The Business Plot (also the Plot Against FDR and the White House Putsch) was an alleged political conspiracy in 1933 wherein wealthy businessmen and corporations plotted a coup d’état to overthrow United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1934, the Business Plot was publicly revealed by retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler testifying to the McCormack-Dickstein Congressional Committee. [1] In his testimony, Butler claimed that a group of men had approached him as part of a plot to overthrow Roosevelt in a military coup. One of the alleged plotters, Gerald MacGuire, vehemently denied any such plot. In their final report, the Congressional committee supported Butler's allegations of the existence of the plot,[2] but no prosecutions or further investigations followed, and the matter was mostly forgotten.


Shacks, put up by the Bonus Army on the Anacostia flats, Washington, D.C., burning after the battle with the military (1932).

On July 17, 1932, thousands of World War I veterans converged on Washington, D.C., set up tent camps, and demanded immediate payment of bonuses due them according to the Adjusted Service Certificate Law of 1924. This "Bonus Army" was led by Walter W. Waters, a former Army sergeant. The Army was encouraged by an appearance from retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, who had considerable influence over the veterans, being one of the most popular military figures of the time. [citation needed] A few days after Butler's arrival, President Herbert Hoover ordered the marchers removed, and their camps were destroyed by US Army cavalry troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.

Butler, although a self-described Republican, responded by supporting Roosevelt in that year's election.[3]

In a 1995 History Today article Clayton Cramer argued that the devastation of the Great Depression had caused many Americans to question the foundations of liberal democracy. "Many traditionalists, here and in Europe, toyed with the ideas of Fascism and National Socialism; many liberals dallied with Socialism and Communism." Cramer argues that this explains why some American business leaders viewed fascism as a viable system to both preserve their interests and end the economic woes of the Depression.[4]

Timeline of events

Year Date Event
1933 July 1 First Butler meeting with MacGuire and Doyle[5]
July 3 or 4 Second meeting with MacGuire and Doyle[6]
Around August 1 MacGuire visits Butler alone.[7] Butler never sees Doyle again.
September 24[8][9] MacGuire visits Butler's hotel room in Newark.[10]
Late-September Butler meets with Robert Clark.[11]
1934 First half of 1934 MacGuire travels to Europe, sends Butler postcards[12]
March 6 MacGuire writes Clark and Clark's attorney letter describing the Croix de Feu[13]
August 22 Butler meets MacGuire at a Hotel. Last time Butler meets MacGuire[14][15]
September 13 Undercover reporter French meets MacGuire in his office[16]
Late September Butler tells Van Zandt that conspirators will meet him at upcoming Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.
November 20 Committee begins examining evidence.
Paul Comly French breaks the story in the Philadelphia Record and the New York Post.[17]
November 21 New York Times writes its first article on the story.
November 24 The committee publicly releases its preliminary findings.[18]
1935 January 3 Final day of committee[19]
January 29 Spivak publishes first of two articles in Communist magazine, revealing deleted portion of congressional committee. Spivak argues the plot is part of a Fascist conspiracy of financiers and Jews to take over the USA; he alleges names of big business leaders.
February 15 Committee submits to Congress its final report.[20][21]
Participants Background Role
Gerald C. MacGuire MacGuire was a $100 a week bond salesman for Murphy & Company,[22][23] former commander of the Connecticut American Legion[24][25] who had been an activist for the gold currency movement that Robert Sterling Clark sponsored.[citation needed] Met Butler several times
William Doyle Bill Doyle was commander of the Massachusetts American Legion.[26] Met Butler with MacGuire on first visit
Robert Sterling Clark Robert Sterling Clark was an art collector who lived mostly in Paris,[citation needed] one of Wall Street's richest investors,[citation needed] and heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune.[27][28] MacGuire had known Robert S. Clark when he was a Second Lieutenant in China during the Boxer Rebellion. Clark had been nicknamed "the millionaire lieutenant.[28]

McCormack-Dickstein Committee

The events testified to in the McCormack-Dickstein Committee happened between July and November 1933. The Committee began examining evidence a year later, on November 20, 1934. On November 24 the committee released a statement detailing the testimony it had heard about the plot and its preliminary findings. On February 15, 1935, the committee submitted to the House of Representatives its final report.[20] The McCormack-Dickstein Committee was the precursor to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC); its materials are archived with those of the HUAC.

