Adapted from an excerpt from Presidents' Body Counts: The Twelve Worst and Four Best American Presidents Based on How Many Lived or Died Because of Their Actions, available at http://www.amazon.com/...
Impeachment mania, contrary to the claims of a few Republican leaders, is very strong within their party and among conservatives. Three fifths of both conservatives and Republicans favor impeaching Obama, led largely by those outside the party leadership but still popular, such as Sarah Palin. Some want impeachment over Obamacare. For others it is fear inspired by conspiracy theories, claiming gun control or immigrants or Benghazi are sinister plots.
Others frankly can't tell you why they want impeachment, except they hate the man, their not very well concealed racism just below the surface. No president in over 60 years has been the target of such hatred. Clinton did not face heavily armed rallies publicly threatening to overthrow him, nor nearly as many death threats. One has to go back to Franklin Roosevelt to find worser examples.
This is one of the lesser known but important episodes in US history. The American Liberty League plotted to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt, sometimes referred to as the Business Plot. Some US businessmen were so opposed to the New Deal they planned to bring down Roosevelt by force using a private army and install a fascist government.
The list of plotters included some of the most prominent businessmen in the country. Irenee Du Pont of the Dupont family, one of the wealthiest in the nation, worth hundreds of millions, was a white supremacist and founder of the American Liberty League. Grayson Murphy was the treasurer for the League, Director of Goodyear, mining and rail companies, and on the boards of Bethlehem Steel and JP Morgan. William Doyle and Gerald McGuire were both leaders in the American Legion, one of the largest veterans' organizations, one much further to the right than the VFW. John Davis and Al Smith were both former Democratic presidential candidates. John Raskob was an officer in Du Pont and the former Chairman of the Democratic Party. Robert Clark was a Wall Street banker and stockbroker who provided $15 million in funding for the plot. Alfred Sloan was the President, CEO, and Chairman of General Motors. He also owned Remington and would supplies arms for the coup as well as $300 million in funds.
The plot was exposed by General Smedley Butler, former Commandant of the US Marine Corps. Butler was approached by Gerald Maguire, who offered him command of an army of half a million World War I veterans from the American Legion. The plan was to hand an ultimatum to Roosevelt: pose as sick while a newly created office of the Secretary of General Affairs takes over and runs the country in his name.
What kind of a government did the League want? Gerald MacGuire was quite open that, "We need a fascist government in this country," modeled on Mussolini's fascist state, the French fascist group Croix de Feu, and Dutch fascists.
When Butler was offered command of this army, he refused and went to Roosevelt with the details of the plot. But Roosevelt feared the arrest of famous figures such as a Du Pont on treason charges would crash the Stock Market again. Roosevelt dealt with the coup by leaking the story to to the press. The plot was publicly exposed and could proceed no further.
The media had mixed reactions to news of the plot. The New York Times claimed it was all a hoax. Douglas MacArthur, allegedly named as the second choice for commanding the League's army if Butler refused, called the claim a joke. Congress formed a special committee to investigate. The committee never summoned almost any of the plotters. Maguire was the only one to testify. Likely, the committee feared, much like Roosevelt, that public exposure of treason by leading elites might crash the economy again.
The committee published its report after a delay of four years. All of Butler's claims were substantiated with extensive bank records, letters, and witnesses. But the committee issued no indictments for treason as they deserved. Again, trials and convictions of elites for treason would trigger economic panic. Most historians agree there was a plot. The evidence is clear. Where many disagree is how far the plot had gone. Historian Arthur Schlesinger argued it was a “cocktail plot,” talk that was still in the planning stages.
If the plot had gone forward, if they had found a commander who would not expose the plot, could it have succeeded? Between the world wars, the US Army only numbered 140,000, less than a third of the size of the League's army. The US government was more decentralized in 1934. State governors controlled the militias and National Guard much more than today. It took time for governors to transfer control to the President.
But it is virtually certain Roosevelt would not back down. Rejecting the ultimatum leads to a second civil war, one likely more destructive than the first. While Roosevelt was the most popular president in US history, those opposed to him and his New Deal were a solid 35-40% of the nation. Many of them were fanatic, and some were violent. Groups like the KKK, German-American Bund, Silver Shirts, and Christian Front were fanatically anti Communist, seeing “reds” where there were none, and many also openly fascist. The League would unite all these with substantial financial backing and weaponry. The League's leader Du Pont argued for uniting “all property owners” with the Ku Klux Klan.
