A Warning From History
Major General Smedley Butler & The Plot To Takeover Of The USA
The Plot To Seize The White House
By Jules Archer
on the raw-wood platform in the broiling heat of a July day in
Washington, Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, retired,
took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and opened his collar.
His violent deep-set eyes surveyed ten thousand faces upturned
among the lean-tos, shanties, and tents on Anacostia Flats.
Bums, riffraff, drifters, and troublemakers-those were some of
the descriptions being applied to the Bonus Army. Many of the
ragged veterans who had marched on the Capital had been sleeping
in doorways and under bridges, part of the vast army of twelve
million unemployed. Some were the same men who had fought under
Smedley Butler in the Spanish-American War, the Philippines
campaign, the Boxer Rebellion, the Caribbean interventions, the
Chinese intervention of 1927-1928, and World War I.
Butler had come to Washington in 1932 at the urging of James Van
Zandt, head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, to lend moral
support to veterans at a crucial moment. Congress had just voted
down the Patman Bonus Bill to pay veterans the
two-billion-dollar bonus promised them in bonus certificates
payable in 1945. Bonus Army Commander Walter W. Waters, a former
army sergeant, and other leaders feared that their discouraged
followers would now give up and return home.
When Waters introduced Smedley Butler to the huge crowd of
veterans gathered along the Anacostia River to hear him, he was
greeted with an enthusiastic roar of acclaim that echoed through
Washington like thunder. They all knew Old Gimlet Eye, one of
the most colorful generals who had ever led troops into battle.
He was even more famous and popular among rank-and-file
leathernecks, doughboys, and bluejackets for the fierce battles
he had fought against the American military hierarchy on behalf
of the enlisted men. He was also admired, respected, and trusted
because of his one-man fight to compel Americans to remember
their tragic war casualties hidden away in isolated veterans'
Smedley Butler was a wiry bantam of a man, shoulders hunched
forward as though braced against the pull of a heavy knapsack,
his hawk nose prominent in the leathery face of an adventurer.
Silhouetted against a flaming sunset, he made a blazing speech
of encouragement in the blunt language that had kept him in hot
water with the nation's highest-ranking admirals and generals,
not to mention Secretaries of State and Navy.
"If you don't hang together, you aren't worth a damn!" he cried
in the famous hoarse rasp that sent a thrill through every
veteran who had heard it before. He reminded them that losing
battles didn't mean losing a war. "I ran for the Senate on a
bonus ticket," he said, "and got the hell beat out of me." But
he didn't intend to stop fighting for the bonus, and neither
should they, he demanded, no matter how stiff the opposition or
the names they were called.
"They may be calling you tramps now," he roared, "but in 1917
they didn't call you bums! ... You are the best-behaved group of
men in this country today. I consider it an honor to be asked to
speak to you. ... Some folks say I am here after something.
That's a lie. I don't want anything." All he wanted, he told the
cheering veterans, was to see that the country they had served
dealt with them justly. He concluded his exhortation by urging,
"When you get home, go to the polls in November and lick the
hell out of those who are against you. You know who they are.
... No go to it!"
Afterward he was mobbed by veterans eager to speak to him. Until
2:30 A.M. he sat sprawled on the ground in front of his tent,
listening sympathetically to tales of lost jobs, families in
distress, and troublesome old wounds. He slept three hours, then
woke up to resume talks with the veterans.
Sharing a Bonus Army breakfast of potatoes, hard bread, and
coffee, he learned that the food was running out, and veterans
were muttering about rioting against Congress if it did. Before
he left for his home in Newtown Square, a small town outside of
Philadelphia, he warned the Bonus Marchers, "You're all right so
long as you keep your sense of humor. If you slip over into
lawlessness of any kind, you will lose the sympathy of a hundred
twenty million people in the nation."
It was the government, however, that unleashed the violence.
Under orders from President Herbert Hoover, General Douglas
MacArthur led troops in driving the Bonus Army out of Washington
at bayonet point and burning down their shacktowns.
By August 1 rumors spreading from the last stronghold of the
veterans, an encampment at Johnstown, Virginia, indicated that
the infuriated Bonus Marchers were determined to organize a new
nonpartisan political organization of veterans and wanted
General Butler to lead it. Reporters pressed him to comment.
"I have heard nothing about it at all, although I was in
Washington about two weeks ago to address the veterans," he
replied with a shrug. "I have neither seen nor heard from Mr.
Waters or any of the other leaders of the Bonus Expeditionary
Meanwhile he phoned the governors of a number of states and won
their agreement to provide relief for those of their veterans
who wanted to return home. He phones Waters in Washington to
urge that the remnants of the Bonus Army break camp and start
back home under this plan, and he issued a blast at the Hoover
Administration as heartless for its treatment of the veterans
and its failure to help them, their wives, and their children
return home without further humiliation.
That November lifelong Republican Smedley Butler took the stump
for Franklin D. Roosevelt and helped turn Herbert Hoover out of
the White House.
On July 1, 1933, General Butler's phone rang soon after he had
had breakfast. Calling from Washington, an American Legion
official he had met once or twice told Butler that two veterans
were on their way from Connecticut to see him about an important
matter and urged him to make time for him.
About five hours later, hearing a car pull up into his secluded
driveway at Newtown Square, Butler glanced out the porch window.
His lips pursed speculatively as two fastidiously dressed men
got out of a chauffeur-driven Packard limousine.
At the door the visitors introduced themselves as Bill Doyle,
commander of the Massachusetts American Legion, and Gerald C.
MacGuire, whom Butler understood to have been a former commander
of the Connecticut department.
Butler led the visitors into his study at the rear of the house,
and they took chairs opposite his desk. MacGuire, who did most
of the talking, was a fat, perspiring man with rolls of jowls, a
large mouth, fleshy nose, and bright blue eyes. He began a
somewhat rambling conversation during which he revealed that he,
too, had been a Marine, with a war wound that had left a silver
plate in his head. Doyle established his combat credentials by
mentioning that he also had a Purple Heart.
Butler's compassion for wounded veterans made him patient as
MacGuire encircled the subject of their visit in spirals that
only gradually narrowed until their apex pierced the point. The
point, it seemed, was that MacGuire and Doyle, speaking for a
coterie of influential Legionnaires, were intensely dissatisfied
with the current leadership of the American Legion. Considering
it indifferent to the needs of rank-and-file veterans, they
revealed that they hoped to dislodge the regime at a forthcoming
Legion convention to be held in Chicago. They urged Butler to
join them and stampede the convention with a speech designed to
oust the "Royal Family" controlling the organization.