During the McCormack-Dickstein Committee hearings, Butler testified that through MacGuire and Bill Doyle, who was then the department commander of the American Legion in Massachusetts,[29] the conspirators attempted to recruit him to lead a coup, promising him an army of 500,000 men for a march on Washington, D.C., $30 million in financial backing,[30] and generous media spin control.

[BUTLER:] I said, "The idea of this great group of soldiers, then, is to sort of frighten him, is it?"
"No, no, no; not to frighten him. This is to sustain him when others assault him."
I said, "Well, I do not know about that. How would the President explain it?"
He said: "He will not necessarily have to explain it, because we are going to help him out. Now, did it ever occur to you that the President is overworked? We might have an Assistant President, somebody to take the blame; and if things do not work out, he can drop him."
He went on to say that it did not take any constitutional change to authorize another Cabinet official, somebody to take over the details of the office-take them off the President's shoulders. He mentioned that the position would be a secretary of general affairs-a sort of a supersecretary.
CHAIRMAN: A secretary of general affairs?
BUTLER: That is the term used by him-or a secretary of general welfare-I cannot recall which. I came out of the interview with that name in my head. I got that idea from talking to both of them, you see [MacGuire and Clark]. They had both talked about the same kind of relief that ought to be given the President, and he [MacGuire] said: "You know, the American people will swallow that. We have got the newspapers. We will start a campaign that the President's health is failing. Everybody can tell that by looking at him, and the dumb American people will fall for it in a second."[31]

Despite Butler's support for Roosevelt in the election,[3] and his reputation as a strong critic of capitalism,[citation needed] Butler said the plotters felt his good reputation and popularity were vital in attracting support amongst the general public, and saw him as easier to manipulate than others.

Butler said he spoke for thirty minutes with Gerald C. MacGuire. In attempting to recruit Butler, MacGuire may have played on the general's loyalty toward his fellow veterans. Knowing of an upcoming bonus in 1935 for World War I veterans, Butler said MacGuire told him, "We want to see the soldiers' bonus paid in gold. We do not want the soldier to have rubber money or paper money." Such names as Al Smith, Roosevelt's political foe and former governor of New York, and Irénée du Pont, a chemical industrialist, were said to be the financial and organizational backbone of the plot. Butler stated that once the conspirators were in power, they would protect Roosevelt from other plotters.[32]

Given a successful coup, Butler said that the plan was for him to have held near-absolute power in the newly created position of "Secretary of General Affairs," while Roosevelt would have assumed a figurehead role.

Reaction to Butler's testimony by the media and business elite was dismissive or hostile. The majority of media outlets, including The New York Times, Philadelphia Post,[33] and Time Magazine ridiculed or downplayed his claims, saying they lacked evidence. After the committee concluded, The New York Times and Time Magazine downplayed the conclusions of the committee.[34]

The committee deleted extensive excerpts from the report relating to Wall Street financiers including J.P. Morgan & Co., the Du Pont interests, Remington Arms, and others allegedly involved in the plot attempt. As of 1975, a full transcript of the hearings had yet to be traced.[35]

Those accused of the plotting by Butler all denied any involvement. MacGuire was the only figure identified by Butler who testified before the committee. Others involved were actually called to appear to testify, though never were forced to testify.

Committee members

From the McCormack-Dickstein Committee files found at wikisource.

Deleted testimony to the Congressional Committee

The Intricate Structure of Wall Street's Fascist Conspiracy, New Masses magazine, 5 Feb. 1933. Historian Schmidt said Spivak's wider claims were: "overblown aspersions against ‘Jewish financiers working with fascist groups’ — a mishmash of guilt-by-association. . . . [41]

Further information: [[:Suppressed testimony of the McCormack-Dickstein Committee on wikisource, showing all of the deleted text]]

Reporter "John L. Spivak had been tipped off earlier by a fellow Washington correspondent that some of Butler's testimony had been deleted in the committee's November 26, 1934 report to the House of Representatives. . . . "[42]

"Other newsmen joined (Spivak) in pressing for a copy of the (McCormack-Dickstein Committee report). It was then that the defunct McCormack-Dickstein Committee . . . decided to publish a 125-page document containing the testimony of Butler, MacGuire, and others, on 15 February 1933. It was marked ‘Extracts’. . . .  

