When DuPont Almost Overthrew the Government


I love a good conspiracy. This one, involving Great Depression-era businessmen attempting to overthrow President Roosevelt in a military coup, just about beats them all:

In the summer of 1933, shortly after Roosevelt’s “First 100 Days,” America’s richest businessmen were in a panic. It was clear that Roosevelt intended to conduct a massive redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Roosevelt had to be stopped at all costs.

The answer was a military coup. It was to be secretly financed and organized by leading officers of the Morgan and Du Pont empires. This included some of America’s richest and most famous names of the time:

* Irenee Du Pont – Right-wing chemical industrialist and founder of the American Liberty League, the organization assigned to execute 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 – Roosevelt’s bitter political foe from New York. Smith was a former governor of New York and a codirector of the American Liberty League.
* John J. Raskob – A high-ranking Du Pont officer and a former chairman of the Democratic Party. In later decades, Raskob would become 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.
* Robert Clark – One of Wall Street’s richest bankers and stockbrokers.
* Gerald MacGuire – Bond salesman for Clark, and a former commander of the Connecticut American Legion. MacGuire was the key recruiter to General Butler.
* Prescott Bush — Wall Street executive, US senator

The plotters attempted to recruit General Smedley Butler to lead the coup. They selected him because he was a war hero who was popular with the troops. The plotters felt his good reputation was important to make the troops feel confident that they were doing the right thing by overthrowing a democratically elected president. However, this was a mistake: Butler was popular with the troops because he identified with them. That is, he was a man of the people, not the elite. When the plotters approached General Butler with their proposal to lead the coup, he pretended to go along with the plan at first, secretly deciding to betray it to Congress at the right moment.


It reads like a hoax, but was it? I’d like to hear from history buffs regarding the veracity of this story.

I also found the story pertinent because the government is engaged in its biggest economic rescue since FDR. If high-powered politicians and businessman were able to band together in an attempted coup then, what’s stopping them now? Better surveillance, perhaps? A more centralized government?

Right now, the political consequences of the Great Recession remain unknown. However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine extreme outcomes, especially if economic conditions linger long enough.

(Even more reading here.)

  • I personally believe that Roosevelt was the best president ever. But, business is important too. They did not get rich because of Roosevelt and he didn’t have any rights to redistribute wealth from the business giants.

  • Erik ahrsjo

    Roosevelt, was a good war time leader but he prolonged the depression through the new deal.

  • History Buff

    Book you may enjoy: “Lies My Teacher Told Me”

    …regarding a number of things that should be taught in history classes that generally are not.

  • Nothing seriously surprises me anymore. There are plenty of things that seem like hoaxes, and will never be taught in public schools. They still play up the collapse of the USSR like it was a peaceful event. Never mind those pesky Chechen Wars. While the Siege of Grozny was going on Bill Clinton played a saxaphone given to him by Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin. Try to find a picture of that in a history book.

  • Woody

    I don’t believe that a military coup was ever seriously considered. I do believe that many of the wealthy were discontented and rightfully so. The wealth of the free market will only allow the government to push so far before they begin to push back. I think are current President is about to find this out.

  • RJ

    I am sorry but those quotes are like dialogue from a bad action movie. Further, why not just stop FDR before the election?

  • Mike Caprio

    You neglected to include Senator Bush in the list of conspirators. (Yes, from THAT Bush family)

  • It’s true that Gen. Butler went to Congress with his claims. However, Congress never acted, and no one was ever prosecuted, so the seriousness of the plan can be called into question. Given the time period (most governments were in upheaval) it was probably discussed, but likely not close to execution.

  • Roger Melo

    I remember being taught this while at Marine recruit training. This did in fact happen and the fact that those rich bastards thought a man who won multiple Medals of Honor would go along with it boggles the mind.

  • Drea

    Mike–I added Mr. Bush to the list, thanks. Steve–I find it interesting that timing played a part in how/whether Congress treated the claim. I imagine someone would have been calling for heads during a more stable time, but then again, stability doesn’t exactly trigger coups…

  • Soldier Cynic

    Good timing on this one since there have been a couple of letters to the editors of the Stars and Stripes and the Military Times in recent days by folks, including a Navy LtCdr, who have felt the sudden need to remind folks that our oaths are to support and defend the Constitution and not the current government. Not exactly a call to action, but something that makes you stop and think about the potential for something like this.