Their dissatisfaction with the leadership of the American Legion
did not find Butler unsympathetic. He had long been privately
critical of the organization's close ties with big business and
its neglect of the real interests of the veterans it presumably
represented. These convictions were to be made dramatically
public before the year was out, but now he declined his
visitors' proposal on the grounds that he had no wish to get
involved in Legion politics and pointed out that, in any event,
he had not been invited to take part in the Legion convention.
MacGuire revealed that he was chairman of the "distinguished
guest committee" of the Legion, and was on the staff of National
Commander Louis Johnson, a former Secretary of Defense. At
MacGuire's suggestion Johnson had included Butler's name as one
of the distinguished guests to be invited to the Chicago
convention. Johnson had then taken this list to the White House,
MacGuire said, and had shown it for approval to Louis Howe,
Roosevelt's secretary. Howe had crossed Butler's name off the
list, however, saying that the President was opposed to inviting
Butler. MacGuire did not know the reason, but Bill Doyle assured
Butler that they had devised a plan to have him address the
Butler remained silent. He was used to oddball visitors who
called with all kinds of weird requests. Curiosity, and the
leisure afforded by retirement, often led him to hear them out
in order to fathom their motives.
He thought about his visitors' finely tailored suits and the
chauffeur-driven Packard an their claim to represent the "plain
soldiers" of the Legion. The story about the rejection of his
name on the Legion convention guest list by the White House
struck him as more than peculiar, in view of the fact that the
President had gratefully accepted his campaign help in a
"Republicans for Roosevelt" drive eight months earlier. Why
should F.D.R. suddenly be so displeased with him?
It crossed his mind that the purpose of the story, true or
false, might be intended to pique him against the Roosevelt
Administration, for some obscure reason. Keeping his suspicions
to himself, he heard out his visitors in the hope of learning
why they were so anxious to use him.
They explained that they had arranged for him to attend the
convention as a delegate from Hawaii, which would give him the
right to speak. When he still declined, they asked whether he
wasn't in sympathy with their desire to oust the "Royal Family."
He was, he said, because the leadership had simply been using
the organization to feather their own nests, but he had
absolutely no intention of attending the convention without an
His disappointed visitors took their leave but asked permission
to return in a few weeks.
A month later Doyle and MacGuire returned. Without waiting to
inquire whether Butler had changed his mind, MacGuire quickly
informed him that there had been a change of plans. The general
had been right to object to coming to the convention as just
another delegate, MacGuire acknowledged. It would have been
ineffective, and a waste of the general's immense prestige.
MacGuire outlined a new plan in which Butler would gather two or
three hundred Legionnaires and take them to Chicago on a special
train. They would be scattered throughout the audience at the
convention, and when Butler made an appearance in the
spectators' gallery, they would leap to their feet applauding
and cheering wildly. The proceedings would be stampeded with
cries for a speech that would not die down until Butler was
asked to the platform.
Incredulous at the audacity with which this scheme was being
unfolded to him, Butler asked what kind of speech his visitors
expected him to make. MacGuire produced some folded typewritten
pages from an inside jacket pocket. They would leave a speech
with him to read. MacGuire urged Butler to round up several
hundred Legionnaires, meanwhile, to take to Chicago with him.
Holding on to his fraying temper, Butler pointed out that none
of the Legionnaires he knew could afford the trip or stay in
Chicago. MacGuire quickly assured him that all their expenses
would be paid. But Butler, who was constantly being approached
with all kinds of wild schemes and proposals, was not prepared
to take the plotters seriously until they could prove they had
financial backing. When he challenged MacGuire on this point,
the veteran slipped a bankbook out of his pocket. Without
letting the name of the bank or the account be seen, he flipped
over the pages and showed Butler two recent deposits-one for
$42,000 and a second for $64,000-for "expenses."
That settled it. No wounded soldiers Butler knew possessed
$100,000 bank accounts. His instincts sharpened by two years'
experience, on loan from the Marines, as crime-busting Director
of Public Safety for Philadelphia, warned him that there was
something decidedly unsavory about the proposition.
He decided to blend skepticism, wariness, and interest in his
responses, to suggest that he might be induced to participate in
the scheme if he could be assured that it was foolproof. He
would profess himself interested, but unconvinced as long as he
suspected that there was more to be learned about the scheme. So
far they had told him practically nothing except what was barely
necessary for the role they wanted him to play. He determined to
get to the bottom of the plot, while trying not to scare them
off in the process.
After they had left, he read over the speech MacGuire had left
with him. It urged the American Legion convention to adopt a
resolution calling for the United States to return to the gold
standard, so that when veterans were paid the bonus promised to
them, the money they received would not be worthless paper.
Butler was baffled. What did a return to the gold standard have
to do with the Legion? Why were MacGuire and Doyle being paid to
force this speech on the convention-and who was paying them?
Butler detected an odor of intrigue. Some kind of outlandish
scheme, he was convinced, was afoot. Knowing little about the
gold standard, why Roosevelt had taken the country off it or who
stood to gain by its restoration and why, he began thumbing
through the financial pages of newspapers and magazines-sections
of the press he had never had any occasion to read.
The first important fact he learned was that the government no
longer had to back up every paper dollar with a dollar's worth
of gold. This meant that the Roosevelt Administration could
increase the supply of paper money to keeps its pledge of making
jobs for the unemployed, and give loans to farmers and
homeowners whose property was threatened by foreclosure. Banks
would then be paid back in cheapened paper dollars for the
gold-backed dollars they had lent.
Conservative financiers were horrified. They viewed a currency
not solidly backed by gold as inflationary, undermining both
private and business fortunes and leading to national
bankruptcy. Roosevelt was damned as a socialist or Communist out
to destroy private enterprise by sapping the gold backing of
wealth in order to subsidize the poor.
Butler began to understand that some wealthy Americans might be
eager to use the American Legion as an instrument to pressure
the Roosevelt Administration into restoring the gold standard.
But who was behind MacGuire?
A short while after MacGuire's second visit, he returned to see
Butler again, this time alone. MacGuire asked how he was coming
along in rounding up veterans to take with him to the
convention. Butler replied evasively that he had been too busy
to do anything about it. He then made it clear that he could no
further interest in the plan unless MacGuire was willing to be
candid and disclose the sources of the funds that were behind
After some hesitation MacGuire revealed that they had been
provided by nine backers, the biggest contributor putting up
nine thousand dollars. Pressed to explain their motives,
MacGuire insisted that they were simply concerned about helping
veterans get their bonus and a square deal.
People who could afford such contributions, Butler reflected
ironically, were hardly the type who favored a
two-billion-dollar bonus for veterans.
When he prodded MacGuire further, the fat veteran revealed that
one of his chief backers was a wealthy Legionnaire he worked
for, Colonel Grayson M.-P. Murphy, who operated a brokerage firm
at 52 Broadway in New York City. Butler pointed out the
contradiction between MacGuire's claim that his group was
concerned with the problems of the poor rank-and-file veteran
and the fact that his backers were all obviously wealthy men.