"A veteran Washington correspondent told Spivak that he had heard the deletions had been made at the request of a member of the President's Cabinet..."[42]

Spivak "had been tipped-off earlier that the House of Representatives intended to let the McCormack-Dickstein Committee expire on January 3, 1935, rather than renew it as the Committee had asked in order to continue its investigations."[42]

"About a week later . . . Spivak won permission from Dickstein to examine the Committee's official exhibits and make photo . . . copies of those that had been made public [from] the Committee's secretary, Frank P. Randolph."[42]

"Randolph, flooded with work involved in closing the Committee's files and records, gave Spivak stacks of documents, exhibits, and transcripts of testimony that were being sent to the Government Printing Office. To Spivak's amazement, he found among these records a full transcript of the executive session hearings in the Butler affair."[42]

Spivak "compared it with the official extract of the hearings and found a number of startling omissions made from the testimony of both Butler and French."[42]

Spivak wrote a two-part article revealing the Committee's deletions, [43] historian Schmidt explains:

"Journalist John L. Spivak . . . two-part feature ‘Wall Street's Fascist Conspiracy’ appeared in early 1935, a month after the hearings closed. He cogently developed a case for taking the suppressed testimony seriously. But this relevant material was embellished with overblown aspersions against ‘Jewish financiers working with fascist groups’ — a mishmash of guilt-by-association that connected Morgan interests with Jewish financier Felix Warburg, HUAC, and certain members of the American Jewish Committee. Spivak was intent upon grinding his own axes, and elucidation of the plot was obscured. The suppressed Butler-MacGuire conversations could hardly support all this. Moreover ‘New Masses’ [magazine] possessed a limited readership; the scoop was stigmatized as ‘Red’ propaganda, and generally not cited elsewhere". [41]

After Spivak told Gen. Butler about the deletions from the transcript of his testimony, in his broadcast over WCAU on February 17, 1935, Butler revealed that some of the “most important” portions of his testimony had been suppressed in the McCormack-Dickstein report to Congress. “The Committee”, he growled, “stopped dead in its tracks when it got near the top”. [42] He added angrily:

"Like most committees, it has slaughtered the little and allowed the big to escape. The big shots weren't even called to testify. Why wasn't Col. Grayson M.-P. Murphy, New York broker . . . called? Why wasn't Louis Howe, Secretary to the President of the United States, called? . . . Why wasn't Al Smith called? And why wasn't Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, called? And why wasn't Hanford MacNider, former American Legion commander, called? They were all mentioned in the testimony. And why was all mention of these names suppressed from the committee report?" [42][44]

Final resolution

The Congressional committee report confirmed Butler's testimony (emphasis added):

In the last few weeks of the committee's official life it received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist government in this country...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.
This committee received evidence from Maj. Gen Smedley D. Butler (retired), twice decorated by the Congress of the United States. He testified before the committee as to conversations with one Gerald C. MacGuire in which the latter is alleged to have suggested the formation of a fascist army under the leadership of General Butler.[45]
MacGuire denied these allegations under oath, but your committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made by General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization. This, however, was corroborated in the correspondence of MacGuire with his principal, Robert Sterling Clark, of New York City, while MacGuire was abroad studying the various forms of veterans organizations of Fascist character.[46]

Partial corroboration of Butler's story

Portions of Gen. Butler's story were corroborated by:

Historians’ treatment of the Business Plot

These reasons were proposed to explain why the Business Plot did not become a cause célèbre:

Doubters of Gen. Butler's testimony claimed it lacked evidence:

The 2007 BBC radio documentary The White House Coup reported on the Business Plot.[55]



