The Great Depression: Bonus March (May-July 1932)


Figure 1.--Many Bonus Marchers brought their families with them them. As a result, mixed in with the veterans were many women and children. Notice the boys here with their fathers.

One of the shabiest chapters in America's treatment of its veterans is the Bonus March that occurred during the Great Depression. Tanks and banyonets deployed against unenployed veterans against the background of the Depression caused mant to question the future of America. As a result of the Depression there had been a number of small marches on Washington, but nothing along the domensions of the Bonus March. Congress after World War I promised veterans a bonus to honor their service. Congress passed the Adjusted Service Certificate Law (1924). The bonus was to be paid in 1945. The American Legion has pushed for the legislation. The Law was not just what the Legion wanted and they pushed for revisions, especially after the Depression began. Veterans were of course among the millions of unemloyed Americans.The Legion pushed for a bill allowing veterans to borrow against 50 percent of the nonus certificate value (March 1931). Congress passed the bil, but President Hoover vetoed it. He believed that the Government could not afford it and deficit spending would just impede recovery from the Depression. Congress passed the bill over Hoover's veto (February 1932). Thus many veterans began to see money from their bonus as a real possibility. Walter W. Walters and a group of other unemployed cannery workers decided that the Government should pay their bonus now when they really needed it. They came to WAshington and set up camp, calling themselves the "Bonus Expeditionary Forces" (May 1932). As word spread of the initial encampment, thousands of veterans, many brining their family, headed for Washington. Eventually about 20,000 veteranns massed in Washington. Some of the veterans set up the Mall, but most built a "Hooverville" at nearby Anacostia Flats. The House of Representatives passed the Patman Bonus Bill moving up the payment date (June 15). The Bonus Army demonstrated at the Capitol as the Senate considered the bill (June 17). The Senate rejected it. The District of Columbia police attempted to evict some of the remaining Bonus Marchers from a Federal construction site (July 28). In the ensuing mele the police shot and killed two Bonus Marchers. The Marchers then attacked the police. They did not use fire arms, but they managed to injure several policemen who fell back. District of Columbia authotities informed President Herbert Hoover that they could not deal with the situation. President Hoover ordered Secretary of War Hurly to "surround the affected area and clear it without delay." Hoover did not order an attack on the major encampment at Anacostia. The resulting attack, however, would be one more action that would descredit President Hoover in the eyes of many Americans. The action against the Bonus Marchers involved three future luminaries of World War II/

World War I

America when Congress declared War had virtually no aermy (April 1917). Within a yeart the United States had created the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) and transported it to France where it prioved to be the decisive factor in World War I. The final chapter in the American World War I experience was the Nonus March. One of the shabiest chapters in America's treatment of its veterans is the Bonus March that occurred during the Great Depression. Tanks and banyonets deployed against unenployed veterans against the background of the Depression caused mant to question the future of America.

The Depression

The Stock Market Crash (October 1929) and resulting Depression was one of the great crises in American history. As a result of the Depression there had been a number of small marches on Washington, but nothing along the domensions of the Bonus March. Unemployed men are all over America by 1932 were desperate. They had no way to feed themselves let alone their families. Abd in 1932 there seemed to be no end to the Depression.

World War I Bonus

Congress after World War I promised veterans a bonus to honor their service. Congress passed the Adjusted Service Certificate Law (1924). The bonus was to be paid in 1945. The American Legion has pushed for the legislation. The Law was not just what the Legion wanted and they pushed for revisions, especially after the Depression began. Veterans were of course among the millions of unemloyed Americans. The Legion pushed for a bill allowing veterans to borrow against 50 percent of the bonus certificate value (March 1931). Congress passed the bil, but President Hoover vetoed it. He believed that the Government could not afford it and deficit spending would just impede recovery from the Depression. Congress passed the bill over Hoover's veto (February 1932).

