In this adaptation of T. F. Tweed's novel a U. S. President is inspired to reform the government by putting the unemployed to work, eliminating gangsters, and bringing about international disarmament.
Judson Hammond (Walter Huston) is inaugurated as U. S. President, but he considers millions of unemployed and rampant racketeering as local problems, as he is oblivious to calls to alleviate the misery of the unemployed. He tells the press he may not be quoted. His private secretary Pendola Malloy (Karen Morley) tells him he could do important things. He drives 98 mph past his police escort and gets into an accident, leaving him in a coma. His doctor tells the press he is still unconscious, but for three weeks he has been taking time to think. He asks Miss Malloy for information on the unemployed and their leader Bronson. Hammond calls a cabinet meeting as one million unemployed are marching on Washington. He asks for the resignation of the secretary who suggests calling out the army, and he tells the press he wants to be quoted.
The gangster Nick Diamond (C. Henry Gordon) bribes an inspector and tells Bronson to keep the unemployed in their camps. The leaders of the march are shot, and Bronson dies. Hammond orders his war secretary to provide food for the marchers in Baltimore. He goes to their camp there and promises the people who want work the government will create an army of construction without profit. Pendola tells Beekman (Franchot Tone) she believes the angel Gabriel is influencing Hammond. The President asks his entire cabinet to resign and speaks to Congress, asking for $4 billion to restore buying power; or he will declare a national emergency, because the Congress has turned its back on the people. Congress makes Hammond dictator. He prevents foreclosures, gives aid to farmers, and aims at the racketeers, while studying the European debts. He tells Nick Diamond the government is going to muscle in on his bootlegging. A government liquor store is soon bombed, and Pendola is shot in a drive-by shooting of the white house. Hammond puts Beekman in charge of federal police against gangsters. Tanks attack Diamond's warehouse; he is tried by a military tribunal; and seven men are shot by firing squad.
Hammond holds an international debt conference on a ship during a naval display. He insists that half the debts owed the U. S. must be paid. Speaking on radio he repudiates the naval limits agreement and wants to have the greatest navy. Hammond says how much is spent on obsolete armaments and has airplanes destroy two battleships. He says the next war will destroy cities and asks them to save the world by eliminating armaments. The Washington Covenant is signed by Japan, Great Britain, France, and by himself; but then he collapses. Pendola holds his hand as he passes on, and then Beekman thanks the delegates for establishing the milennium of peace and announces that Hammond is dead.
This inspired story shows that the government can help the poor in a crisis and that ending Prohibition can reduce organized crime, though the fascist methods of dictatorship and martial law are bad methods for doing so, reflecting the trend toward dictatorship in 1933. Yet in my view the plan to save the world from the scourge of war by eliminating massive armaments in all countries is a truly prophetic idea which could have prevented the second world war and still is needed to prevent future wars on this planet.