  1. ^ Schlesinger, p. 85 " In March 1934, the House of Representatives authorized an investigation into "un-American" activities by a special committee headed by John W. McCormack of Massachusetts and Samuel Dickstein of New York. In the following months the McCormack-Dickstein Committee inquired into Nazi operations in America, exposed William Dudley Pelley and the Silver Shirts, looked into Smedley Butler's allegations, and called the Communist leaders up for testimony. Its manner of investigation commanded special respect. McCormack used competent investigators and employed as committee counsel a former Georgia senator with a good record on civil liberties. Most of the examination of witnesses was carried on in executive sessions. In public sessions, witnesses were free to consult counsel. Throughout, McCormack was eager to avoid hit-and-run accusation and unsubstantiated testimony. The result was an almost uniquely scrupulous investigation in a highly sensitive area."
  2. ^ Schlesinger, p. 85 "As for McCormack's House committee, it declared itself "able to verify all the pertinent statements made by General Butler" except for MacGuire's direct proposal to him, and it considered this more or less confirmed by MacGuire's European reports."
  3. ^ a b Schmidt, p. 219 "Declaring himself a "Hoover-for-Ex-President Republican," Smedley used the bonus issue and the army's use of gas in routing the (Bonus Expeditionary Force) B.E.F -recalling infamous gas warfare during the Great War- to disparage Hoover during the 1932 general elections. He came out for the Democrats "despite the fact that my family for generations has been Republican," and shared the platform when Republican Senator George W. Norris opened a coast-to-coast stump for FDR in Philadelphia....Butler was pleased with the election results that saw Hoover defeated; although he admitted that he had exerted himself in the campaign more "to get rid of Hoover than to put in Roosevelt," and to "square a debt." FDR, his old Haiti ally, was a "nice fellow" and might make a good president, but Smedley did not expect much influence in the new administration."
  4. ^ Clayton E. Cramer, "An American Coup d'État?" in History Today, November 1995
  5. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, pg. 1
  6. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report
  7. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report
  8. ^ Archer, p. 178
  9. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, pg. 20
  10. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report
  11. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report
  12. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, pg. 3
  13. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, pg. 10
  14. ^ Archer, p. 153
  15. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, pg. 3 and pg. 20
  16. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, pg. 5
  17. ^ Archer, p. 139
  18. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, public statement on preliminary findings, Novermber 24, 1934
  19. ^ Archer, p. 189
  20. ^ a b Archer, p. x (Foreword)
  21. ^ National Archives: The Special Committee on Un-American Activities Authorized To Investigate Nazi Propaganda and Certain Other Propaganda Activities (73A-F30.1) "The (McCormack-Dickstein Committee) conducted public and executive hearings intermittently between April 26 and December 29, 1934, in Washington, DC; New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; Newark; and Asheville, NC, examining hundreds of witnesses and accumulating more than 4,300 pages of testimony."
  22. ^ Schmidt, p. 224
  23. ^ s:McCormack-Dickstein Committee#Testimony of Gerald C. Macguire
  24. ^ Archer, p. 6.
  25. ^ This contradicts MacGuire's testimony: "You are a past department commander in the American Legion?" "No, sir; never held an office in the American Legion. I have just boon a Legionnaire—oh, I beg your pardon. I did hold one office. I was on the distinguished guest committee of the Legion in 1933, I believe." Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, testimony of Gerald C. MacGuire
  26. ^ Archer, p. 6
  27. ^ Schmidt, p. 239, 241
  28. ^ a b Archer, p. 14
  29. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, Testimony of Maj. Gen. S. D. Butler (ret)
  30. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee report, pg. 2
  31. ^ Archer, p. 155.
  32. ^ Beam, Alex (May 25 2004). "A Blemish Behind Beauty at The Clark". The Boston Globe: E1. ((cite journal)): Check date values in: |date= (help): "In his congressional testimony, Butler described Clark as being "known as the "millionaire lieutenant" and was sort of batty, sort of queer, did all sorts of extravagant things. He used to go exploring around China and wrote a book on it, on explorations. He was never taken seriously by anybody. But he had a lot of money." "Clark was certainly eccentric. One of the reasons he sited his fantastic art collection away from New York or Boston was that he feared it might be destroyed by a Soviet bomber attack during the Cold War..."(Clark) was pointed out to me during a trip to Paris," says one on his grandnieces. "He was known to be pro-fascist and on the enemy side. Nobody ever spoke to him.""
    Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee
  33. ^ Archer, p. 173
    Philadelphia Post, November 22, 1934
  34. ^ Author unknown (December 3 1934). "Plot Without Plotters". Time Magazine. ((cite journal)): |author= has generic name (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)
    Author unknown (November 21 1934). "Gen. Butler Bares 'Fascist Plot' To Seize Government by Force; Says Bond Salesman, as Representative of Wall St. Group, Asked Him to Lead Army of 500,000 in March on Capital -- Those Named Make Angry Denials -- Dickstein Gets Charge". New York Times: 1. ((cite journal)): |author= has generic name (help); Check date values in: |date= (help); Author unknown (November 22 1934). "Credulity Unlimited". New York Times: 20. ((cite journal)): |author= has generic name (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)
