November 30, 1934 – Exposure of “The Business Plot” to Mount a Coup Against President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The story of this plot came to light thanks to Smedley Butler, an American patriot and whistleblower devoted to the truth.

Smedley Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940) was a United States Marine Corps major general, the highest rank authorized at that time, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history.

By the end of his 34-year career, Butler had received 16 medals, five for heroism. He is one of 19 men to receive the Medal of Honor twice, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only Marine to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions.

Smedley Butler

During his time in active service, Butler commanded Marines from China to the Philippines, to Central America. However, his experiences – especially in Central America, led him to become an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy. As Steven Usdin reports of Butler in his book Bureau of Spies:

He came to believe that America’s muscular foreign policy benefited big business, hurt the people who found themselves on the wrong side of Yankee bayonets, and did nothing for regular Americans. Summing up his career in an August 1933 speech speech to the nation’s largest veterans organization, the American Legion, Butler said he’d been a ‘high-class muscle man for Big Business.’ He recounted that he’d ‘helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of the Brown Brothers,’ had helped make Mexico ‘safe for American oil interests,’ and had flexed military muscle to help American business interest in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba: ‘I helped the rape of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.’” (Usdin, p. 66)

Butler was drummed out of the Marines in October 1931 after causing a diplomatic incident by falsely accusing Benito Mussolini of running down and killing a child.

In 1933 he toured the country giving speeches in which he denounced the Economy Act of 1933, called on veterans to organize politically to win their benefits, and condemned the FDR administration for its ties to big business. It is perhaps for this reason that he was approached by a group of plotters who wanted to mount a coup against President Franklin Roosevelt. They saw Butler as a man who could organize the soldiers necessary to effect the coup. The men behind the effort included wealthy scion Pierre du Pont; the former treasurer of General Motors, John J. Raskob; and other representatives of the wealthiest men in America. Most of them were opposed to greater taxation of their wealth, and feared that FDR’s “socialist” tendencies would cause them to have to part with some of their money. They formed an organization calling themselves the American Liberty League, which had the mission of “annihilating the imported, autocratic, Asiatic Socialist party of Karl Marx and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.” (Usdin, p. 65.) Usdin noted:

The men who ran US Steel, General Motors, the Chase Manhattan and JP Mortan banks, Standard Oil, and, until FDR’s presidential nomination, the Democratic Party joined the du Pont brothers and Raskob in a crusade against what they viewed as populist tyranny.” (p. 65)

Pierre Samuel du Pont company photo, c. 1910

Smedley Butler, a staunch patriot in spite of his criticisms, decided to play along with the plotters in order to gather evidence to thwart their schemes. He then went to a journalist friend, Paul Comly French, who broke the story on November 30, 1934 of what became known as “The Business Plot.”

Congress began an investigation. There were denials all around of course and the media ridiculed the allegations. A final report by a special House of Representatives Committee confirmed some of what Butler said, but to Butler’s astonishment, did not name any names, even though (or because) the individuals involved were some of the most powerful in the country. Moreover, no prosecutions or further investigations followed.

Some of those same individuals then tried to merge their group with the Ku Klux Klan, but the merger never took place. Nevertheless, as Usdin writes:

Although the Liberty League/KKK alliance was not consummated, the fact that some of the wealthiest men in America considered working with thugs who celebrated the lynching and terrorizing of innocent men, women, and children provides insight into their character and lends credence to the notion that the League backed the Business Plot.” (p. 70)

Butler became a popular activist, speaking at meetings organized by veterans, pacifists, and church groups in the 1930s. In 1935, he wrote a short book titled War Is a Racket, in which he described and criticized the workings of the United States in its foreign actions and wars, indicating that many were inspired by the imperial aspirations of American corporations (for example, wars in Central America that benefitted American sugar and fruit interests).

Upon his retirement, Butler bought a home in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, where he lived with his wife until his death on June 21, 1940.

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