mere hearsay."[20]

On the final day of the committee,[21] January 29, 1935, John L. Spivak published the first of two articles in the Communist magazine New Masses, revealing portions of testimony to the committee that had been redacted as hearsay. Spivak argued that the plot was part of a plan by J. P. Morgan and other financiers who were coordinating with fascist groups to overthrow Roosevelt.[22]

Historian Hans Schmidt concludes that while Spivak made a cogent argument for taking the suppressed testimony seriously, he embellished his article with his "overblown" claims regarding Jewish financiers, which Schmidt dismisses as guilt by association not supported by the evidence of the Butler-MacGuire conversations themselves.[16][23]

On March 25, 1935, MacGuire died in a hospital in New Haven, Connecticut, at the age of 36. His attending doctor at the hospital attributed the death to pneumonia and its complications, but also said that the accusations against MacGuire had led to his weakened condition and collapse which in turn led to the pneumonia.[24]

Butler's testimony in detail[edit]

1935 newsreel footage of Smedley Butler describing his 1934 congressional committee testimony and views towards the alleged 1933 plot


On July 1, 1933, Butler met with MacGuire and Bill Doyle for the first time. MacGuire was a $100-a-week bond salesman for Wall Street banking firm Grayson Murphy & Company[25][26] and a member of the Connecticut American Legion.[27][28] Doyle was commander of the Massachusetts American Legion.[27] Butler stated that he was asked to run for National Commander of the American Legion.[29]

On July 3 or 4, Butler held a second meeting with MacGuire and Doyle. He stated that they offered to get hundreds of supporters at the American Legion convention to ask for a speech.[30] MacGuire left a typewritten speech with Butler that they proposed he read at the convention. "It urged the American Legion convention to adopt a resolution calling for the United States to return to the gold standard, so that when veterans were paid the bonus promised to them, the money they received would not be worthless paper."[15] The inclusion of this demand further increased Butler's suspicion.[citation needed]

Around August 1, MacGuire visited Butler alone. Butler stated that MacGuire told him Grayson Murphy underwrote the formation of the American Legion in New York, and Butler told MacGuire that the American Legion was "nothing but a strikebreaking outfit."[31] Butler never saw Doyle again.[citation needed]

On September 24,[32][33] MacGuire visited Butler's hotel room in Newark.[34] In late September Butler met with Robert Sterling Clark.[35] Clark was an art collector and an heir to the Singer Corporation fortune.[36][37] MacGuire had known Clark when Clark was a second lieutenant in China during the Boxer Rebellion, where he had been nicknamed "the millionaire lieutenant".[37]


During the first half of 1934, MacGuire traveled to Europe and mailed postcards to Butler.[38] On March 6, MacGuire wrote Clark and Clark's attorney a letter describing the Croix-de-Feu,[39] a nationalist French league of the Interwar period.[citation needed]

On August 22, Butler met MacGuire at a hotel, the last time Butler met him.[40][41] According to Butler's account, it was on this occasion that MacGuire asked Butler to run a new veterans' organization and lead a coup attempt against the President.[citation needed]

On September 13, Paul Comly French, a reporter who had once been Butler's personal secretary,[42] met MacGuire in his office.[43] In late September, Butler told Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) commander James E. Van Zandt that co-conspirators would be meeting him at an upcoming Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.[citation needed]

On November 20 the committee began examining evidence. French broke the story in the Philadelphia Record and the New York Post on November 21.[44] On November 22, The New York Times wrote its first article on the story and described it as a "gigantic hoax".[5][45]

Committee reports[edit]

The Congressional committee preliminary report of November 24, 1934 said:

This committee has had no evidence before it that would in the slightest degree warrant calling before it such men as John W. Davis, Gen. Hugh Johnson, General Harbord, Thomas W. Lamont, Admiral Sims, or Hanford MacNider.

The committee will not take cognizance of names brought into the testimony which constitute mere hearsay.

This committee is not concerned with premature newspaper accounts especially when given and published prior to the taking of the testimony.

As the result of information which has been in possession of this committee for some time, it was decided to hear the story of Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler and such others as might have knowledge germane to the issue. ...

