In 1933, a powerful group of U.S. industrial and banking titans - including the DuPonts, Prescott Bush, and leaders of U.S. Steel, General Motors, Standard Oil, Chase National Bank, and Goodyear Tire & Rubber - hatched a plan to overthrow the new government of Franklin Roosevelt. The plotters were afraid that the liberal reforms coming into view during the New Deal would erode the power of corporations and wealthy individuals and lead the U.S. toward socialism, bankruptcy and dictatorship. These people admired the fascist regimes sweeping to power in Europe and even studied those regimes and their paths to power as possible models for the U.S. coup. The conspirators were financed, at least in part, by the American Liberty League and attempted to recruit Gen. Smedley Butler, a popular military leader and one of the most decorated soldiers of his era, to lead the plot to seize the White House. Butler initially pretended to go along with the plot in order to find out more information, but ultimately spilled the beans to Congress. In its report, McCormack-Dickstein Committee supported Butler's claims, but failed to investigate further. In fact, some argue that Congress actually participated in a cover-up, pointing to the fact that the committee never called any of the plotters to testify and they erased the names of the conspirators from the transcript of Gen. Butler's testimony. Members of Roosevelt's own administration who had been connected to the potential plot also had an interest in minimizing the story once it emerged. Thankfully, now, many years later, we do in fact have an established paper trail verifying the basic substance of Butler's claims... Historians argue about how threatening the plot really was, but most accept the basic details as established. The question is, was it a "cocktail putsch," as a dismissive Fiorello LaGuardia claimed, or something more immenent, and therefore more ominous, as Butler and Jules Archer contend? Or, was it somewhere in between?
While never operationalized, and whether or not it was a real or perceived threat, the plot to overthrow Roosevelt's government was far along when it was uncovered. It illustrates the potential danger to democracy of massive, concentrated wealth in the hands of a small circle of individuals and large corporations and raises profound questions about who really rules America. It also underscores the way the powerful will act to defend their interests when they perceive them to be threatened.
If you are new to this history, here is a recent BBC audio story on the plot to seize the White House that provides a nice summary of the events and evidence (28 min.):
BBC documentary on plot to seize the White House
Or, read Jules Archer, "The Plot to Seize the White House" (recently reissued by Skyhorse Publishing):
Amazon link to The Plot to Seize the Whitehouse
full online text of The Plot to Seize the White House
If you are more inclined toward the audio/visual, you might want to check out the History Channel documentary, "The Plot to Overthrow FDR":
Amazon link to History Channel documentary, "The Plot to Overthrow FDR"
And, if you are wanting more on the Bush angle, see:
London Guardian article
Here are a couple more sources on the plot to seize the White House and corporate America's links to fascism during the depression era:
Wallstreet's Plot to Seize the White House website
"Profits über Alles! American Corporations and Hitler," by Jacques R. Pauwels
Final thought: We have to ask ourselves why we tell certain stories about the past and not others. Why do some things get included in the popular narrative of our collective past and other things get left out? Why is it that we don't tell or teach the story of the 1933 coup? Why is our popular version of the past silent on this point? What does this tell us about the past? Perhaps more importantly, what does this tell us about the present?