Major General Smedley Butler and the 1930s Plot to Overthrow the President; War Is A Racket

Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933 by General Smedley Butler, USMC

“War is just a racket. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.”

In 1934 Major General Butler stopped plot that would overthrow U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and install a fascist government. Who was involved in the plot?  Respected names like Robert Sterling Clark, Grayson M.P. Murphy, and Prescott Bush.

Arcadia Publishing 2014 |

Major General Smedley Butler.
[Major General Smedley Butler. Image reprinted from Philadelphia’s Organized Crime of the 1920 and 1930s by Anne Margaret Anderson with John J. Binder courtesy of the Library of Congress (pg. 11, Arcadia Publishing, 2014).]

In 1934, a colossal claim reached the American news media: There had been a plot to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in favor of a fascist government. Supposedly in the works since 1933, the claims of the conspiracy came from a very conspicuous and reliable source: Major General Smedley Butler, one of the most decorated war heroes of his time. Even more unbelievable were his claims of who was involved in the plot – respected names like Robert Sterling Clark, Grayson M.P. Murphy, and Prescott Bush. While news media at the time mocked Butler’s story, recently discovered archives have revealed the truth behind Major General Butler’s claims.

Who was Smedley Butler?

Born in 1881, Major General Smedley Butler was the eldest son of a Quaker family from West Chester, Pennsylvania. Butler came from a line of civil-serviceman: his father, Thomas Butler, was a representative for the state of Pennsylvania in Congress, and his maternal grandfather, Smedley Darlington, was also a Republican congressman.

Butler served in several major world conflicts, including the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and World War I. During his time in service, Butler became known for his bravery and relentless leadership in battle, and he was rewarded with several distinctions, including multiple Medals of Honor, an Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Marine Corps Brevet Medal, and a Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

In total, Butler served for 34 years in the Marine Corps, and earned 16 medals for his time in service. He is currently the most decorated Marine veteran of all time. He died in 1940 at the age of 58.

The Business Plot

After leaving the service, Butler held many roles, but became best-known for his activism. Butler’s various accolades made him a household name following World War I, and he was well-known among veteran circles as a champion of veterans’ rights. This included supporting the so-called Bonus Army, a large group of veterans and veteran supporters who lobbied Congress for payments of bonds issued to veterans prior to the war.

This positive public image, and demonstrated ability to rally people under his leadership, were perhaps the reason why Butler was approached by Gerald C. MacGuire and Bob Doyle in 1933. MacGuire, a bond salesman, and Doyle were members of the American Legion, an organization meant to support veteran rights and opportunities.

During their first meeting with Butler, MacGuire and Doyle asked the Major General to speak at a Legion convention in Chicago, claiming they wanted to point out the various problems with the Legion’s leadership. Butler was at first open to this idea, knowing that the Legion had several administrative issues that ultimately compromised veteran benefits.

Prescott Bush, one of the men implicated in the Business Plot.

[Prescott Bush, one of the men implicated in the Business Plot. Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons.]
However, over subsequent meetings with the two men, Butler quickly began to suspect that something was amiss – during their second meeting, MacGuire showed Butler bank statements amounting to over $100,000 USD (valued at nearly $2 million today), which he hoped Butler would use to bring veteran supporters to the convention. The Major General was stunned: there was very little chance that a group of veterans had been able to gather such a vast amount of funds. Even worse was the speech that MacGuire asked Butler to deliver – a speech which had little to do with veteran affairs, and instead was more critical of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s recent move away from the gold standard.

The abandonment of the gold standard was a major sticking point for many high-ranking officials and bankers in the country during 1933. Although there were several recognized issues with money backed by gold (such as dependency on gold production, and short-term price instabilities), many bankers were fearful that their gold-backed loans would not be paid back in full by the President’s new policies.

The departure from the gold standard just added to other concerns about FDR’s policies, particularly his plans to provide subsidizations and jobs for the poor, which businessmen and conservative politicians alike took as an indication of Roosevelt’s socialist leanings, or (even worse) a communist. Butler could sense this disgruntlement when he asked to meet with MacGuire’s superior, and found himself speaking with Robert Sterling Clark, an heir to the Singer Sewing fortune. Clark was much more upfront than MacGuire, telling Butler that his real interest was in preserving the gold standard, even claiming that he “had $30 million, and was willing to spend half of the $30 million to save the other half.”

Butler, true to his patriotic form, flatly refused the offer to deliver the speech at the convention in Chicago. After parting ways with MacGuire and Clark, he heard little from the men until MacGuire began travelling through Europe on a trip funded by Clark. MacGuire began sending postcards to Butler from various European locations, including Italy, Germany, and France.

A portrait of Robert Sterling Clark.