The congressional committee final report, released on February 15, 1935, said:

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. No evidence was presented and this committee had none to show a connection between this effort and any fascist activity of any European 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.

This committee received evidence from Maj. Gen Smedley D. Butler (retired), twice decorated by the Congress of the United States. He testified before the committee as to conversations with one Gerald C. MacGuire in which the latter is alleged to have suggested the formation of a fascist army under the leadership of General Butler.

MacGuire denied these allegations under oath, but your committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made by 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 forms of veterans organizations of Fascist character.[46]

Contemporary reaction[edit]

On November 21, 1934, one day into the committee gathering testimony, The New York Times ran an article with the headline, "Gen. Butler Bares 'Fascist Plot' To Seize Government by Force; Says Bond Salesman, as Representative of Wall St. Group, Asked Him to Lead Army of 500,000 in March on Capital – Those Named Make Angry Denials – Dickstein Gets Charge".[47]

The Philadelphia Record also reported on the story on November 21 and 22, 1934.[citation needed].

A November 22, 1934, New York Times editorial published just two days into committee testimony dismissed Butler's story as "a gigantic hoax" and a "bald and unconvincing narrative."[5][45]

Time magazine reported on December 3, 1934, that the committee "alleged that definite proof had been found that the much publicized Fascist march on Washington, which was to have been led by Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, retired, according to testimony at a hearing, was actually contemplated".[6]

Thomas W. Lamont of J.P. Morgan & Co. called it "perfect moonshine."[45][when?] Gen. Douglas MacArthur, alleged to be the back-up leader if Butler declined, referred to it as "the best laugh story of the year."[45][when?]

By February 16, 1935, one day after the committee had released its final report, The New York Times had changed its tone, running on page one the headline: "Asks Laws To Curb Foreign Agitators; Committee In Report To House Attacks Nazis As The Chief Propagandists In Nation. State Department Acts Checks Activities Of An Italian Consul – Plan For March On Capital Is Held Proved." The article stated, "It also alleged that definite proof had been found that the much publicized Fascist march on Washington, which was to have been led by Major. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, retired, according to testimony at a hearing, was actually contemplated. The committee recalled testimony by General Butler, saying he had testified that Gerald C. MacGuire had tried to persuade him to accept the leadership of a Fascist army."[48]

Separately, VFW commander James E. Van Zandt stated to the press, "Less than two months" after Gen. Butler warned him, "he had been approached by 'agents of Wall Street' to lead a Fascist dictatorship in the United States under the guise of a 'Veterans Organization'."[49]

Later reactions[edit]

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. said in 1958, "Most people agreed with Mayor La Guardia of New York in dismissing it as a 'cocktail putsch'".[50] In Schlesinger's summation of the affair in 1958, "No doubt, MacGuire did have some wild scheme in mind, though the gap between contemplation and execution was considerable, and it can hardly be supposed that the Republic was in much danger."[10]

Historian Robert F. Burk wrote, "At their core, the accusations probably consisted of a mixture of actual attempts at influence peddling by a small core of financiers with ties to veterans organizations and the self-serving accusations of Butler against the enemies of his pacifist and populist causes."[7]

Historian Hans Schmidt wrote, "Even if Butler was telling the truth, as there seems little reason to doubt, there remains the unfathomable problem of MacGuire's motives and veracity. He may have been working both ends against the middle, as Butler at one point suspected. In any case, MacGuire emerged from the HUAC hearings as an inconsequential trickster whose base dealings could not possibly be taken alone as verifying such a momentous undertaking. If he was acting as an intermediary in a genuine probe, or as agent provocateur sent to fool Butler, his employers were at least clever enough to keep their distance and see to it that he self-destructed on the witness stand."[8]

Prescott Bush[edit]

In July 2007, a BBC investigation reported that Prescott Bush, father of U.S. President George H. W. Bush and grandfather of then-president George W. Bush, was to have been a "key liaison" between the 1933 Business Plotters and the newly emerged Nazi regime in Germany,[51] although this has been disputed by Jonathan Katz as a misconception caused by a clerical research error.[52] According to Katz, "Prescott Bush was too involved with the actual Nazis to be involved with something that was so home grown as the business plot."