MacGuire simply shrugged and frankly admitted that as far as he
personally was concerned, he was primarily involved in the
transaction as a businessman and was being well taken care of
for his efforts. It would be equally profitable for Butler, he
hinted, if the general were disposed to cooperate.
Butler pumped him about Colonel Murphy's connection with the
plan. Murphy, MacGuire revealed, was one of the founders of the
Legion and had actually underwritten it with $125,000 in 1919 to
pay for the organizational field work. He had been motivated by
a desire to see the soldiers "cared for."
When Butler questioned Murphy's motive in wanting the
gold-standard speech made at the convention, MacGuire explained
that he and the other backers simply wanted to be sure that the
veterans would be paid their bonus in sound gold-backed
currency, not in "rubber money."
He showed Butler several checks for large amounts signed by
Murphy and two other men-Robert S. Clark and John Mills. Clark's
name rang a bell with Butler. He had known a Second Lieutenant
Robert S. Clark in China during the Boxer Campaign who had been
called "the millionaire lieutenant."
The money, MacGuire said, would be used to open an expense
account for Butler in Chicago. He hoped that the general would
now get busy rounding up veterans to take to the convention.
Butler remained noncommittal. He intended to procrastinate as
long as he could, continuing to pump MacGuire until had enough
information to make a complete report to the government. The
President, he felt, ought to know what schemes his rich
opponents were up to overturn New Deal policies.
After the visit, Butler brooded over the implication of
MacGuire's revelation that his employer, key founder and sponsor
of the American Legion, was involved. Tall, heavyset, Grayson
Mallot-Prevost Murphy* not only operated
one of Wall Street's leading brokerage houses but was also a
director of Guaranty Trust, a Morgan bank, and had extensive
industrial and financial interests as a director of Anaconda
Copper, Goodyear Tire, and Bethlehem Steel. A West Point
graduate, Murphy was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and
World War I with the rank of colonel. Butler's bushy eyebrows
rose when he also learned that the financier had been decorated
by Benito Mussolini, who had made him a Command of the Crown of
Butler found out that he had been one of twenty American
officers who had met in Paris in February, 1919, reportedly on
orders from the commanders of the A.E.F., to counter
revolutionary unrest in Europe following the end of World War I,
by forming a veterans' organization with the alleged purpose of
looking after veterans' welfare and uniting them to defend
America at home as they had abroad.
Murphy had put up $125,000 to get the American Legion going, and
it had been organized in the spring with a caucus of about a
thousand officers and men. The Legion had then solicited funds
and support from industrialists. Swift and Company executives
had written other firms, "We are all Legion, the results it will
obtain, and the ultimate effect in helping to offset
The average veteran who joined the Legion in the 1920's had been
unaware that big-business men were backing it to use it as a
strikebreaking agency. When workers struck against wage cuts,
Legion posts were informed that the strikers were Communists
trying to create national chaos so that the Reds could take
over. Legionnaires were given baseball bats to break up strikes
and civil rights demonstrations. The American Civil Liberties
Union later reported, "Of the forces most active in attacking
civil rights, the American Legion led the field."
The rank and file, however, had grown increasingly restless and
impatient with the "Royal Family" that ran the Legion,
especially after the Depression had left so many jobless.
Veterans forced to sell apples on street corners were angered by
a Legion leadership that opposed the bonus and government
spending as inflationary. That was why so many thousands had
bypassed the Legion to join the Bonus March on Washington.
Adding up the facts, Butler was struck by a startling
contradiction. MacGuire had claimed to speak for rank-and-file
discontent with the Legion's bosses and professed to want to
oust them, yet he was an agent for a top founder of the Legion
who was obviously one of the powers behind the throne. MacGuire
had revealed that the Legion still owed Murphy part of the
$125,000 foundation money he had provided and had tacitly
acknowledged that Murphy "makes the kings."
MacGuire obviously had to be lying in his claim that he-or
Murphy-wanted to topple the present leadership. Why? Perhaps it
was a ruse to channel and control popular discontent in the
Legion, hopefully with Butler's help, for the purposes of the
nine wealthy men behind MacGuire. Butler awaited MacGuire's next
move with deep intersest.
In September Butler was asked to address a convention of the
Legion's 29th Division at Newark, New Jersey. On the Sunday
morning he was in the city, the phone rang in his hotel room. It
was MacGuire, who was in the lobby and asked to see him.
Invited to Butler's room, MacGuire reminded the general that the
time for the American Legion Convention was rapidly approaching.
Was Butler finally ready to take a contingent of veterans to
Chicago and make the gold-standard speech?
Butler displayed increasing skepticism about the whole plan. In
a gruff voice he challenged MacGuire's proposal as a bluff
without any real money behind it. His visitor whipped a fat
wallet out of his hip pocket, extracted a mass of
thousand-dollar bills, and scattered them all over the bed. The
eighteen thousand dollars, he said smugly, would amply cover the
expenses of Butler and the veterans he led to Chicago.
The gesture caught Butler by surprise; losing his temper, he
accused MacGuire of trying to give him thousand-dollar bills
whose number had been recorded, so that once he cashed them, the
plotters would have proof of his complicity. MacGuire hastily
assured him that he could have smaller denominations.
In his vexation Butler snapped at the bond salesman to take back
the money immediately, as he had no intention of getting
involved in MacGuire's scheme. But then, as he regained control
of his anger, he sought to make it appear that he was merely
indignant that he was forced to deal with an emissary. He would
negotiate, he told MacGuire firmly, only with principals.
After some hesitation MacGuire agreed to have him contacted by
Robert S. Clark, a banker who had inherited a large fortune from
a founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.
One week later Clark phoned Butler at his home. They arranged a
meeting at the railroad station. Butler instantly Recognized the
tall, gangling man, hair now steel-gray, who stepped off the
train as the lieutenant he had known thirty-four years earlier.
Butler drove him home for lunch, during which they exchanged
memories of the Boxer Campaign. Afterward they adjourned to the
spacious, glassed-in porch, and Clark got down to the business
of his visit. He was going to the American Legion convention in
a private car attached to the Pennsylvania Limited, he told
Butler. He planned to have the train stop at Paoli to pick the
general up, and they would continue on to Chicago together. A
suite of rooms had already been reserved for Butler at the
Clark would see to it, he told the general, that Butler was
calling for a resolution demanding restoration of the gold
standard. In discussing the speech, the millionaire was induced
to reveal that the author was none other than John W. Davis, the
1924 Democratic candidate for President, and now chief attorney
for J. P. Morgan and Company.
