The Plots Against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right by Sally Denton. When Franklin Roosevelt assumed the presidency in March, 1933, America was desperate. This book explores two startling events that have been largely ignored by historians: "anarchist Giuseppe Zangara's assassination attempt on Roosevelt, and a plutocrats' plot to overthrow the government that would come to be known as the Wall Street Putsch." Washington Post review:
Denton quotes the historian William Manchester: “The evidence strongly suggests that had Roosevelt in fact been another Hoover, the United States would have followed seven Latin American countries whose governments had been overthrown by Depression victims.” ...American fascist parties formed paramilitary groups called the silver shirts, the khaki shirts or the black shirts, a Crayola box of colors inspired by Hitler’s brownshirts and Mussolini’s blackshirts. “Dangerous or not,” Denton notes, “America was awash with right-wing groups overtly bent on government takeover outside the bounds of the democratic electoral process.” The largest effort was a well-financed Wall Street plot to organize the American Legion to march on Washington, seize the White House, overthrow the president and install a famous military hero, Smedley Darlington Butler, as leader of a fascist state modeled after Italy. Butler, a two-time Medal of Honor recipient and firm supporter of Roosevelt, turned the ringleaders in.
Other historians of the period such as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. did not take the military coup threat seriously, and assessed that the American republic was never in serious danger.
Yet President Franklin Roosevelt was not so sure. A disturbing episode is documented in the book, FDR, by Jean Edward Smith. During the 1932 campaign, while lunching at Hyde Park with his aide Rexford Tugwell, Roosevelt called Gen. Douglas MacArthur "the most dangerous man in America." Observing MacArthur's violent dispersal of downtrodden military veterans seeking their bonuses in Washington in July of that year, in apparent defiance of an order by President Hoover, Roosevelt saw MacArthur as capable of violating civilian control of the military. He told Tugwell:
“You saw how he strutted down Pennsylvania Avenue. You saw that picture of him in the Times after the troops chased all those vets out with tear gas and burned their shelters. Did you ever see anyone more self-satisfied? There’s a potential Mussolini for you.”
MacArthur was said to be a back-up general in the Business Plot against the U.S. government, though he denied it at the time. He was later accused of defying an order from President Harry S Truman not to invade North Korea at the 38th parallel, and seeking war with China. He did publicly disagree with President Truman, saying he wanted to topple the communist Mao Tse Tung and restore the Nationalist Chinese Dictator Chiang Chi Shek to power on the mainland. As a result, Truman fired the widely popular General MacArthur in April 1951, almost setting off a public revolt in America. Right-wingers accused the president of being soft on communism and losing China to the communists. But the principal of civilian control of the U.S. military ultimately endured.
These events do make one wonder: what if Franklin Roosevelt had been assassinated in 1933? Might the U.S. have succumbed to military dictatorship? What if General MacArthur were more defiant of President Truman, or if the military leadership was unified against the president's policies? Could they have staged a military coup?