The Bonus March
In the spring and summer of 1932 President Hoover and Congress became embroiled in a controversy that would end in tragedy and national disgrace. A bonus payment had been promised to World War I veterans in 1924 and, figuring the nation owed them money for their loyal and brave service during the European conflict, they wanted to be paid when they most needed it. In April 1932 a group of Portland, Oregon, veterans decided to take matters into their own hands and travel to Washington to lobby for a bonus payment owed to them for their military service. Historians generally agree that the eventual clash over payment of the bonus was a virtual public relations disaster for the president, but, as will be seen, most media publicly acclaimed the president when the sorry confrontation ended, and the impact upon the Hoover presidency is questionable.
The controversy began in 1924 when Congress voted to issue service certificates as part of the World War Omnibus Bill. These promissory notes were intended to provide four million war veterans with a modest retirement lump sum payment of about $1,000 each in 1945, or about half a year's wages. Veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War had retirement benefits, and World War veterans hoped for more than the $60 they had received when they returned to civilian life in 1919.