The History Herald

Marching Orders and Hoover The Man, Not the Vacuum


Bonus March on Washington, DC: 1932


Although the United States had little history of massive social upheaval or coup attempts against the government, hunger has an ominous way of stirring those passions among any population. As bread riots and shantytowns grew in number, many began to seek alternatives to the status quo. Demonstrations in the nation's capital increased, as Americans grew increasingly weary with President Hoover's perceived inaction. The demonstration that drew the most national attention was the BONUS ARMY MARCH of 1932.

In 1924, Congress rewarded VETERANS of WORLD WAR I with certificates redeemable in 1945 for $1,000 each. By 1932, many of these former servicemen had lost their jobs and fortunes in the early days of the Depression. They asked Congress to redeem their BONUS CERTIFICATES early.

Soon a debate began in the Congress over whether to meet the demonstrators' demands. Many Americans were outraged. Hoover maintained that political agitators, anarchists, and communists dominated the mob. But facts contradict his claims. Nine out of ten Bonus Marchers were indeed veterans, and 20% were disabled. Despite the fact that the Bonus Army was the largest march on Washington up to that point in history, Hoover and MacArthur clearly overestimated the threat posed to national security. As Hoover campaigned for reelection that summer, his actions turned an already sour public opinion of him even further downward. However, many believed them a threat to national security. On July 28, Washington police began to clear the demonstrators out of the capital. Two men were killed as tear gas and bayonets assailed the Bonus Marchers. Fearing rising disorder, Hoover ordered an army regiment into the city, under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur. The army, complete with infantry, cavalry, and tanks, rolled into Anacostia Flats forcing the Bonus Army to flee. MacArthur then ordered the shanty settlements burned. America sank deeper in Depression.


Welcome to Hooverville

Hoover The Man

PRESIDENT HERBERT HOOVER had the distinction of stepping into the White House at the height of one of the longest periods of growth in American history. Less than seven months after his inauguration, the worst depression in American history began.

Undoubtedly, the fault of the Great Depression was not Hoover's. But as the years of his Presidency passed and the country slipped deeper and deeper into its quagmire, he would receive great blame. Urban shantytowns were dubbed HOOVERVILLES. Newspapers used by the destitute as bundling for warmth became known as Hoover blankets. Pockets turned inside out were called Hoover flags. Somebody had to be blamed, and many Americans blamed their President.

Running for President under the slogan "RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM" made it difficult for Hoover to promote massive government intervention in the economy. In 1930, succumbing to pressure from American industrialists, Hoover signed the HAWLEY-SMOOT TARIFF which was designed to protect American industry from overseas competition. Passed against the advice of nearly every prominent economist of the time, it was the largest tariff in American history.

Hoover and the RFC stopped short of meeting one demand of the American masses — federal aid to individuals. Hoover believed that government aid would stifle initiative and create dependency where individual effort was needed. Past governments never resorted to such schemes and the economy managed to rebound. Clearly Hoover and his advisers failed to grasp the scope of the Great Depression.