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Bonus Army

Herbert Hoover

Bonus Army: Herbert Hoover was the 31st American President who served in office from March 4, 1929 to March 4, 1933. One of the important events during his presidency was the Bonus Army march.

Definition and Summary of the Bonus Army
Summary and definition:
The devastation of Great Depression led to the despair and dejection of the unemployed and homeless in this terrible time in American history. Over 12 million people were unemployed and the unemployment rate was a massive 25%. In 1924 the Bonus Act was passed promising a cash bonus to veterans who had bravely fought in WW1.

But there was a catch. Payment would not be made until 1945. The Bonus Army March took place in the summer of 1932 as over 40,000 WW1 veterans marched to Washington to lobby Congress to pass legislation authorizing the early payment of veterans bonuses.

Congress to failed to pass legislation for early payment to the veterans. Disappointed and desperate veterans, with no where else to go, stayed in Washington living in unoccupied building and makeshift camps. The government called in the army to remove the veterans. The US Army, under Douglas MacArthur, used extreme measures and violent tactics to remove the veterans and the Bonus Army was disbanded.

What was the Bonus Army? The Bonus Army was a massive group of WW1 military veterans who, during the Great Depression, made their way to Washington D.C. and set up makeshift camps on areas such as the Anacostia Flats.

What did the Bonus Army want? The Bonus Army wanted Congress to pass the Patman Bill authorizing early payment of the veterans’ bonuses that were granted to military veterans after WW1

Who made up the Bonus Army? The Bonus Army was made up of WW1 Veterans and their families including women and children. The camps were racially integrated and included homeless and unemployed people from all walks of life. They were a mixture of Democrats, Republicans, socialists and communists. 

What happened to the Bonus Army? The senate failed to pass the Patman Bill and the Bonus Army was evicted from their camps and disused buildings by the heavy handed treatment of the US Army under Douglas MacArthur. Over 1000 people suffered from tear gas inhalation, there were over 100 injuries and 4 people died. The camps were burned to the ground.

Facts about Bonus Army
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Bonus Army.

The 1924 Bonus Act (World War Adjusted Compensation Act) was passed on May 19, 1924. The Bonus Act granted a benefit to veterans of American military service in World War I that would be paid in 1945..

The Bonus Act  promised at bonus of $1.25 for each day served overseas, $1.00 for each day they had served in the United States and given service certificates.

Beginning in 1927, veterans were allowed to use the service certificates as collateral for loans. By June 30, 1932, more than 2.5 million veterans had borrowed $1.369 billion.

In 1931 Democrat Texas congressman Wright Patman had introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that authorized early payment of the veterans’ bonuses. The bill later passed the House and moved on to the Senate.

The Great Depression had resulted in bankruptcies, wage cuts and mass unemployment. There were protests and civil unrest sparking a series of Hunger Marches. On December 5, 1932 (coinciding with the opening of Congress) nearly 2000 WW1 veterans, organized by the American Communist Party, marched to Capitol Hill in Washington chanting "Feed the hungry, Tax the rich".

By 1932 desperate, hungry, unemployed veterans wanted the money for their bonuses immediately. They couldn't wait until 1945 and wanted Congress to pass the Patman Bill. They were war heroes and they believed their call for early payment was reasonable.

In May 1932 several hundred veterans in Portland, Oregon, decided to march to Washington to lobby Congress ( who were considering the Patman Bill) to pass the legislation. Walter Waters, a former Army sergeant from Oregon was the leader of the Bonus Army. The veterans were joined by thousands of others.

The Bonus Army made their way to Washington any way they could, many on top of boxcars or on freight trains. Some veterans wore they WW1 military uniforms which became increasingly shabby as their journey progressed. Other veterans were accompanied by their families who had been made homeless as a result of the Great Depression.

The Bonus Army swelled in number, reaching 40,000. The protestors called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force, but the public dubbed them the "Bonus Army."

The Bonus Army made camps using tents or whatever materials were available to them. They were well organized and dug latrines, and conveyed to the government their intention to stay until they received their bonuses. Walter Waters forbade drinking, panhandling, anti-government or ‘radical’ talk.

The biggest of the makeshift camps was at Anacostia Flats, ironically an area that had formerly been used as an army recruiting centre. The camps were racially integrated and consisted of men, women and children.

As the crowd swelled the government made an attempt to reduce the marchers. An Administration bill was passed on July 8th offering to pay the transportation cost of any veteran wanting to return home (the amount of the fare to be deducted from his total bonus). Some took the offer up, but most remained.

On July 17th the Patman bill was defeated in the Senate. The disappointed military veterans and their families were sorely disappointed but their reaction was a peaceful one.

Many defeated veterans left Washington but others, with no where else to go, stayed in Washington living in unoccupied buildings and their makeshift camps.

Congress adjourned for the summer and President Hoover, the Administration and District officials could see no reason for the marchers to remain in the city. There was a belief that the Bonus Army March was part of a Communist conspiracy fueled by memories of the Red Scare during the early 1920s.

The government decided to call in the army to remove the veterans. The US Army, under Douglas MacArthur, used extreme and violent tactics to remove the veterans who were threatened with bayonets and tear gas. Tanks were used to burn the protestors off the Anacostia Flats. More than 1000 people suffered from tear gas inhalation.

The eviction of the Bonus Army Marchers shocked the nation irrevocably destroying the reputation of President  Herbert Hoover. It was a disaster in Public Relations for the Republican administration.

Not surprisingly Hoover failed to retain the presidency and in 1933 the Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was inaugurated as the new US president.

In January 1936, the Adjusted Compensation Payment Act replaced the 1924 Act's service certificates with bonds issued by the Treasury Department that could be redeemed at any time.

The Great Depression dragged on until the outbreak of World War 2. Following WW2 the mistakes of the WW1 were addressed by the passing of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944. The law became popularly known as the "GI Bill of Rights"

US American History
1929-1945: Depression & WW2

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