Film adaptations[edit]

City of Angels, Stephen J. Cannell’s 1976 television detective series set in 1930s Los Angeles, featured a three-part pilot (later released separately on VHS and DVD), "The November Plan," loosely based on the Business Plot.[53] The Business Plot inspired the 2022 comedy mystery film, Amsterdam, written and directed by American filmmaker David O. Russell, starring Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington as a trio of protagonists who uncover the conspiracy and prevent it from materializing.[54] General Gil Dillenbeck, played by Robert De Niro, is based on Major General Smedley Butler. During the end of the film, a clip of Dillenbeck speaking before the congressional committee is played alongside footage of Butler's actual testimony, revealing it to be the same speech.[55]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "When The Bankers Plotted To Overthrow FDR". NPR. All Things Considered. 12 February 2012.
  2. ^ Denton, Sally (11 January 2022). "Why is so little known about the 1930s coup attempt against FDR?". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 January 2022.
  3. ^ Brockell, Gillian (13 January 2021). "Wealthy bankers and businessmen plotted to overthrow FDR. A retired general foiled it". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  4. ^ Schlesinger, p. 85
  5. ^ a b c "Credulity Unlimited". The New York Times. Vol. LXXXIV, no. 28061 (Late City ed.). 22 November 1934. p. 20.
  6. ^ a b "Plot Without Plotters". Time magazine. 3 December 1934.
  7. ^ a b Burk, Robert F. (1990). The Corporate State and the Broker State: The Du Ponts and American National Politics, 1925–1940. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-17272-8.
  8. ^ a b Schmidt p. 226, 228, 229, 230
  9. ^ Fox (2007). The Clarks of Cooperstown. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-26347-6.
  10. ^ a b Schlesinger, p. 83
  11. ^ Archer (2007) [1973], pp. 3—5.
  12. ^ a b Schmidt, p. 219 "Declaring himself a "Hoover-for-Ex-President Republican," Smedley used the bonus issue and the army's use of gas in routing the "Bonus Expeditionary Force" – recalling infamous gas warfare during the Great War – to disparage Hoover during the 1932 general elections. He came out for the Democrats "despite the fact that my family for generations has been Republican," and shared the platform when Republican Sen. George W. Norris opened a coast-to-coast stump for FDR in Philadelphia. ... Butler was pleased with the election results that saw Hoover defeated; although he admitted that he had exerted himself in the campaign more "to get rid of Hoover than to put in Roosevelt," and to "square a debt." FDR, his old Haiti ally, was a "nice fellow" and might make a good president, but Smedley did not expect much influence in the new administration."
  13. ^ Smedley D. Butler, War is a Racket (Los Angeles: Feral House, 1935, 2003), 26
  14. ^ Peter L. Bernstein (2000). The Power of Gold: the history of an obsession. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  15. ^ a b Jules Archer (1973). The Plot to Seize the White House: The Shocking True Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow FDR. Skyhorse Publishing.
  16. ^ a b Archer, p. x (Foreword)
  17. ^ Archer, p. 155.
  18. ^ Schmidt, p. 231
  19. ^ Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr. (2003). The politics of upheaval, 1935–1936 (1st Mariner books ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-34087-4.
  20. ^ Public Statement on Preliminary findings of HUAC, November 24, 1934, p. 1
  21. ^ Archer, p. 189
  22. ^ Spivak, John L. (29 January 1935). "Wall Street's Fascist Conspiracy: Testimony that the Dickstein Committee Suppressed" (PDF). New Masses. Retrieved 24 March 2023.
  23. ^ Schmidt, p. 229
  24. ^ G.C. M'Guire Dies; Accused of 'Plot', The New York Times (March 26, 1935) (subscription). An image of the article is also accessible down the page here. Retrieved July 27, 2017.
  25. ^ Schmidt, p. 224
  26. ^ s:McCormack–Dickstein Committee#Testimony of Gerald C. Macguire
  27. ^ a b Archer, p. 6.
  28. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report, testimony of Gerald C. MacGuire This was consistent with MacGuire's testimony: "You are a past department commander in the American Legion?" "No, sir; never held an office in the American Legion, I have just been a Legionnaire – oh, I beg your pardon. I did hold one office. I was on the distinguished guest committee of the Legion in 1933, I believe."
