It was a nightmarish image for any American President to consider – U.S. soldiers attacking U.S. veterans in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. But on July 28, 1932, Herbert Hoover believed it had to be done. “For many weeks,” he announced in a press statement, the veterans gathered in Washington had “been given every opportunity of free assembly, free speech and free petition to the Congress.” Now, he said, “in order to put an end to this . . . defiance of civil authority, I have asked the Army to . . . restore order.”
It had all started peacefully, three months earlier, when the first groups of First World War veterans gathered in the nation’s capital to demand early payment of a bonus Congress had promised them. The payment was not scheduled until 1945, but the veterans could not wait that long. As a result of the Great Depression, many had lost their jobs and been stripped of their life savings, leaving them struggling to keep their families from starving. Believing protest was better than idleness, large groups of veterans – who became known as the Bonus Expeditionary Forces (B.E.F.) – set out for Washington, D.C., to peaceably demand that Congress give them their bonus.