Butler pointed out to Clark that the speech did not seem to have
anything to do with the soldiers' bonus, which was presumably
the purpose of his trip to Chicago. Shrugging, Clark blandly
repeated MacGuire's assurance that those supporting the speech
simply wanted to be sure that the bonus would be paid in
gold-backed currency, not in worthless paper.
Butler decided to draw blood and observe Clark's reaction. Sharp
eyes honed on his visitor's face, he suggested that the speech
had all the earmarks of big-business propaganda. The banker,
taken aback, did not reply for a moment. He seemed to be
debating with himself whether to deny the allegation or take
Butler into his confidence. Then he astonished the general by a
sudden burst of candor.
He had a personal fortune of thirty million dollars, he
revealed, and he was greatly worried about losing it to a
Roosevelt inflation-runaway government spending unbridled by the
need to back each paper dollar with gold. He was willing to
spend fully half his fortune if it would save the other half. He
was confident that if Butler made the speech at Chicago, the
Legion would go on record as demanding a return to the gold
That would be an important step toward organizing the veterans
of American to put pressure on Congress and the President for
such a bill.
Why, Butler asked him curiously, did he think the President
would allow himself to be pressured by such tactics? Clark
expressed confidence that Roosevelt would yield because he
belonged, after all, to the same social class that was solidly
behind the gold standard. Once he had restored it, his fellow
patricians would rally around him and defend his position
Butler was shocked by Clark's blatant snobbery, but even more by
the millionaire's assumption that the wishes of economic
royalists should-and would-prevail over the democratic processes
of government. Once more his anger boiled over. In a voice that
cracked with indignation, he exploded that he wanted nothing to
do with a scheme to exploit veterans. Furthermore, he rasped, he
intended to see to it that the veterans of the country were not
used to undermine democracy but to defend it.
Clark's face turned crimson. Chagrined, he reproached Butler for
being stubborn and "different," hinting that such things as the
mortgage on Butler's house could be taken care of for him, and
in a fully legal fashion.
This crude attempt to bribe him was too much for the dumbfounded
general. Bellowing his indignation, he roared an order at the
millionaire to follow him into the living room. Clark meekly
trailed him into a large hall resplendent with flags, banners,
decorations, plaques, scrolls, citations, and other symbols of
esteem that had been presented to the general during his long
career in the Marines. The hall was flanked at both ends by huge
canopies on tall poles-"Blessings Umbrellas" awarded by
unanimous vote of the people of Chinese cities only to their
Quivering with rage, Butler pointed out to Clark that most of
the awards in the hall had been given to him by poor people all
over the world, and he vowed that he would never betray their
faith. Ordering Clark to inspect them until he understood the
enormity of his mistake, Butler stormed off to his study, pacing
back and forth in an effort to simmer down.
In a few minutes a chastened Clark joined him and meekly asked
permission to make a phone call to MacGuire at the Palmer House
in Chicago. As Butler listened stony-faced, Clark informed
MacGuire that for "excellent" reasons the general would not be
coming to the convention. MacGuire was reminded that had money
enough to do the job alone and could "send those telegrams." At
the completion of the call, Clark then apologized so contritely
that his host, mollified, forgave him.
To lighten the strained atmosphere, then conversation now
returned to the Boxer days until it was time to drive Clark to
the station to catch a six o'clock train from Paoli.
Butler felt ambivalent about having revealed his true feelings.
On the one hand, it made him feel better to get them off his
chest; tact and restraint and subterfuge were alien to his
nature. On the other hand, it seemed hardly likely that after
his explosion the plotters could possibly believe they could
persuade or buy him. He would have no further opportunity to
ferret out their plans.
A few days later he carefully studied a newspaper account of the
proceedings of the American Legion convention I Chicago. The
story revealed that a huge flood of telegrams had poured into
the convention urging delegates to endorse a return to the gold
standard. A resolution to this effect had been proposed and
Butler felt mingled amusement and disgust.
To the general's surprise MacGuire stopped off to see him, this
time in a hired limousine, on the way back from the convention.
The man said nothing about the contretemps with Clark, although
Butler was certain he must have heard about it, and his manner
was as buoyant and friendly as ever. He boasted to Butler about
having put over the gold-standard resolution.
The general pointed out wryly that no action had been taken at
the convention to endorse the soldiers' bonus. MacGuire airily
repeated his contention that there was no point in that until
the country had sound currency.
Shortly afterward MacGuire came to Newtown Square again and
surprised the general with the news that a dinner had been
arranged by Boston veterans in his honor. He was promised
transportation in a private car, and, MacGuire beamed, Butler
would be paid a thousand dollars to speak at the dinner-in favor
of the gold standard, of course.
Butler was dumbfounded at MacGuire's incredible persistence.
Surely the indefatigable bond salesman had realized by this time
that he was barking up the wrong tree! But perhaps, the general
speculated, MacGuire felt challenged to "make the sale," in much
the same manner that he undoubtedly sought to overcome the sales
resistance of reluctant prospects for his bonds. And apparently
MacGuire was convinced that only Smedley Butler had the prestige
and popularity among veterans that his coterie needed to put
over the scheme.
Irked by the new attempt to bribe him, Butler rasped that he had
never been paid a thousand dollars for any speech and had no
intention of accepting such a sum to let words be put in his
mouth. Chagrined but undiscouraged, MacGuire cheerfully promised
to come up with some other more acceptable plan to utilize the
general's talents as a public speaker.
In October a former Marine running for office in Brooklyn, New
York, begged Butler to make some campaign speeches in his
behalf. Butler was hesitant because he was about to leave on a
tour of the country for Veterans of Foreign Wars, speaking for
the bonus and for membership in the V.F.W. as the best way to
get it. But loyalty to the men who had served under him took him
first to Pennsylvania Station.
To his astonishment he was met by MacGuire. The bond salesman
somehow knew where he was headed and asked to accompany him.
Butler consented, more and more intrigued by the ubiquitous
MacGuire who kept turning up everywhere he went like a bad
penny. He found himself even growing perversely fond of MacGuire
for his stubborn refusal to take No for an answer. In the
Marines Butler had always had a soft spot for incorrigible
rascals who brightened up monotonous routine by their
Besides, he was still curious to learn more about what the
plotters in the gold scheme were up to. MacGuire now revealed a
new plan to involve the general through his impending lecture
tour for the V.F.W. Wasn't he, MacGuire probed, going to use the
opportunity to speak out on public issues important to the
veterans? Butler wasn't sure whether this was simply a shrewd
guess or whether MacGuire somehow had eyes and ears all over the
Butler declared that he believed that democracy was in danger
from growing antidemocratic forces within the country and that
he planned to appeal to the nation's veterans to unite against
this threat. At the same time he wanted to alert them to the
risk of being dragged into another war by the propaganda of
organizations camouflaged with patriotic trappings.
