A plutocratic coup
Many Americans are reluctant to accept that coup conspiracies are part of our country’s history. We tend to believe that plots to overthrow the government are totally foreign to our national character. But we do do coups. In fact, the country itself was founded on an armed coup to replace the legal ruler, King George III, with a gang of revolutionary upstarts. One coup that most of us haven’t heard of is The Wall Street Putsch of 1933. The financial establishment – along with its media and political henchmen – rushed out to bury the story and protect the gentlemen of Wall Street implicated in the part.
The year before, Franklin D. Roosevelt had scored a landslide presidential victory over Wall Street’s man, then-President Herbert Hoover, by promising a New Deal for millions of Americans impoverished by the Depression.
Such Wall Street multimillionaires as Grayson M.P. Murphy and Robert Sterling Clark were enraged by FDR’s moves. Calling Roosevelt a traitor to his class, these men implemented a plan to oust him by enlisting a private military force made up of thousands of destitute World War I vets who were protesting the failure to receive promised federal bonus payments. Gerald MacGuire, Murphy’s bond salesman, was an ex-soldier and an active member of The American Legion. MacGuire reached out to retired Marine Maj. Gen. Smedley Darlington Butler, a respected advocate for veterans. After several meetings spent discussing veterans’ issues, MacGuire finally explained that the financial powers he represented wanted Butler to create a paramilitary corps of 500,000 vets and march on Washington to force FDR from the White House.
MacGuire told Butler that the Wall Street cohort plus a new group called American Liberty League were prepared to fund the cause to the tune of $300 million, and that Remington Arms would supply the weapons. The conspirators thought that FDR would go down without a fight and would welcome the coup. Once in place, the financiers and militarists would install a “secretary of general affairs” to run the country. And one of their choices was Smedley Butler.
But he was the wrong general. Butler was a patriot and a lifelong soldier for democracy, and he was astounded and repulsed by the hubris and treachery of these aristocrats from Wall Street. Butler enlisted investigative reporter Paul Comly French to help gather proof of the bankers’ intent. With evidence in hand, Butler got the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities to conduct an investigation, which convinced members of the committee that Butler’s story was “alarmingly true.” The committee then opened public hearings with Butler giving detailed testimony.
Wall Street responded by immediately launching a coordinated counterattack assailing Butler and dismissing the idea that very idea of a coup was preposterous. They got the establishment media to pile on to discredit him. But the House committee final report concluded that it was “able to verify all the pertinent statements made by General Butler,” and that “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.”
Nonetheless, officials failed to punish the perpetuators of this outrageous assault on our democracy. And with the help of a Wall Street-loving media, the coup attempt was sealed off from our history books.
Fortunately, a real patriot was able to expose the traitors, nipping the coup d’etat in the bud. Their attempt reveals the threat of concentrated wealth and the ever-present danger that the imperious rich pose to majority rule.