The Bonus Marchers

Thus many veterans began to see money from their bonus as a real possibility. Walter W. Walters and a group of other unemployed cannery workers decided that the Government should pay their bonus now when they really needed it. They came to WAshington and set up camp, calling themselves the "Bonus Expeditionary Forces" (May 1932). The name was chosen to mimic the Workd War I AEF. Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, a veteran himself, did so see the Bonus Marchers as needy veterans. Rather he saw, with virtually no evidence, a dangerous communist conspiracy to tke over the national government. MacArthur's own intelligence staff informed him that he was mistaken. As word spread of the initial encampment, thousands of veterans, many brining their family, headed for Washington. Eventually about 20,000 veteranns massed in Washington. Some of the veterans set up the Mall, but most built a "Hooverville" at nearby Anacostia Flats.

Patman Bonus Bill

The Congress considered another bill to oay the World War I bonus early. The House of Representatives passed the Patman Bonus Bill moving up the payment date (June 15). The Bonus Army demonstrated at the Capitol as the Senate considered the bill (June 17). The Senate rejected it. Congress did appropriate money to help the veterans return home. Some marchers decided to do so, but many decided to stay to press their case.

Police Action

The District of Columbia police attempted to evict some of the remaining Bonus Marchers from a Federal construction site (July 28). In the ensuing mele the police shot and killed two Bonus Marchers. The Marchers then attacked the police. They did not use fire arms, but they managed to injure several policemen who fell back. District of Columbia authotities informed President Hoover that they could not deal with the situation.

Initial Action

President Hoover ordered Secretary of War Hurley to "surround the affected area and clear it without delay." Hurly assigned the operation to General MacArthur who used Army troops to clear the Federal construction project. Another World War II luminary, George S. Patton, Jr. then a major, was with him commanding the calvalry. In addition to the calvalry, MacArthure event deployed tanks. MacArthur's aide Dwight Eisenhower was the liason with the police. MacArthur formed his men into cordons and massed on Pennsylvania Avenue below the Capitol. Government employees spilled out of their offices to watch. The Bonus Marchers reportedly began cheering. They assumed the military display was to honor them. Patton's ordered his calvalrymen to charge with drawn swords. Infabtry men advanced with fixed bayonets followed. Tear gas was thrien into the camp. The Government workers were apauled. Cries of "Shame, Shame" were heard. They evicted the marchers and and tore down their makeshift camp. The soldiets did not fire on the Bonus Marchers, but there were many men injured. As families were with the veterans there was a baby killed as a result of the tear gas being used.

Anacostia Flatts

Most of the Bonus Marchers were located in the Anacostia Flatts Hooverville. Many of the men evicted from the Washington camp headed for Anacostia. President Hoover was disturbed with the force MacArthur used against the Bonus Marchers abd how it looked in the press. He instructed Secretary of War Hurley that he did not want MacArthur to cross the Anacostia Bridge and confront the main Bonus Army encampment there. Dwight Eisenhower was an aide to MacArthur and later reported that he simoly lignored these instructions. MacArthur ordered his force to cross the Bridge and out the Nomus Marchers. He did pause to give Marchers time to evacuate the encampment on their own. MacArthur ordered the troops to move against the Anacostia camp at night. The camp was soon in flames and many men were enjured. Hospitals were overwealmed with the casualties. Two more babies were killed. Eisenhower later described the situation, "the whole scene was pitiful. The veterans were ragged, ill-fed, and felt themselves badly abused. To suddenly see the whole encampment going up in flames just added to the pity."

Impact

The public reaction was mixed. Many were sympthetic to the veterans, but also felt that order had to be maintained. The site of men massed around the Capitol to influence legislation did not sit well with many Americans. Many thought. however, that the Government acted with undue force. The press was decided critical and newspaper and newsreel images of flames in the natuon's capital and booldied veterans were orominately featured. resident Hoover did not order an attack on the major encampment at Anacostia. The resulting attack, however, would be one more action that would descredit President Hoover in the eyes of many Americans. Hoover did not censure MacArthur for exceeding his orders. Thus the public animus fell primarily on the President. The Nonus Marchers failed in their effort to get their bonus. The whole episode was not lost on the new President. A major iniative of President Roosevelt during the War was to ensure that World war II veterans would receive better treatment. The result was the G.I Bill of Rights.

Sources

Bartlett, John Henry. The Bonus March and the New Deal (1937).

Daniels, Roger. The Bonus March; an Episode of the Great Depression (1971).






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Created: 1:43 AM 11/13/2006
Last updated: 3:17 AM 11/13/2006