  • You know, there was testimony before congress by many people involved. The Bush’s got a free pass, Prescott never would speak about it. If he did, we’d all be swimming in surplus money waving goodbye to smog and CO2 as Al Gore rode the mighty Moon Worm.

    I’ll try and find it…

  • Luccia

    It was a time of great uncertainty and instability. It really did happen. They really wanted a military coup.

    Things are different, now. There is a safety net of housing, food, and income that didn’t exist. Social Security keeps the elderly from getting tossed out on the street like they were in the Great Depression.

    Also, veterans are certainly better cared for than they were back then. More can be done, but there was practically nothing in place then. FDR’s New Deal ensured that the conditions that led to the embrace of fascism by hordes of jobless, hungry, impoverished Italians and Germans could not gain a foothold here again.

    Smedley was a true American hero. Imagine, the future of the experiment in American democracy depended upon one man’s character. We owe him a debt of thanks.

  • That was downright dastardly, could very well be true.

    At the very least they could make it into a movie.

  • saif

    Its a different time now. Successive govts have been redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. And with this recession its happenning even more. Bailout monies are coming mostly from ordinary taxpayers. Guess who are getting them. If anyone was calling for a coup it would be the bottom 80% of the population, but they don’t have any generals ear.

  • Too bad they failed. FDR was the most destructive president in the history of this country. A quote from his speech to congress:

    “We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work… We have never made good on our promises. I say after eight years of this Administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started. … And an enormous debt to boot!”

    Seriously. Google it. Unemployement DIDN’T CHANGE under FDR until WWII broke out.

    The New Deal failed.

    It did nothing but screw the market over and keep the economy from correcting itself. It wasted money with useless projects for the sake of “creating jobs”.

    FDR failed. It’s unavoidable. There’s no way around it.

  • Jason

    This really did happen. There are plenty of books out there that support the evidence of this, and even one the Smedley Butler wrote himself. You should give it a read!

  • Hmmm. Imagine a world if Prescott Bush would have served twenty or thirty years in Leavenworth. Were his spawn with us already? Would they have been in a position to bring the world to its collective knees? Could there not have been an Iran contra, a corporate oligarchy? Wars in Iraq, Panama, El Salvador? The America these crackpot thieves would have envisioned took the Bush’s at least one additional decade. Thanks General Butler. Congress you failed, Judicial system.. you failed as well. Money won, the world lost.

  • 40th Street Black

    It was called the ‘Business Plot.’ It was a lot closer to implementation but Butler found out all the cospirators then told. He even testified under oath to congress. Stop talking about what you think and do some research so you will know.

  • Cerejota

    This story is true. Butler went to congress and denounced the plot, and opposed Roosevelt’s imperialist adventures in Latin America. He was a touring speaker and wrote “War is racket” a political memoir of his service.

    Butler also won two Medals of Honor, one of the few Marines to do so, and one of the few people for whom the second is not posthumous.

  • Cerejota
  • Michael Martin

    The history of FDR’s New Deal was that business opposition and the Supreme Court thwarted it in the early days, prompting FDR’s “Court Packing” scheme. But then he was able to get his programs passed. I suspect the reason no one was prosecuted is because FDR cut a deal with the conspirators that he would not prosecute them for treason if they stopped opposing the New Deal.

  • Cleetus

    The fact they would even consider General Butler to lead the coup boggles the mind.

  • Quote from General Butler… And these greedy bafoons thought they could get him to join a coup?

    “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”[28]

  • Dave Luebber

    “…I also found the story pertinent because the government is engaged in its biggest economic rescue since FDR. If high-powered politicians and businessman were able to band together in an attempted coup then, what’s stopping them now? Better surveillance, perhaps? A more centralized government?..”

    Ahem. The reason ought to be obvious: this time around, the President is acting *for* the bankers and old-money interests, not against them. Obama may be trying to draw power away from this establishment, but only by way of appeasement.

  • heh any article starting with “i love a good conspiracy” gets me hooked

  • Darrell

    This is no hoax. I have watched the taped interview of the General and it is pretty compelling. Appearantly FDR made a back door agreement, and all was forgotten. The Dupont family has been dealing with, and in the government for over 200 years, and are heavily involved with the Federal Reserve. I truly believe that these families were able to take over the country. A bloodless coup that is right before our eyes, yet we refuse to see. Cheers to being blind!