The Business Plot, or Wall Street Putsch, was an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States and install a nationalist, business-friendly dictatorship. It involved prominent rich men, including Prescott Bush (George W. Bush’s grandfather), who controlled many of the country’s biggest corporations, including Chase Bank, General Motors, Standard Oil, Dupont, Heinz, and others.
They were unhappy with the election of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt as president in 1932. FDR was trying to get the New Deal passed and wanted to abandon the gold standard, which the rich saw as a road to inflation, undermine their wealth, and use it to subsidize the poor. “This is despotism, this is tyranny, this is the annihilation of liberty,” one senator lamented. The New Deal, they predicted, would lead to the country becoming bankrupt and adopting communism. Some on the Right believed Roosevelt was secretly a Jew bent on world domination.
The plotters promised $3 million and planned to build an army of 500,000 Great War veterans from American Legion branches. The plan was for this army to seize Washington (on the pretext of the president’s poor health) and install a popular military figure as the country’s new executor, while FDR remained a figurehead. They approached U.S. Marine Major Generator Smedley Butler, who’d fought in France, Latin America, and the Philippines. Butler was approached by American Legion leaders in on the plot. If he declined, apparently the plan was to approach U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur. Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander James E. Van Zandt later told the press he’d also been approached.
Butler immediately notified the government of the plot. Congress held hearings on it. The documents were sealed until only recently, some deleted (but inadvertently exposed and then published). You can read everything here. Congress found the plot to be “alarmingly true.” The committee declared it “received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization 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.”
None of the alleged plotters were questioned by Congress (claiming it had no reason to based on “hearsay”), nor anybody formally charged. As the plot was uncovered while in the planning stage, it is difficult to say whether it might have gone from discussion to action. The press and numerous politicians considered it a “cocktail putsch,” something discussed but never seriously acted upon, though there was evidence it was actively being plotted. In 1936, William Dodd, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, which at the time was under Nazi rule, wrote a letter to FDR that stated: “A clique of U.S. industrialists is hell-bent to bring a fascist state to supplant our democratic government and is working closely with the fascist regime in Germany and Italy. I have had plenty of opportunity in my post in Berlin to witness how close some of our American ruling families are to the Nazi regime… A prominent executive of one of the largest corporations told me point blank that he would be ready to take definite action to bring fascism into America if President Roosevelt continued his progressive policies.”
The Congressional committee would go on to become the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which later would not afford the same courtesy to suspected communists as it did to the Wall Street and corporate tycoons. Smedley Butler, meanwhile, would go on to pen his famous speech/short book, WAR IS A RACKET, in 1935.