  29. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report, p. 1
  30. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report (Doyle and MacGuire's second visit)
  31. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report (Third visit with MacGuire)
  32. ^ Archer, p. 178
  33. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report, p. 20
  34. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report (Meeting in hotel)
  35. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report (Meeting with Clark)
  36. ^ Schmidt, pp. 239, 241
  37. ^ a b Archer, p. 14
  38. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report, p. 3
  39. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report, p. 10
  40. ^ Archer, p. 153
  41. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report, p. 3 and p. 20
  42. ^ Mennonite Church Historical Archives Paul French Biographical Information Archived 2011-06-04 at the Wayback Machine
  43. ^ Wikisource: McCormack–Dickstein Committee report, p. 5
  44. ^ Archer, p. 139
  45. ^ a b c d Schmidt, Hans (1998). Maverick Marine (reprint, illustrated ed.). University Press of Kentucky. p. 224. ISBN 0-8131-0957-4.
  46. ^ 74th Congress House of Representatives Report, pursuant to House Resolution No. 198, 73d Congress, February 15, 1935. Quoted in: George Seldes, 1000 Americans (1947), pp. 290–92. See also Schmidt, p. 245
  47. ^ "Gen. Butler Bares 'Fascist Plot' To Seize Government by Force; Says Bond Salesman, as Representative of Wall St. Group, Asked Him to Lead Army of 500,000 in March on Capital – Those Named Make Angry Denials – Dickstein Gets Charge". The New York Times: 1. 21 November 1934.
  48. ^ "Asks Laws to Curb Foreign Agitators; Committee in Report to House Attacks Nazis as the Chief Propagandists in Nation". The New York Times. Vol. LXXXIV, no. 28147 (Late City ed.). 16 February 1935. pp. 1, 4.
  49. ^ Schlesinger, p 85; Wolfe, Part IV: "But James E. Van Zandt, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and subsequently a Republican congressman, corroborated Butler's story and said that he, too, had been approached by "agents of Wall Street". "Zandt had been called immediately after the August 22 meeting with MacGuire by Butler and warned that...he was going to be approached by the coup plotters for his support at an upcoming VFW convention. He said that, just as Butler had warned, he had been approached "by agents of Wall Street" who tried to enlist him in their plot.""Says Butler Described. Offer". The New York Times: 3. 23 November 1934. Archived from the original on 20 October 2006. Quoted material from the NYT
    Schmidt, p. 224: "But James E. Van Zandt, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and subsequently a Republican congressman, corroborated Butler's story and said that he, too, had been approached by "agents of Wall Street."
    Archer, pp. 3, 5, 29, 32, 129, 176.
  50. ^ Wolfe, Part IV: "New York's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia,..  a (supporter) of the fascist program of Mussolini, coined the term cocktail putsch to describe the Butler story: It's a joke of some kind, he told the wire services, "someone at a party had suggested the idea to the ex-marine as a joke."
  51. ^ Horton, Scott (28 July 2007). "1934: The Plot Against America". Harper's Magazine. Retrieved 22 January 2022. A not-to-miss program on the BBC this morning... 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 incumbent 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.
  52. ^ ""Gangsters of Capitalism": Jonathan Katz on the Parallels Between Jan. 6 and 1934 Anti-FDR Coup Plot". Democracy Now!. Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  53. ^ "Michael Shonk, "City of Angels" (review), Mystery File [blog], April 12, 2012".
  54. ^ Collin, Robbie (29 September 2022). "Amsterdam, review: Margot Robbie's star power can't save this tangled comic thriller". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 29 September 2022.
  55. ^ "General Gilbert Dillenbeck and Major General Smedley Butler". YouTube. Retrieved 2 January 2023.

Works cited[edit]

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