[A portrait of Robert Sterling Clark. Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons.]
Upon returning to the States, MacGuire called another meeting with Butler, where he was much more transparent about his plans: Admitting that the money he had gathered came mostly from captains of industry, MacGuire told Butler that he had travelled Europe to see how veterans operated within foreign governments. After discounting the governments of Germany and Italy, he described a facet of French government which was run quite well by veterans.

These various observations led MacGuire to believe that the only way to save the country from FDR’s “ill-fated” policies was to create a military state run by former servicemen, with Roosevelt serving as a figurehead, rather than a true leader. Butler asked what MacGuire wanted from him, and was told he would be the ideal leader of these veterans, promising him an army of 500,000 men and financial backing from an assortment of rich businessmen, so long as he would be willing to lead a peaceful march on the White House to displace Roosevelt.

The McCormack-Dickstein Committee Investigation

Astonished by MacGuire’s plans, Butler knew he would need someone to corroborate his story if he was going to stop the intended coup. Having previously worked as the police captain of Philadelphia, Butler reached out to Philadelphia Record writer Paul Comly French, who agreed to meet with MacGuire as well. During this meeting, MacGuire told French that he believed a fascist state was the only answer for America, and that Smedley was the “ideal leader” because he “could organize one million men overnight.”

Armed with French’s mutual testimony, Butler appeared before the McCormack-Dickstein congressional committee, also known as the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, to reveal what he knew about the plot to seize the presidency in November 1934. The committee at first discounted a large part of Butler’s testimony (even writing in their initial report that they saw no reason to subpoena men like John W. Davis, a former presidential hopeful, or Thomas W. Lamont, a partner with J.P. Morgan & Company).

However, with the testimony of French, and the erratic testimony of MacGuire, the committee began to further investigate the plot. The final reports of the committee sang a different tune, finding that all of Butler’s claims could be corroborated as factual. However, they also stressed that the plot was far from being enacted, and it was not clear if the plans would have ever truly come to fruition.

Quickly becoming known as the “White House Coup” and “Wall Street Putsch,” many major news sources derided Butler’s claims, as the committee’s final report was not made available publicly. Those implicated, ranging from the DuPont family to Prescott Bush, the grandfather of future President George W. Bush, laughed off Butler’s claims. Evidence of the validity of Butler’s testimony was not released until the 21st century, when the committee’s papers were published in the Public Domain. No one was ever prosecuted in connection to the plot.

Butler, for his part, went on to continue advocating for veterans. He also became a staunch opponent of capitalism, which he felt fed war efforts. His views were published in his well-known short book War is a Racket, which was published in 1935. There’s no telling how far the plot to overthrow the President may have gone without Butler’s intervention, but one thing is certain: its failure was the work of one patriotic Major General, and his life-long love of democracy.

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Excerpt from a speech delivered in 1933 by General Smedley Butler, USMC

“War is just a racket. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.”

Beautiful ideals were painted for our boys who were sent out to die. This was the “war to end all wars.” This was the “war to make the world safe for democracy.” No one mentioned to them, as they marched away, that their going and their dying would mean huge war profits. No one told these American soldiers that they might be shot down by bullets made by their own brothers here. No one told them that the ships on which they were going to cross might be torpedoed by submarines built with United States patents. They were just told it was to be a “glorious adventure.””

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War is a Racket   –   by Smedley Butler    

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LibriVox recording of War Is a Racket by Smedley Butler.  
Read in English by John Greenman

Army Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler’s expose of American Corporate Imperialism. Butler said, “I served in all commissioned ranks from second lieutenant to Major General. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of the racket all the time. Now I am sure of it.”

– Summary by John Greenman and


Bush Treason Exposed by Smedley Butler
by The Business Plot By John Burl Smith
Sunday Nov 8th, 2009 8:37 PM
An outspoken critic and author of War Is A Racket, Gen. Butler, a true American patriot, opposed using US military power to support “Big Business.”
The Business Plot
By John Burl SmithThe Business Plot was a conspiracy to overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Major General Smedley Butler exposed the attempted coup d’état in 1934. It involved some of the wealthiest businessmen in the United States (US). The twice decorated WWI veteran and former Commander of the Marine Corps testified before the McCormack-Dickstein Congressional Committee and laid out an amazing saga, detailing how the conspirators attempted to recruit him.An outspoken critic and author of War Is A Racket, Gen. Butler, a true American patriot, opposed using US military power to support “Big Business.” “The U.S. has routinely destroyed democracy throughout the globe while its leaders claimed to be spreading democracy. I spent 33 years in active military service as a high class muscle-man for Big Business, Wall Street and bankers. I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914, then made Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues. I helped rape half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street and did the same to Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912.”Buried beneath a wall of silence until American journalist John Buchanan dredged it up in July 2007, the story was picked up by the Guardian newspaper (UK). The BBC followed with a full documentary. A kaleidoscope of treason, “The Business Plot” is shrouded in secrecy and is a testament to how wealthy people in the US are held to a different standard of criminal justice.

