The 1933 coup plot and Prescott Bush
According to Charles Higham's American Swastika (where I first read about this material) there were not one but two attempted coups against FDR in the 1930s. The best-known of the two was the 1933 "Business Plot," whose originators asked Marine Corps General Smedley Butler, a Republican, to function as their front man. Unfortunately for their plans, Butler was a genuine patriot who decided to spill the beans to the McCormack-Dickstein Committee in Congress.
I'm told that a full transcript of the hearings remains unavailable to this day.
The Committee admitted that it could verify most of what Butler had said, but took no actions against the plotters, most of whom were American industrialists who felt that Roosevelt might lead the country into outright socialism. Ever since that time, scholars have debated the seriousness of what has been called "The Business Plot." Some have derided Butler as a publicity seeker of doubtful veracity. Others have sneeringly referred to the coup attempt as a "cocktail putsch" -- a lot of hot air with no balloon to lift.
However, Butler had corroborating witnesses, and the Committee concluded its investigation with these words:
In the last few weeks of the committee's official life it received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist government in this country.A recent BBC documentary, as yet unseen by me, looks into the Business Plot. The BBC adds a surprising new name to the list of the plotters:
No evidence was presented and this committee had none to show a connection between this effort and any fascist activity of any European 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.
The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse & George Bush’s Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression.[Emphasis added.] This is the first time I have seen Prescott Bush mentioned in this connection. Have any of my readers seen this documentary? Is the allegation against Prescott Bush based on solid evidence?
If it is, then we must re-examine the conclusions of the 1934 committee. They believed that the plotters had no connection to Nazi Germany. Prescott Bush, however, did.
PB was a vice-president of Harriman & Co., and later was a founding member of the Brown Brothers Harriman banking concern. This great financial house was heavily invested in Germany during Hitler's rise, especially in the steel works run by Fritz Thyssen, a major funder of -- and adviser to -- the Nazi Party. The Union Banking Corporation, directed by Prescott, was set up under the Harriman Bank to oversee Thyssen's investments in the United States and to provide "cover" for Nazi assets that might be seized in the event of a new war. Bush was also invested in a Thyssen company called the Silesian-American Corporation, which allegedly used slave labor from prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp. However, Fritz Thyssen broke with Hitler when the war started -- before the Auschwitz camp began its grim business.
(I realize that, after a certain point, this kind of material becomes difficult to follow. Believe it or not, I'm giving you the stripped-down version! German industry is, and has always been, a dizzying maze of interlocking corporations and sub-corporations. A wag once said that Germany has only five real businesses, although many more seem to exist.)
Kitty Kelley devotes some space to all this in her biography of the Bush dynasty. She concludes that the Bushes never had any ideological affinity for Nazism, and that Prescott's motives were purely financial. Others have said that he functioned as a UBC director only on paper; the real owner was a Dutch banking concern.
We should note that, after the war, Prescott Bush became a friend to Dwight Eisenhower and an investor in the United Negro College fund.
So: How does the BBC link Bush to the 1933 coup plot?
As noted above, I have yet to see the documentary. I suspect that the BBC may make reference to a fellow named Samuel Pryor, head of the Remington firearms firm. Pryor was also a director of Bush's UBC -- and of a Thyssen concern. Some evidence connects Remington to the "Business Plot."
(Click here and here if you want to listen to a two-part radio program on the Pryor affair.)
In my view, we still do not have enough evidence to suggest that Prescott Bush favored Hitler's program on an ideological level (although PB did have a keen interest in eugenics). Still, if the BBC's information proves correct, historians may one day be able to assert that the 1933 "Business Plotters" acted hand-in-glove with the Nazis.