MacGuire looked thoughtful. Then he asserted that the group he
represented really had the identical objectives. He urged Butler
to let him go along on the tour. He would stay in the
background, enlisting veterans in "a great big superorganization
to maintain our democracy."
Butler lost no time in squelching that idea. He admitted that he
couldn't keep MacGuire off any train he rode, but made it firmly
clear that he would not be associated with the plans of MacGuire
and his rich friends in any way. He softened the reprimand by
saying that he did not want to hurt the feelings of a wounded
veteran, but MacGuire would have to understand that he could not
be used to aid money schemes.
MacGuire said peevishly that he couldn't understand why Butler
refused to be a businessman like himself. The general expressed
blunt suspicions of MacGuire's real reasons for wanting to trail
in the wake of this V.F.W. tour. MacGuire protested that he had
no intention of doing anything subversive.
Then he made the general a new offer. If Butler would merely
insert in each of his V.F.W. speeches a short reference to the
need for returning to the gold standard, in order to benefit
veterans when a bonus bill was passed, MacGuire and his backers
would pay him $750 per speech-three times what the V.F.W. was
paying him. Butler replied emphatically that he would refuse to
abuse the veterans' trust in him even if the offer were for
Frustrated, MacGuire took his departure abruptly.
Soon afterward Butler began his swing around the country for the
V.F.W. He was no longer bothered-for the moment-by the
persistent attentions of Jerry MacGuire, who left for Europe on
December 1, on a mission for his backers.
MacGuire took his departure against the background of a steadily
rising chorus of hatred for "that cripple in the White House" by
big-business leaders. It was reflected in the anti-Roosevelt
slant of both news and editorials in the business-oriented
press. In the eyes of America's industrialists and bankers, the
President, if not an actual secret Communist, was dedicated to
destroying the nation's capitalist economy by the New Deal,
which they labeled "creeping socialism."
Many believed that unless F.D.R. were stopped, he would soon
take America down the same road that the Russians had traveled.
They were horrified by his recognition of the Soviet Union on
November 16, 1933, seeing it as a sinister omen. They were
equally appalled by his speech six weeks later promising that
the United States would send no more armed forces to Latin
America to protect private investments.
Some business leaders envied their counterparts in Italy, who
had financed Mussolini's rise to power. Il Duce's efficiency in
"making the trains run on time" was highly lauded, along with
the dictatorial control of labor unions by his corporate state.
Thomas Lamont, a J. P. Morgan partner, praised the dictator for
his methods of providing low-paying jobs, cutting the public
debt, and ending inflation.
"We all count ourselves liberal, I suppose," Lamont told the
Foreign Policy Association. "Are we liberal enough to be willing
for the Italian people to have the sort of government they
Butler, who had not known that MacGuire: had left for Europe,
received a postcard from him from the French Riviera, reporting
only that he and his family were having a wonderful time.
Another card came from MacGuire in June, 1934, this time from
Berlin. Butler surmised that the bond salesman's long stay in
Europe had to be on business, paid for by his boss or all his
backers. But what kind of business? More shenanigans in
connection with the gold standard?
Continuing his tour for the V.F.W., Butler observed more and
more storm signals flying in the United States as he traveled
around the country. The nation was rapidly becoming polarized
between the forces of Left and Right. Demagogues with apparently
inexhaustible funds for propaganda and agitation led "patriotic"
crusades against Communists, Jews, and "Jewish bankers," who
were alleged to be behind the New Deal.
That June Roosevelt further inflamed big business by a whole new
series of New Deal acts that crippled stock speculation, se up
watchdog agencies over the telephone, telegraph, and radio
industries, stopped farm foreclosures, prevented employers from
hindering unionization and compelled them to accept collective
bargaining. As an epidemic of turbulent strikes broke out, the
orchestration of Roosevelt hatred in the nation's press rose to
a fresh crescendo.
To Herbert Hoover the New Deal represented "class hatred . . .
preached from the White House," "despotism," and "universal
bankruptcy." Butler was intrigued by the July, 1934 issue of
Fortune, the Luce magazine read by America's leading
industrialists and bankers, which devoted a whole edition t
glorifying Italian fascism.
It was produced by Laird S. Goldsborough, foreign editor for
Time, who asked Fortune's wealthy readers "whether Fascism is
achieving in a few years or decades such a conquest of the
spirit of man as Christianity achieved only in ten centuries."
He concluded, "The good journalist must recognize in Fascism
certain ancient virtues of the race, whether or not they happen
to h momentarily fashionable in his own country. Among these are
Discipline, Duty, Courage, Glory, Sacrifice."
In that summer of 1934 it was not difficult to detect the acrid
smell of incipient fascism in the corporate air. Smedley Butler
large hawk nose was soon to detect more than a mere whiff of it.
Resting at home after his exhausting V.F.W. tour, which had
included emotionally draining visits to the casualties hidden
away in eighteen veterans' hospitals, Butler received a phone
call from a familiar voice. Jerry MacGuire insisted that lie had
to see the general immediately because he had "something of the
utmost importance" to impart.
Butler and his wife had planned to drive into Philadelphia that
afternoon, so, curiosity aroused, he agreed to meet MacGuire at
the Bellevue Hotel. It was August 22, 1934, three days after a
German plebescite had approved vesting sole executive power in
Adolf Hitler as führer of Nazi Germany.
Shortly before three o'clock Butler entered the empty hotel
lobby, where he found the pudgy bond salesman waiting for him.
MacGuire wrung his hand enthusiastically as though they were
long-lost comrades from Butler's old 4th Battalion in Panama.
Leading the way to the rear of the lobby, MacGuire took him into
the hotel's empty restaurant, which was not operating for the
They took a table in a secluded corner of the room, and MacGuire
began describing how enjoyable his trip to Europe had been.
Butler patiently waited for him to get down to business. He
wondered, not without sympathy, whether it was the silver plate
in MacGuire's head that made him so prolix.
MacGuire finally asked whether the general planned to attend the
forthcoming American Legion convention in Miami. Butler replied
curtly that he did not. He felt irritated by MacGuire's arrogant
assumption that the stale scheme of using the Legion for his
gold clique's propaganda was a matter of the "utmost importance"
MacGuire then insinuated that it was time to "get the soldiers
together." Butler agreed grimly, but his cryptic tone, he was
sure, implied a considerably different purpose for organizing
the veterans than MacGuire had in mind.
MacGuire revealed what he had been up to on the Continent
(hiring the previous seven months. His backers had sent him
abroad to study the role that veterans' organizations had played
in working for and bringing about dictatorships. In Italy
MacGuire had found that Mussolini's real power stemmed from
veterans organized in his Black Shirts; they had made him
dictator and were the chief protectors of his regime.
