BONUS ARMY. In May 1932 thousands of World War I veterans began gathering in Washington, D.C., in order to pressure Congress to pass the Patman Bonus Bill. The legislation called for the immediate payment of war bonuses for World War I veterans. Under legislation passed with the approval of veterans groups in 1924, payments had been deferred, with interest, until 1945. But with the economic hardship of the depression, veterans clamored for immediate assistance.
The official response to the encampments (some including the mens' families) was initially benign. Washington, D.C., Police Superintendent Pelham Glassford, a veteran himself who was sympathetic toward the movement, set aside building space and campgrounds. At the height of the Bonus Army, between seventeen and twenty thousand veterans were encamped near the Washington Mall and at a site on the Anacostia River, forming the largest of the nation's Hoovervilles.
Although the House passed the Patman Veterans Bill, the Senate rejected its version on 17 June. When veterans protested by marching on Pennsylvania Avenue, police responded violently, resulting in the deaths of two veterans and two policemen. On 28 July President Hoover ordered the Secretary of War to disperse the protesters. In the late afternoon, cavalry, infantry, tanks, and a mounted machine gun pushed the Bonusers out of Washington. Although under orders from Hoover to show restraint, the troops injured more than one hundred veterans. General Douglas MacArthur sent troops into the Anacostia camp, directly disobeying Hoover's orders. A fire of unknown origin, although suspected of being started by the troops, burnt down most of the veterans' tents and other structures.
Hoover's public image suffered greatly as a result of the troops' actions, which helped Franklin Roosevelt win the presidential election a few months later. Although Roosevelt scored political points because of Hoover's missteps, he showed little sympathy for the veterans once in office. Congress passed, over his veto, a bill that paid out the bonuses in 1936, at a cost of $2.5 billion.
Lisio, Donald J. The President and Protest: Hoover, MacArthur, and the Bonus Riot. New York: Fordham University Press, 1994.