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The Great Depression

Bonus Army

History >> The Great Depression

What was the Bonus Army?

The Bonus Army was a group of World War I veterans who marched to Washington D.C. in an effort to get their bonus pay. This march, and the government's reaction, was a major event that occurred during the Great Depression.

What did they want?

After World War I, the U.S. Congress voted to give veteran soldiers who fought in the war a bonus. They would be paid $1.25 for each day they served overseas and $1.00 for each day they served in the United States. However, this money would not be paid until 1945. Since World War I ended in 1918, this was a long time to wait.

When the Great Depression began, many veterans were out of work. They wanted to get their bonus pay early to help pay for food and shelter while they looked for jobs.

The March on Washington

In 1932, the veterans organized a march on Washington to demand the early payment of their bonus pay. Around 15,000 veterans converged on the capital. They came from all over the country. They asked that Congress consider a bill that would pay them their bonus pay early.

Setting up Camp

The veterans set up a camp near the U.S. Capitol. They built huts out of cardboard, scrap wood, and tar paper. The camp was organized and only veterans and their families were allowed in the camp. The organizers required that campers did not cause trouble. Their plan was to stay until they got their pay.

Man sitting on crate in Bonus Army camp
Bonus Army Camp by Harris and Ewing
Congress Denies Pay

The Bonus Bill was introduced to Congress to pay the veterans early. Many members of congress wanted to pass the bill, but others felt that the additional taxes would slow the recovery and cause the depression to last longer. President Hoover didn't want the bill to pass. He said the government would not be intimidated by the marchers.

The Bonus Bill was passed in the House of Representatives, but was voted down by the Senate. The veterans were discouraged. Around 5,000 left, but the rest decided to stay in the camp.

Hoover Brings in the Army

Afraid that the veterans would riot, President Hoover ordered the remaining veterans to leave. When they didn't leave, he called in the army. The army was led by General Douglas MacArthur. As the army marched toward the camp, the veterans cheered them on. They thought that the army was marching to honor the veterans. They were wrong. The army entered the camp and began to destroy the huts. They used tear gas and bayonets to get the veterans to move. Several veterans, including their wives and children, were injured in the clash.

Legacy and Aftermath

The plight of the Bonus Army was certainly a dark moment in the history of the United States. It marked the low point of President Hoover's administration. He lost the election later that year to Franklin D. Roosevelt. No doubt his actions against the Bonus Army did not help his campaign.

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