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Internal threats to American democracy

The peaceful transfer of power has not always been so peaceful in these United States, but it still offers the best path to becoming a more perfect union with liberty for all.

Over the last few weeks The Washington Post has included several stories about attempted assassinations and general unrest at the time when power was transferred from one president to the next. Lincoln and Roosevelt were two significant new presidents who faced mortal threats.

In 1861 before Lincoln’s inauguration, a mob had tried to attack the Capitol on the day Congress met to verify Lincoln’s votes in the electoral college. At that time slaves were being used to build the national Capitol building, and seven states had already seceded from the Union. Southern leaders hoped to make Washington the capital of the Confederacy.

Lincoln made his way from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C. by train with short stops in several cities. Friends recommended that Lincoln carry a knife and pistol, and he knew a bomb was left on one of his rail cars, but he refused to use any such weapons.

Before he left Baltimore, his last stop en route to the nation’s capital, the guards decided that it was not safe for him to make a public arrival. Instead, when he stepped off the train at 6 a.m. alone, he wore clothes suitable for an ordinary working man, and he was met by a small number of guards ready to receive a “package” not a passenger. The code name for this operation was “Nuts.”

In 1933, during the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt faced a cabal of wealthy businessmen who objected to his plan to eliminate the gold standard. These rich men worried that U.S. currency would be worthless if it was not backed by gold. They decided to overthrow the government and establish a fascist dictator who would operate under their control. They wanted him to mobilize dissatisfied World War I veterans in the “Bonus Army” as their military force.

Clandestine plotting continued against FDR for years, and the wealthy cabal had money and power to try to bring about a fascist government in the name of better business practices.

For more information, see “The Plots Against the President: FDR, A Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right” by Sally Denton.

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