19. The Bonus Army
In 1924 Congress passed, over the veto of President Calvin Coolidge, the World War Adjusted Compensation Act. The law guaranteed the payment of benefits to veterans of the First World War, granting them certificates redeemable in 1945. A veteran’s beneficiaries could cash the certificates should he pre-decease the redeemable date, which was his birthday in 1945. The certificates were also available as collateral for loans, and by 1932 over $1.3 billion in loans to veterans were backed by certificates. That same year, veteran groups led by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) began demonstrating to have the benefits paid to unemployed veterans as a means of easing the strains of the depression.
Hoover opposed the idea. The House of Representatives supported it. In the spring, 1932, a massive gathering of 17,000 veterans and their families, comprising 43,000 in all, gathered in Washington near the Anacostia River, establishing a “Hooverville”. They called themselves the Bonus Army. In June, after the House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing early payment of the certificates, a massed gathering of the veterans appeared before the United States Capitol. They demonstrated on the day the Senate was to consider and vote on the bill. The Senate defeated the bill on June 17. The veterans returned to their encampment, where they remained despite orders from the DC police and the federal government to disperse.