The Bonus Army incident that took place in the summer of 1932 virtually assured Roosevelt's election. By then, the unemployment rate had reached 23.6 percent. Over 12 million were jobless (out of a labor force of 51 million).
Some 20,000 World War I veterans and their families marched on Washington. Their purpose was to pressure Congress into voting for immediate payment of a veteran’s bonus earmarked for 1945. The proposal was to pay veterans $1 for each day served in the United States and $1.25 for every day overseas. The Democratic-controlled House approved the measure, but the Republican Senate refused. Meanwhile, thousands of veterans jammed the Capitol grounds.
On June 7, as 100,000 watched, some 8,000 veterans marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. By mid-July, the White House was "guarded from veterans" by "the greatest massing of policemen seen in Washington since the race riot after the World War."
District of Columbia officials, under White House pressure, ordered the Bonus Army's camps evacuated. A skirmish turned into a riot; two police officers and two veterans were killed. President Hoover called on the Army to "put an end to rioting and defiance of authority."
The Third Cavalry advanced on the veterans, followed by infantry with fixed bayonets, a machine gun detachment, troops with tear gas canisters, and six midget tanks. The camps were burned. The flames and smoke from the torched shack burned near the Capitol dome. Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur claimed the "mob" had been "animated by the essence of revolution."
Although Hoover was appalled by what happened, he publicly accepted the responsibility and endorsed MacArthur's charge that the bonus marchers included dangerous radicals who wanted to overthrow the government. Most Americans felt outraged by the government's harsh treatment of the Bonus Army, and Hoover encountered resentment everywhere he campaigned.
Upon learning of the Bonus Army incident, Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked: "Well, this will elect me." Roosevelt was correct; he buried Hoover in November, winning 22,809,638 votes to Hoover's 15,758,901 votes, and 472 to 59 electoral votes. In addition, the Democrats won commanding majorities in both houses of Congress.
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