A rumor has been circulating that the money Martin Peretz used to fund The New Republic was inherited by his wife Anne Labouisse Farnsworth from a fascist gold bug grandfather who tried to overthrow the U.S. government during the 1930s. This is incorrect; the fascist in question was Peretz’s wife’s great-uncle, and based on what we know at this time, the grandfather from whom she inherited the money was not an active fascist.
It has also been rumored that the money inherited traces back to the inventor of the sewing machine, Isaac Merritt Singer. While the money does trace back to the Singer Sewing Machine Company, Isaac Singer did not invent the sewing machine, and Peretz’s uxorial nest egg traces back to Edward Clark, Singer’s patent lawyer, who was granted a full partnership in return for wresting the sewing machine patent away from the actual inventor, Elias Howe.
It is also not true that Peretz is a grandson of the Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer. The Yiddish author of whom Peretz is the grandson was Isaac Leib Peretz. No Isaac Singer of any description has been implicated in Peretz’s operation.
Peretz and his wife are now separated, and Peretz has sold TNR. It is not known whether Peretz dumped his wife when the money ran out, or whether his wife dumped Peretz when the money ran out. If you run into Martin, I’m sure he’d appreciate it if you bought him a meal and lent him a couple of bucks.
(Since the coup d’etat story has already disappeared from Robert Sterling Clark Wiki page and has been relegated to the discussion page, I’m saving the discussion page here just in case)
The Art Collector Who Wanted to Stage a Fascist Coup Against FDR By Nicholas Fox Weber
(Nicholas Fox Weber is the author of The Clarks of Cooperstown, on which the following article is based.)
It sounds like a fabrication whenever I mention that, in researching the great art collector Robert Sterling Clark—proud owner of thirty-nine Renoirs and of the only significant altar piece by Piero Della Francesca in America, and founder of a fine and well-known public art museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts—I discovered that, in 1934, he apparently devoted considerable energy to an attempt to have President Franklin Delano Roosevelt overthrown and replaced by a Fascist dictator. The evidence, however, is clear; the only real mystery is why more attention has never been given to the attempted putsch in the White House. Sterling—as everyone called him—had approximately thirty million dollars at the time, in addition to a valuable art collection, sumptuous houses in America and France, and vast holdings of silver, rare books, vintage Burgundies, and other collectables. He was a bon vivant who took great pleasure in acquiring things and in living well; he was also a man given to intense and consuming rages. A lot of his fury was directed toward his three brothers, with whom he had had a violent dispute concerning family trusts; Sterling was enraged that he could not secure more of the family’s fortune for his wife and her daughter.
The problem was that only direct descendents of his parents could eventually inherit the bulk of his wealth, which consisted mostly of Singer Sewing Machine stock (the Clark brothers’ grandfather had been Isaac Singer’s lawyer, and had, in the middle of the 19th century, taken leadership of the company and made his fortune with it.) Sterling’s vitriol toward his siblings had begun in the early 1920s; a decade later, a lot of his rage was directed at the president he privately referred to as “Rosenfart,” who infuriated Clark because of his attitude toward the gold standard. Sterling was heard to say more than once that he would “spend half of his fortune to save the other half.”
The fifteen million dollars he was apparently willing to spend would go toward payments for an army of retired soldiers—half a million of them—whom he hoped to hire with a number of other rich and prominent Americans. The story behind the plot is complex, but its essence is that Sterling, through intermediaries, had hoped to persuade a retired U.S. General, Smedley Darlington Butler, to head the coup, and that he had indeed funded a lot of research into the formation of Fascist armies abroad. The example that most impressed the man whose trip to Europe he financed was the Croix de Feu, a group of French soldiers who had succeeded in ousting a president.
The story was told in the pages of the New York Times and Time Magazine. The accounts often have a mocking tone, especially about Butler, who was the man who spilled the beans at hearings held by the U.S. House of Representatives in private sessions, where Congressman John McCormack skillfully, and often in outrage, investigated the matter. Names of people associated with the Morgan bank, members of the DuPont family, and the well-known politician Al Smith were also linked to the attempted coup. It became clear that many of these people really thought that Roosevelt, his vice-president, and the secretary of state could all be coerced into stepping down, and then a hand-picked replacement would take charge.
That the putsch did not come about is not itself astonishing. But that it is such a neglected chapter of American history—in spite of books and films devoted to the subject—remains the great surprise. Roosevelt himself wanted to hear little about it; it was as if taking it to heart would make it too real. Perhaps that is still the fear behind the relative silence.