Beginning to suspect what MacGuire had in mind, Butler tried to
seem matter-of-fact as he asked whether MacGuire thought
Mussolini's form of government was a good example for American
veterans to work toward. MacGuire didn't think so.
His investigations on the Continent, he revealed, had convinced
him that neither Mussolini nor Hitler, nor the kind of
paramilitary organizations they had built, could be made
attractive to the American veteran. But he had discovered an
organization that could be, he revealed in elation.
He had been in France during a national crisis brought about by
nationwide wage slashes. Riots had erupted in Paris early in
February, ending in the calling of a general strike that had
paralyzed the country. Civil war had been averted only by the
formation of a National Union ministry made up of all parties
except Socialists, Communists, and Royalists.
A key role in ending the crisis had been played by a rightwing
veterans' organization called the Croix de Feu. It was a
superorganization, MacGuire explained, an amalgamation of all
other French veteran organizations, and was composed of officers
and noncoms. The Croix de Feu had 500,000 members, and each was
a leader of ten others, so that their voting strength amounted
It occurred to Butler that if MacGuire's description was
accurate, the Croix de Fen was an elitist outfit minus the
democratic voice of the greatest majority of veterans-the buck
privates, who were expected only to follow and obey, exactly as
they had been ordered to do in wartime.
MacGuire now told Butler that his group planned to build an
American version of the Croix de Fen. Asked its purpose, the fat
man hesitated, then replied that it was intended to "support"
the President. Butler asked wryly why Roosevelt should need the
support of 500,000 "supersoldiers" when he had the whole
American people behind him.
Looking petulant and impatient, MacGuire ignored the question,
pointing out that the crux of the matter was Roosevelt's dilemma
in not having enough money to finance the New Deal and the
danger that he might disrupt the American system of finance to
get it. MacGuire and his group were firmly determined that the
President would not be allowed to do it.
Despite MacGuire's exasperating circumlocution and the twists in
his logic, a fresh pattern was becoming clear to Butler. Far
from "supporting" Franklin Delano Roosevelt, MacGuire and the
interests behind him were obviously planning to compel the
President to yield to their demands about American finances.
The American version of the Croix de Fen was intended to be a
powerful paramilitary organization to enforce those demands. But
when Butler pressed him on its purpose, MacGuire denied
emphatically any intention to frighten the President. In fact,
he explained, the whole idea was really to support and help
Roosevelt, who was obviously overworked, by providing him with
an "Assistant President" to take details of the office off his
shoulders. It was quite constitutional, MacGuire insisted. The
aide would be called a Secretary of General Affairs.
According to MacGuire, the President himself had been grooming
an aide for such a role-General Hugh S. Johnson, controversial
administrator of the National Recovery Administration (N.R.A.).
But, MacGuire confided, Johnson had been too loose-lipped to
suit Roosevelt, and as a result was slated to be fired within
three or four weeks.
Pressed to explain how he acquired this information, MacGuire
assured Butler that his group was close to the White House and
had advance information on all such secret matters.
Confused, Butler didn't know quite what to make of these oddly
faceted revelations, but he was subsequently reminded of
MacGuire's prediction when Johnson resigned in pique from the
peace administration soon afterward and began attacking
Roosevelt and the New Deal in a syndicated column for the
Scripps Howard press.
Butler did not have to feign new interest in MacGuire's
proposals; obviously much more was now involved than simply
lobbying efforts for restoration of the gold standard. MacGuire,
interpreting the general's absorption as an omen of cooperation,
grew more candid about the plan of his group. They would work up
public sympathy for the overburdened President, he explained
eagerly, by a campaign explaining that Roosevelt's health was
failing. The "dumb" public would accept the need to give him
"relief" by having a Cabinet official take the chores of
patronage and other routine worries of the office off his
shoulders. Then the President's status would become like that of
the President of France, a ceremonial figurehead, while the
Secretary of General Affairs ran the country.
Thus, at one stroke, the country would be rid of Roosevelt's
misrule and would be put back on the gold standard. And now,
MacGuire concluded triumphantly, how did the general feel about
heading the new "superorganization" that would be the power
behind bringing about these sweeping changes?
Unable to contain himself any longer, Butler exploded that if
MacGuire and his backers tried to mount a Fascist putsch, he
would raise another army of 500,000 veterans to oppose them and
the nation would be plunged into a new civil war.
Upset, MacGuire hastily assured the general that he and his
group had no such intentions, but only sought to ease the
burdens of the Presidency. Butler sarcastically expressed doubt
that Roosevelt would appreciate their concern and turn his
executive power over to their "Secretary of General Affairs,"
while limiting himself to ceremonial functions. Besides, Butler
pointed out tersely, any attempt to build a huge paramilitary
army of half a million men would require enormous funds.
MacGuire revealed that he now had $3 million in working funds
and could get $300 million if it were needed. He added that in
about a year Butler would be able to assemble 500,000 veterans,
with the expectation that such a show of force would enable the
movement to gain control of the government fully in just a few
Butler was stunned. Either MacGuire was a madman, psychotic, or
fantastic liar, or what he was describing was a treasonous plot
to end democracy in the United States.
He demanded to know who was going to put up all the money.
MacGuire replied that Clark was good for $15 million and that
the rest would come from the same people who had financed the
"Chicago propaganda" about the gold standard at the American
Legion convention, and who were now behind the planned march on
What plans, Butler wanted to know, did they have to take care of
the veterans? The "superorganization," MacGuire said, would pay
privates ten dollars and captains thirty-five dollars a month
for one year, and after that it would no longer be necessary.
But how did the plotters plan to manage the legal aspects of
setting up an Assistant President in the White House? MacGuire
explained that the President would be induced to resign because
of bad health. Vice-President Nance Garner, who didn't want to
be President, would refuse the office. By the rule of
succession, Secretary of State Cordell Hull was next in line,
but he was far too old and could easily be set aside to make way
for a Secretary of General Affairs to take Roosevelt's place as
MacGuire again urged Butler to head the paramilitary army. The
scale of the plot, as it was unfolding to him, took Butler's
breath away. It occurred to him now that MacGuire's backers had
been contemplating the creation of a Fascist veterans' army at
the time MacGuire had first approached him to "get the soldiers
together" behind their gold-standard campaign. That explained
why MacGuire had wooed him so persistently, despite the
general's obvious reluctance and outbursts of temper when
patriotic indignation overcame his attempts to play along and
learn what the plotters were up to.
No false modesty prevented Butler from recognizing that he was
perhaps the best-known, and certainly the most popular and
charismatic, military figure in the United States. He also
suited the plotters' plans perfectly because he was noted for a
brilliant, hard-hitting style of oratory that, they undoubtedly
reasoned, could be put to the service of demagoguery in the same
spell binding way Hitler and Mussolini had magnetized millions
into following them. His rasping voice and fiery spirit captured
audiences and held them hypnotized.
