July 10, 2012
Bonus Army encampment in Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

Bonus Army encampment in Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

80 Years Ago in News History: Bonus Army March on Washington

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the march on Washington by the “Bonus Army,” a group of 20,000 unemployed World War I veterans and their families who sought early payment of promised wartime bonuses.

In 1924, Congress enacted the World War Adjusted Compensation Act, which awarded veterans of World War I a dollar for each year they served domestically and an extra 25 cents for each year they served overseas. The bonuses came in the form of certificates that could not be redeemed for 20 years.

During the Great Depression that began around 1930, many veterans were out of work and demanded the immediate cash payment of their certificates. In 1932, a bill that would have allowed veterans to receive their bonuses sooner than the 1945 maturity date passed in the House of Representatives but was defeated in the Senate.

By summer, veterans around the country mobilized in Washington to march up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol and demand their payments. For two grueling months, the Bonus Army camped out in tents, shanties and abandoned government buildings and protested peacefully. But Congress refused their request.

On July 28, the Treasury Department ordered the protesters to evacuate the federal buildings. In what later became known as the “Battle of Washington,” U.S. tanks and cavalry troops were called in to remove the veterans. The troops marched down Pennsylvania Avenue hurling tear-gas grenades at the protesters and setting camps on fire. The protesters were pushed out of the city.

In 1936, four years after the protests, Congress overruled President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth veto and awarded the veterans their bonuses.

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