Wealthy Bankers And Businessmen Plotted To Overthrow FDR. A Retired General Foiled ItHistorians in the News
tags: conservatism, FDR, coups, Smedley Butler
The consternation had been growing in the months between Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election and his inauguration, but his elimination of the gold standard in April 1933 infuriated some of the country’s wealthiest men.
Titans of banking and business worried that if U.S. currency wasn’t backed by gold, inflation could skyrocket and make their millions worthless. Why, they could end up as poor as most everyone else was during the Great Depression.
So, according to the sworn congressional testimony of a retired general, they decided to overthrow the government and install a dictator who was more business friendly. After all, they reasoned, that had been working well in Italy.
How close this fascist cabal got, and who exactly was in on it, are still subjects of historical debate. But as the dust settles after the pro-Trump attack on the U.S. Capitol, and as it becomes clearer how close lawmakers came to catastrophe, the similarities to the Business Plot are hard to ignore.
“The nation has never been at a potential brink as it was then up until, I think, now,” said Sally Denton, author of the book “The Plots against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right.”
Smedley D. Butler was a highly decorated Marine Corps general who had received the Medal of Honor twice. He was beloved by his men before his retirement, and more so afterward when he spoke in support of the Bonus Army’s fight for early bonus payments for World War I service.
“He was wildly popular and was an outspoken critic of fascism and Mussolini at a time when there was really an impulse toward that throughout the world, including in the United States,” Denton said.
Given his opposition to fascism, Butler might not seem like a good fit for the job of coup leader, but his support from veterans was more important to the Wall Street plotters. At the time, there were many more veterans than active-duty service members; if someone could summon them as a force of 500,000 to march on Washington, the government could fall without a shot being fired.
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