His reputation for fearless honesty, for speaking his mind
bluntly no matter whose corns he trod on, also made him the
ideal candidate to sell the plotters' propaganda to the nation's
veterans, if he could be persuaded to view their scheme as
ultrapatriotic. A combination of these reasons had
unquestionably inspired Jerry MacGuire's insistent campaign to
win him as the head of the putsch. It explained why MacGuire had
refused to lake No for an answer, counting on his persuasive
powers as a I bond salesman to break down Butler's sales
resistance by camouflaging the raw nature of the conspiracy, and
tempting him into the plot with the biggest bribe ever offered
to any American. The opportunity to become the first dictator of
the United States. In a word, MacGuire was convinced that with
Smedley Butler as their Man on the White Horse, the plotters
would have their greatest chance of success.
Increasingly uneasy and on guard, Butler now resolved to play
along carefully until he had penetrated the full secret
blueprint of the conspiracy. Keeping his voice cordial, he
expressed interest in MacGuire's scheme, but exhibited enough
doubts to induce him to reveal more in the effort to reassure
Butler and win him over.
Butler became convinced that if MacGuire was telling the truth,
far richer and more powerful men than just Robert S. Clark had
to be involved. Clark had told Butler that he had been willing
to spend $15 million of his fortune in the plotters' schemes to
restore the gold standard. But MacGuire had revealed that the
people behind him could, and would if necessary, raise $300
million for the putsch.
Butler determined to find out who they were. He demanded
assurances from MacGuire that reputable and important people
were really behind the plan to create an American Croix de Feu,
pointing out that he could not afford to risk his reputation by
getting involved in any second-rate adventure.
Convinced that at last he was on the verge of winning the
general's support, MacGuire eagerly sought to impress him with
the caliber of the influential movers and shakers of America who
were involved in the plot. He revealed that in Paris he had made
his headquarters at the offices of Morgan and Hodges. Butler
tried to conceal his astonishment.
There was only one Morgan in the financial world-J. P. Morgan
and Company. MacGuire left no doubt in his mind that the
nation's biggest financiers were, indeed, involved. According to
the bond salesman, there had been a meeting in Paris to decide
upon the selection of the man to head the superorganization.
MacGuire and his group had held out for Butler, but the Morgan
interests distrusted the general as "too radical," preferring
Douglas MacArthur instead.
MacArthur's term as Chief of Staff expired in November, and the
Morgan interests felt that if Roosevelt failed to reappoint him,
he would be bitter enough to accept their offer. Butler observed
that MacArthur would be likely to have difficulty in lining up
veterans behind him, because his dispersion of the Bonus Army
had made him highly unpopular.
MacGuire indicated that the Morgan coterie's second choice was
Hanford MacNider, an Iowa manufacturer who was a former
commander of the American Legion. But MacGuire emphasized that
his own group was still insisting that Butler was the only
military leader in the country capable of rallying the veterans
behind him. The Morgan interests had acknowledged Butler's
immense prestige and popularity, he revealed, but were
apprehensive that as head of the paramilitary force Butler might
lead it in the "wrong direction."
Butler observed that MacNider would have no more popular appeal
than MacArthur because he had gone on record as opposing the
bonus. MacGuire then revealed that MacNider would be cued to
change his stand, and would do so. Butler remembered this
prediction when, three weeks later, MacNider suddenly reversed
his position and came out in support of the bonus.
If Butler could not be persuaded to head the new
superorganization, MacGuire said, the offer would definitely be
made to MacArthur, whether or not the latter was reappointed
Chief of Staff. He confided that there would be an
administration fight over MacArthur's reappointment, but he
would get it because he was the son-in-law of Philadelphian
Edward T. Stotesbury, a Morgan partner.
It was a bold prediction, since never before in American history
had a Chief of Staff been allowed to succeed himself. Butler was
all the more startled and impressed with MacGuire's sources of
information when his prediction came true several months later.
MacGuire also informed Butler that James Van Zandt, the national
commander of the V.F.W., would be one of those asked to serve as
a leader of the new superorganization. He would be approached by
one of MacGuire's envoys at the forthcoming V.F.W. convention in
Butler asked when the new superorganization would surface and
begin functioning, and what it would be called. MacGuire said
that he didn't know the name of it yet but that the press would
announce its formation in two or three weeks and that the roster
of its founders would include some of the most important men in
America. One of them, MacGuire revealed, would be none other
than former New York Governor Al Smith, who had lost the 1928
presidential race to Hoover as the candidate of the Democratic
Butler raised his bushy eyebrows in astonishment. It seemed
incredible that the derby-hatted "happy warrior," who had grown
up in New York's East Side slums, could be involved in a Fascist
plot backed by wealthy men. But he knew that Smith was now a
business associate of the powerful Du Pont family, who had
cultivated him through Du Pont official John J. Raskob, former
chairman of the Democratic party. Under their influence Smith
had grown more and more politically conservative following his
defeat, while still remaining a Democrat.
Could it really be possible that a leading standard-bearer of
the Democrats was committed to help overthrow the chief Democrat
in the White House? In slight shock Butler asked MacGuire why
Smith was involved. MacGuire replied that Smith had decided to
break with the Roosevelt Administration and was preparing a
public blast against it which would be published in about a
Pressed for more information about the new superorganization,
MacGuire told Butler that it would be described publicly as a
society "to maintain the Constitution." Butler observed dryly
that the Constitution did not seem to be in any grave danger,
then he bluntly asked what MacGuire's stake was in the
enterprise. MacGuire shrugged that he was a businessman, and
besides, he, his wife, and his children had enjoyed a long,
expensive stay in Europe, courtesy of his backers.
Taking his leave, MacGuire said that he was going to Miami to
agitate again for the gold standard, as well as to get the new
paramilitary organization rolling. He promised to contact Butler
again after the Legion convention.
After he had gone, the bemused general was almost tempted to
dismiss the whole plot as the product of a disordered
imagination-his or MacGuire's. But a grim sense of foreboding
told him that he was in the eye of a gathering storm.
There were too many things that MacGuire had told him that rang
true, and could not possibly have been invented. Even as Butler
brooded over the affair and wondered what to do about it,
another of MacGuire's uncannily accurate predictions
materialized two weeks after their talk.
In September, 1934, the press announced the formation of a new
organization, the American Liberty League, by discontented
captains of industry and finance. They announced their
objectives as "to combat radicalism, to teach the necessity of
respect for the rights of persons and property, and generally to
foster free private enterprise."
Denouncing the New Deal, they attacked Roosevelt for "fomenting
class hatred" by using such terms as "unscrupulous money
changers," "economic royalists," and "the privileged princes of
these new economic dynasties."
