Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Corrupt and Contented

The Incorruptible Smedley D. Butler

Where but in Philadelphia during the early twentieth century would it be so remarkable that a public official was “incorruptible”? This plaque in the north portal of City Hall so honors Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940), who served as Director of Public Safety in 1924-25.

Where but in Philadelphia during the early twentieth century would it be so remarkable that a public official was “incorruptible”? This plaque in the north portal of City Hall so honors Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler (1881-1940), who served as Director of Public Safety in 1924-25. Butler, a native of West Chester, Chester County, was a nationally known military hero, described in the New York Times as “one of the most glamourous and gallant men who ever wore the uniform of the United States Marine Corps.” Although a Quaker, he ran away from home at age 16 to join the army and served in every U.S. military campaign from the Spanish American War to World War I. But he later said that “Cleaning up Philadephia’s vice is worse than any battle I was ever in.” His efforts are recalled on the plaque, which states:
“He enforced the law impartially.
He defended it courageously.
He proved incorruptible.”

One Comment Comments

  1. I was always puzzled that a memorial dated 1927 to Butler would have been installed in Philadelphia’s City Hall so soon after what had happened. It seems this plaque was first commissioned by Butler’s Philadelphia supporters in 1927 and hung in the Navy Department Building in Washington D.C. – Philadelphia government was indeed NOT ready to honor Butler in 1927. In 1931, Butler published an article in Life magazine railing against military bureaucracy entitled “To Hell with the Admirals! Why I retired at Fifty.” An outraged Admiral Pratt denounced the article and had the plaque in his honor removed from the Navy Building. It was later located by a Butler Memorial Commission, but not installed in Philly’s City Hall until after Smedley Butler’s death in 1940, fifteen years after Butler had been dismissed as the city’s Director of Public Safety.

    Bob Skiba Posted November 20, 2011 at 11:31 am

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