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The Bonus Army

The Bonus Army

World War I Veterans Protest in Washington, D.C.

Photograph

By: Anonymous

Date: June 21, 1932

Source: Photo by MPI/Getty Images.

About the Photographer: This photograph is part of the collection at Getty Images, a worldwide provider of visual content materials to such communications groups as advertisers, broadcasters, designers, magazines, new media organizations, newspapers, and producers. The photographer is not known.

INTRODUCTION

In the days and weeks after a stock market crash set off the Great Depression in October 1929, Americans turned to every possible financial resource. Those among the unemployed who were veterans of World War I turned to the IOUs they had received from the U.S. government. In the summer of 1932, they marched to Washington, D.C. to demand payment from Congress.

In 1924, during boom times, Congress had voted to pay $1000 in 1945 to each veteran of World War I to compensate each man for his military service. Those who served as privates during the war earned only one dollar a day, much less than civilians working in the war industry. Veterans' organizations had lobbied for this adjusted compensation but first President Warren G. Harding and then President Calvin Coolidge vetoed the bill. Finally, the bill became law over Coolidge's veto.

Many of the veterans feared that they and their families would starve to death before collecting the money in 1945. In a time of great distress, they considered it reasonable to ask for their money to be paid ahead of schedule. In 1929, in response to their pleas, Representative Wright Patman of Texas, a former machine gunner, introduced a bill providing for immediate payment in full. It was defeated, but Patman kept the bill before Congress. It began to act as a magnet, attracted homeless and unemployed ex-servicemen to Washington, where they lobbied for its passage.

The Bonus March was largely spontaneous. From one city after another groups of veterans began to move toward Washington. Some men brought their wives and children. While some marched in overalls, many wore parts of their military uniforms. After about 30,000 marchers set up camp in Washington, President Herbert Hoover persuaded Congress to vote down immediate payment of the bonus because its $2.4 billion cost was too expensive.

PRIMARY SOURCE

THE BONUS ARMY

See primary source image.

SIGNIFICANCE

After the defeat of the Bonus Bill, many veterans did not leave Washington because they had no homes to return to. The Treasury Department then ordered the removal of veterans who were staying in a old building that department officials wanted to demolish to provide work for the unemployed. Word of the impending expulsion spread quickly, and men from other bonus marcher camps came running to prevent the evictions. A riot ensued in which two men were killed by Treasury Police.

After this violence, the District Commissioners asked for military assistance to restore order. On July 28, 1932, Hoover sent regular army troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur to remove the marchers. MacArthur used tanks, tear gas, and cavalry to roust the veterans from their main camp in Anacostia Flats. Residents had no time to remove any of their belongings. Women and children ran while photographers snapped pictures. The camp was then burned to the ground.

The public revulsion against the attack upon the heroes of yesteryear was so great that many involved attempted to place the blame elsewhere. Hoover ultimately accepted responsibility. When Franklin D. Roosevelt, campaigning for the presidency against Hoover, saw the photos of the burning camp in the newspaper, he knew that he had just won the election. The Bonus March placed the final nail in the coffin of Hoover's presidency.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Daniels, Roger. The Bonus March: An Episode of the Great Depression. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1971.

Dickson, Paul and Thomas B. Allen. The Bonus Army: An American Epic. New York: Walker, 2005.

Lisio, Donald J. The President and Protest: Hoover, MacArthur, and the Bonus Riot. New York: Fordham University Press, 1994.

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