Butler's eyes widened when he read that the treasurer of the
American Liberty League was none other than MacGuire's own boss,
Grayson M.-P. Murphy, and one of its financiers was Robert S.
Clark. Heading and directing the organization were Du Pont and
J. P. Morgan and Company men. Morgan attorney John W. Davis was
a member of the National Executive Committee-the same Davis that
Clark had identified as author of the gold-standard speech
MacGuire had tried to get Butler to make to the American Legion
convention in Chicago.
Heavy contributors to the American Liberty League included the
Pitcairn family (Pittsburgh Plate Glass), Andrew W. Mellon
Associates, Rockefeller Associates, E. F. Hutton Associates,
William S. Knudsen (General Motors), and the Pew family (Sun Oil
Associates). J. Howard Pew, longtime friend and supporter of
Robert Welch, who later founded the John Birch Society, was- a
generous patron, along with other members of the Pew family, of
extremist right-wing causes. Other directors of the league
included A1 Smith and John J. Raskob.
Two organizations affiliated with the league were openly Fascist
and antilabor. One was the Sentinels of the Republic, financed
chiefly by the Pitcairn family and J. Howard Pew. Its members
labeled the New Deal "Jewish Communism" and insisted "the old
line of Americans of $1,200 a year want a Hitler."
The other was the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution,
which the conservative Baltimore Sun described as "a hybrid
organization financed by northern money, but playing on the Ku
Klux Klan prejudices of the south." Its sponsor, John H. Kirby,
collaborated in anti-Semitic drives against the New Deal with
the Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith, leader of the first Silver
Shirt squad of American storm troopers.
"The brood of anti-New Deal organizations spawned by the Liberty
League," the New York Post subsequently charged, "are in turn
Butler was stunned by this fulfillment of MacGuire's prediction.
As he later testified, just at the time MacGuire had said it
would, the American Liberty League had appeared and was all that
MacGuire had said it would be. And it was obviously no
coincidence that Grayson M.-P. Murphy, Robert S. Clark, and the
Morgan interests were deeply involved.
Even yet another of MacGuire's predictions came true a fortnight
later, when A1 Smith published a scathing attack on the New Deal
in the New Outlook, breaking publicly with the President over
If Butler had had any lingering doubts about the authenticity of
MacGuire's claim to have inside knowledge of what American
big-business leaders were up to, the appearance of the American
Liberty League on schedule, and A1 Smith's break with the White
House, convinced him that MacGuire's revelations of a plot to
seize the White House were no crackpot's fantasy. MacGuire had
called the shots every time.
Butler was now genuinely alarmed. For the first time it dawned
upon him that if the American Liberty League was, indeed, the "superorganization"
behind the plot that it seemed to be, the country's freedom was
in genuine peril. Such money and power as the men behind the
League possessed could easily mobilize a thinly disguised
Fascist army from the ranks of jobless, embittered veterans and
do what Mussolini had done in Italy with the financial support
of the Italian plutocracy.
Getting in touch with Van Zandt, Butler told the V.F.W.
commander that he had been approached to lead a coup as head of
a veterans' army. He warned that the conspirators intended to
try to involve Van Zandt, too, at the V.F.W, convention in
Louisville. Thanking him for the warning, Van Zandt assured
Butler that he would have nothing to do with the plotters.
Butler was tempted to leave for Washington immediately to warn
the President or his advisers. He now knew enough to expose the
whole plot. But he was pragmatist enough to realize that on his
unsupported word, without the slightest shred of evidence, he
was likely to be greeted with polite skepticism, if not
ridicule. Heads would shake. Poor Smedley Butler. How sad-a
fine, brave Marine general like that, losing touch with reality.
Too many campaigns, too many tropical fevers. At best they might
believe that MacGuire had, indeed, told him all those fantastic
things, but then MacGuire, obviously, had to be some kind of
psychotic nut. And Butler would have to be an idiot to have
taken him seriously, to have believed that many of the nation's
greatest leaders of the business and financial world would get
involved in a conspiracy to depose the President and take over
the White House!
MacGuire, of course, would deny everything. So would Robert S.
Clark. So would everyone connected with the American Liberty
League-if this was, indeed, the superorganization MacGuire had
revealed was behind the plot.
The enemies Butler had made among the military brass during his
colorful career would help the press ridicule his revelation.
"Old Gimlet Eye," they would scoff, "is at it again-stirring up
a storm, making headlines. Worst publicity hound that ever wore
But Smedley Butler had never in his life backed off from his
duty as he saw it. Convinced that the democracy he cherished was
in genuine danger, he steeled himself for the ordeal of public
mockery and humiliating attacks that he knew would follow his
exposure of the conspiracy. He was enough of an expert
tactician, however, to know that he couldn't win his battle
without supporting troops. He would need corroborative testimony
by someone whose word, when combined with his own, would have to
be respected and force a full-scale investigation.
Butler confided in Tom O'Neil, city editor of the Philadelphia
Record. Observing that the whole affair smacked of outright
treason to him, he asked O'Neil to assign his star reporter to
dig into the story. O'Neil agreed, and reporter Paul Comly
French, whose news features also appeared in the New York Post,
was instructed to seek confirmation of the plot. Butler knew and
respected French, who had done an intelligent and honest job of
covering his fight against crime and corruption in Philadelphia
ten years earlier.
French set about determining whether MacGuire and his group were
operating some kind of racket to extort money out of the rich by
selling them political gold bricks, or whether a cabal of rich
men, enraged by the President and his policies, was putting up
big money to overthrow F.D.R. with a putsch.
In view of the powerful people the general had named in
connection with the plot, French knew that his assignment was a
keg of dynamite. Even if he could somehow confirm the existence
of the plot and identify the conspirators, he and the general
were bound to meet with incredulity when they sought to expose
the blueprint for treason and the traitors.
Much would depend upon establishing and documenting the
credibility of Smedley Butler, the chief witness. If the
general's career showed him to be given to gross exaggeration or
chronic lying, or to be an officer of dubious character whose
word could not be trusted, then his sworn testimony against
those he charged with treason would be held worthless.
If, on the other hand, an examination of his life and career
proved that he was a man of incorruptible character, integrity,
and patriotism, then his testimony would have to be given the
gravest consideration, especially when supported and
corroborated by the findings of French's investigation.
Whatever the outcome, the reporter knew that the denouement
would be a stormy one. To Butler's enemies he was a highly
controversial, unorthodox fighting man whose irrepressible
temper and tongue kept him in the headlines. To his friends he
was a patriotic war hero with strong convictions about democracy
and a deserved reputation for bluntly speaking out the truth,
regardless of consequences.
What kind of man, actually, was the Marine general who was
accusing many of America's leading financiers and industrialists
of seeking him as the indispensable man for their Fascist plot
to seize the White House?
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