We might find a model of what would happen in the Spanish Civil War at about the same time. In Spain there was a fascist coup aimed at a popular government that united the left and center. The Spanish Civil War killed from 600,000 to 1.2 million. The US population at the time was three times that of Spain. As in Spain, the great majority of the US population favored the democratic left government and would fight fiercely to hold onto it. Thus casualties from a second US civil war might have reached as high as 3.6 million.
How would this second civil war end? In Spain, the fascist party the Falange won. They won because other fascist governments aided them while most democracies stood by and let Spain's popular government be destroyed by force. Germany sent weapons and bombers, who most infamously destroyed the city of Guernica. Italy sent weapons and troops. Both nations likely would send the same to the US.
In Spain, the civil war was so devastating they remained neutral during World War II. Spain stayed fascist until the 1970s. Over time Spanish youth grew increasingly cynical under fascist rule and the nation returned to democracy. We might see the same for the US, neutrality during World War WII, and fascist until the 1970s.
It is uncertain who would have been the de facto president. Du Pont was head of the League. Maguire may have been commander of the League's army and thus de facto president. One central difference between the League and Spanish fascists is that Falangists were militarists but not racists. Moorish troops took the fascist side. The League believed in not just white supremacy but eugenics.
Eugenics was pure pseudo science, the claim that one could improve humanity by sterilizing supposed inferior peoples. Eugenics and forcible sterilization already was widely practiced in the US since 1907, in over 30 states, and had a huge influence on Nazi Germany. In most cases the targets were supposed mental defectives or criminals. But in North Carolina many poor Black women were targeted. As late as the 1970s, Native women were sterilized without their consent or knowledge.
With the League in power, one could see eugenics widely applied to anyone not white. US eugenics included both sterilization and “euthanasia.” Euthanasia is a euphemism for mass murder by gas chambers, which were proposed by eugenics advocates but never widely practiced. Minorities could either flee to avoid mass murder and sterilization, hide in remote areas, or if possible try to pass as white.
The US would be ethnically cleansed. For 40 years, the only remaining nonwhites in the US would either be unable to produce children or in hiding. Blacks might flee to the Caribbean, Latinos to Latin America, American Indians to either Canada or Mexico, Asians to Asia or Hawaii (which likely would no longer be part of the US), and Jews to any country that would take them, most likely Canada, Argentina, or Bolivia.
It is quite possible other powers may choose to take advantage of the Second US Civil War. The Soviets under Stalin may see a chance to take Alaska. Hawaii may be taken by Japanese fascists, or the British may take Hawaii as well as Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal to prevent other powers having them.
The most disturbing possibility of all is that the Holocaust may have come to America. Jews in Nazi Germany's allies of Italy and Spain were not targeted in the beginning. But fascist Spain did draw up lists of Jews and watch them closely. In Italy, as the war continued and German influence became stronger, Jews were rounded up and sent to death camps much like in the rest of occupied Europe. The League leaders were anti Semites. Though the League issued a public declaration against anti semitism in 1936, in fact they allied with and funded a number of organizations that hated Jews, including the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution, the Sentinels of the Republic, and the Silver Shirts.
Except for nuclear war, this scenario is the most horrifying possibility in American history that luckily never came true. Even a Confederate victory in the Civil War leading to slavery continuing does not end in as high a death toll. The US population in 1940 was almost 132 million, about 116 million of them white. That means as many as 16 million nonwhites may be sterilized, executed, or have to flee, hide, or pass as white.
It is virtually impossible to guess how those numbers would break down. The chaos of a recent civil war might make it easier to flee and more difficult to be tracked down. Sterilization was much more widely practiced by eugenics advocates than execution, so mass deaths might not happen until later. or at all. The isolation of many rural Black, Latino, and Native communities might protect them, but it also might make it more difficult to hear of the coming atrocities in time to escape.
I often teach my students that this episode actually shows just how much of a difference one man can make. One man, Smedley Butler, prevented this by simply speaking out. It should make a fitting epitaph for him, “He saved America from fascism.” This episode should be taught as evidence of the worst side of America's right wing and business leaders.
Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College, a former Fulbright Scholar, and the author of Presidents' Body Counts. He is a longtime activist for www.newagefraud.org. More information on him is at http://alcarroll.com.