    Philadelphia Record, November 21 and 22, 1934;Time Magazine, 25 February 1935: "Also last week the House Committee on Un-American Activities purported to report that a two-month investigation had convinced it that General Butler's story of a Fascist march on Washington was alarmingly true."
    New York Times February 16 1935. p. 1, "Asks Laws To Curb Foreign Agitators; Committee In Report To House Attacks Nazis As The Chief Propagandists In Nation. State Department Acts Checks Activities Of An Italian Consul -- Plan For March On Capital Is Held Proved. Asks Laws To Curb Foreign Agitators, "Plan for “March” Recalled. It also alleged that definite proof had been found that the much publicized Fascist march on Washington, which was to have been led by Major. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, retired, according to testimony at a hearing, was actually contemplated. The committee recalled testimony by General Butler, saying he had testified that Gerald C. MacGuire had tried to persuade him to accept the leadership of a Fascist army."
  35. ^ a b Chapter 10, FDR; Man on the White Horse of Sutton, Antony C. (1993). Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution. Buccaneer Books. ISBN 0-89968-324-X. ((cite book)): Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help) Full book online.
  36. ^ United States Congress. "WEIDEMAN, Carl May (id: W000254)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  37. ^ United States Congress. "KRAMER, Charles (id: K000321)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  38. ^ United States Congress. "JENKINS, Thomas Albert (id: J000088)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  39. ^ United States Congress. "TAYLOR, James Willis (id: T000083)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  40. ^ United States Congress. "GUYER, Ulysses Samuel (id: G000538)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  41. ^ a b Schmidt, p. 229
    See also Archer, p.194. Chapter summaries of Archer's book can be found here.
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h Archer, page 194-220
  43. ^ * Spivak, John L. (January 29 1935; February 5 1935). "Wall Street's Fascist Conspiracy: Testimony that the Dickstein MacCormack Committee Suppressed; Wall Street's Fascist Conspiracy: Morgan Pulls the Strings" (PDF). New Masses. ((cite journal)): Check date values in: |date= (help) [PDF file]
  44. ^ a b BBC Radio 4 Document "The White House Coup - Greenham's Hidden Secret"
  45. ^ Investigation of Nazi Propaganda Activities and Investigation of Certain Other Propaganda Activities: Public Hearings Before the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Seventy-third Congress, Second Session, at Washington, D.C. p.8-114 D.C. 6 II
    Schmidt, p. 245 "HUAC's final report to Congress: "There is no question that these attempts [the plot] were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient." The committee had verified "all the pertinent statements made by General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization.""
  46. ^ Investigation of Nazi Propaganda Activities and Investigation of Certain Other Propaganda Activities: Public Hearings Before the Special Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Seventy-third Congress, Second Session, at Washington, D.C. p. 111 D.C. 6 II.
  47. ^ Schlesinger, p 85; Wolfe, Part IV: "But James E. Van Zandt, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and subsequently a Republican congressman, corroborated Butler's story and said that he, too, had been approached by "agents of Wall Street." "Zandt had been called immediately after the August 22 meeting with MacGuire by Butler and warned that...he was going to be approached by the coup plotters for his support at an upcoming VFW convention. He said that, just as Butler had warned, he had been approached "by agents of Wall Street" who tried to enlist him in their plot.""Says Butler Described. Offer". New York Times: 3. 1934. ((cite journal)): |first= has generic name (help); |first= missing |last= (help); Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help); Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help) Quoted material from the NYT
    Schmidt, p. 224 But James E. Van Zandt, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and subsequently a Republican congressman, corroborated Butler's story and said that he, too, had been approached by "agents of Wall Street."
    Archer, p.3, 5, 29, 32, 129, 176. For more on Van Zandt, and the Archer quotes, see Unknown author. "James Edward Van Zandt". Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT). Retrieved 2006-03-28. ((cite web)): |author= has generic name (help)
  48. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee, Captain Glazier's testimony
  49. ^ Wikisource: McCormack-Dickstein Committee, testimony of Paul Comly French
  50. ^ Burk, Robert F. (1990). The Corporate State and the Broker State: The Du Ponts and American National Politics, 1925-1940. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-17272-8.
  51. ^ Schmidt p. 226, 228, 229, 230
  52. ^ Wolfe, Part IV: "New York's Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who was known as the "Little Flower" . . .   a (supporter) of the fascist program of Mussolini, coined the term cocktail putsch to describe the Butler story: It's a joke of some kind, he told the wire services, "someone at a party had suggested the idea to the ex-marine as a joke".
  53. ^ Schlesinger, p. 83
  54. ^ Sargent, James E. (1974). "Review of: The Plot to Seize the White House, by Jules Archer". The History Teacher. 8 (1): 151–152. ((cite journal)): Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)
  55. ^
  56. ^ Maverick Marine: Excerpt at

Further reading

Books with Business Plot chapters

Related subjects

  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference spivak was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ Feran, Tim (February 12 1999). "History Channel Looks At Plot to Oust FDR". Columbus Dispatch (Ohio): 1H. ((cite journal)): Check date values in: |date= (help)