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An American Coup d'Etat?

Did America's far right plot against Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal - only to be foiled by a retired Marine Corps general? Clayton Cramer lifts the lid on an intriguing but little-known tale.

Some Americans regard their country as superior to other nations because they do not change governments by coup d'etat – and never have. Perhaps because of a long tradition of power changing hands by election, Americans regard their nation as immune to the use of force for political purposes. True, assassins have killed four presidents, but these deaths did not lead to turmoil and chaos; the government simply followed well-established procedures for transferring control to the vice-president. Unlike other nations where assassination often leads to civil war, the United States has avoided this.

How different is America from nations where political power comes quite directly 'from the barrel of a gun'? A curious footnote to American history suggests that, except for the personal integrity of a remarkable American general, a coup d'etat intended to remove President Franklin D. Roosevelt from office in 1934 might have plunged America into civil war.

This remarkable man was Smedley Darlington Butler, retired US Marine Corps Major-General. Butler is the sort of person for whom the word 'colourful' is woefully inadequate. This is a man who won America's highest military award for bravery (the Congressional Medal of Honor) twice. His style of warfare was unusual not only for his personal courage, but for the energy he put into avoiding bloodshed when it was possible to achieve his aims in other ways. Not surprisingly, this engendered a remarkable loyalty among the men who served under him – and that loyalty was why certain men asked Butler to lead a military attack on Washington DC, with the goal of capturing President Roosevelt.

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