The McCormack-Dickstein Congressional Committee hearings confirmed Gen. Butler’s story and swore initially it would question all parties involved. However, the Committee’s final report was a whitewash. It called only Gerald MacGuire, a go-between, who possessed neither resources nor connections to organize such a plot. It covered up the involvement and protected the reputation of wealthy conspirators by not determining the source of the large sums MacGuire spent or said higher ups would provide. No prosecutions or further investigations followed.

There is an old maxim which says, “If you want to get to the bottom of a conspiracy, follow the money!” Preserving their wealth and power is the reason US businessmen plotted to overthrow FDR. First and foremost, businessmen like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, John and Allen Dulles, Prescott Bush and George Herbert Walker admired Hitler and Mussolini. Although at the point of the gun, fascists used a strong hand protecting business. They were ruthless dealing with labor unions and social unrest, which is what these men wanted in the US.

Next, the Great Depression brought thousands of WWI veterans to Washington, D.C. on July 17, 1932. Led by a former sergeant, Walter W. Waters, they pitched tents around the city and demanded payment of bonuses granted them under the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924. Gen. Butler encouraged them to fight Hoover as though he was the Kaiser to get what they deserved. Hoover refused to meet with them and ordered the US Cavalry to remove them and their campsites. A Republican, Gen. Butler threw his support to Roosevelt for president.

By the end of Roosevelt’s “First 100 Days,” America’s richest businessmen were in a panic. They felt Roosevelt intended to conduct a massive redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Gen. Butler’s testimony described a plot only powerful men with money could design. First, they planned to create a fascist army, like Italy’s Black Shirts and Germany’s Brown Shirts, for Butler to lead. MacGuire claimed to have 500,000 war veterans from the American Legion and each man was a leader of 10 others, equaling 5 million men, if needed. A second fascist army was to be recruited from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and financed with $700 million. Arms and equipment would be obtained from the Remington Arms Co. and supplied by the Du Pont family. They would model their forces after the Croix-de-Feu in France, one of several fascists groups MacGuire studied while touring Europe.

Backed up by such manpower, Wall Street plotters wanted Gen. Butler to deliver an ultimatum demanding either Roosevelt pretended to be incapacitated by polio and allow Butler to takeover or be forced out with the army of 500,000 war veterans from the American Legion.

Money was no object according to MacGuire. He provided a bank account with $100,000 and told Butler that his Wall Street backers had $300,000,000 if necessary. Principal conspirator and founding member of the American Liberty League, the primary source of funds for the plot, Robert Sterling Clark, a New York banker, told Butler he would spend $30 million. Other major backers were leaders of U.S. Steel, General Motors, Standard Oil, Chase National Bank, and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

Most astoundingly, the Bush family was a major backer of the coup. Prescott Bush, a founding partner of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., (1931) was the Wall Street front for several Nazi companies and U.S. financial interests of Fritz Thyssen. Thyssen was an early financial backer of the Nazi party. Bush was a director and shareholder, along with George Herbert Walker, his father-in-law, in the Union Banking Corporation (UBC) which also ran a complicated financial web that supported Hitler until 1942. UBC’s assets were confiscated that year by the government, after Pres. Roosevelt signed the Trading with the Enemy Act.

The following is a list of some of the fascist coup leaders: Irenee Du Pont, founder of the American Liberty League, which executed the plot; Grayson Murphy, Director of Goodyear, Bethlehem Steel and a group of J.P. Morgan banks; William Doyle, former state commander of the American Legion and a central plotter of the coup; John Davis, former Democratic presidential candidate and a senior attorney for J.P. Morgan; Al Smith, bitter political foe of Roosevelt, former governor of New York and a co-director of the American Liberty League; and John J. Raskob, officer and a former chairman of the Democratic Party. Raskob later became a “Knight of Malta,” a Roman Catholic Religious Order with a high percentage of CIA spies, including CIA Directors William Casey, William Colby and John McCone.

Years later, retired US Rep. John W. McCormack, former Speaker of the House and Chairman of The McCormack-Dickstein Congressional Committee said, “If the late Major General Smedley Butler of the U.S. Marine Corps had not been a stubborn devotee of democracy, Americans today could conceivably be living under an American Mussolini, Hitler, or Franco.”

Nevertheless, America did not escape the 2000 coup d’état, which was facilitated by the US Supreme Court, that successfully put George Walker Bush in the White House. Moreover, Barack Obama was expected to undertake some FDR type programs to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor but just the opposite occurred. Could it be the country underwent a coup d’état and Mr. Obama is merely a figurehead, as Roosevelt would have been had Major General Smedley Butler not been there? (Sources:,, and


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