President Hoover’s slim chance at re-election probably ended with his heavy-handed treatment of the unemployed veterans who came to Washington seeking relief.
Washington, July 17
When Congress adjourned last midnight without having yielded to the demands of the more than 18,000 bonus-seekers assembled here many rumors that the veterans would resort to direct action were spread through the city. Earlier in the day the veterans had for a brief moment been in an ugly mood, and this led to the belief that they would get out of control as soon as they realized that Congress had quit without helping them. But apparently only the White House took these rumors seriously. Members of the House and Senate showed not the slightest concern as they left the capitol. Almost all the veterans had peacefully retired to their camps long before midnight. Only a handful remained to act upon the suggestion that the veterans transfer their picketing activities to the White House.
Hardly more than fifty of the veterans started for the White House, but the moment their approach was reported President Hoover issued orders to the police to close the gates of the grounds and to clear Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent streets of all pedestrian and vehicular traffic. More than four hundred policemen were summoned to surround the Executive Mansion, all available police reserves were called to stations nearby, and officers who had just been relieved from duty were commanded to return to their posts. The demonstrators were quickly dispersed, three of their leaders being arrested. According to Inspector O.T. Davis of the metropolitan force, President Hoover had said that if the police could not clear the streets within a few minutes he would call out regular army troops. It would have been a rare spectacle indeed to see troops patroling Pennsylvania Avenue to protect the life of the President of the United States against a possible attack by a handful of weary, footsore, and bedraggled war veterans. Perhaps there was some danger of minor disorders in front of the White House, but in my judgment there was not the slightest possibility of any really serious trouble developing, for there is in these bonus-seekers no revolt, no fire, not even smoldering resentment; at most they are but an inchoate aggregation of frustrated men nursing a common grievance. However, the anxiety of the White House accurately reflected the increasing alarm with which high officials of the government have been viewing the presence of the bonus army — a feeling, it must be added, that a vast majority of the residents of Washington do not share.
For several days I have watched the veterans go about their business of petitioning Congress for an additional payment on their adjusted compensation certificates. A few days ago the Communist group marched peacefully, even meekly, down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the capitol. For several days the California contingent, including five to six hundred men, has been picketing the capitol building — their endless marching ceased only when Congress adjourned without having submitted to their silent demands. On Saturday a column of about a thousand veterans sought to break through a police line on the capitol plaza, but were quickly pacified by the officers on hand and by the persuasive tongue of Brigadier-General Pelham D. Glassford, superintendent of police. However, the veterans somehow felt that their last opportunity to frighten Congress into approving the bonus was rapidly slipping from them, and they remained in an angry mood for a few minutes. But further oratory from Glassford and from the self-appointed leaders of the Bonus Expeditionary Forces quickly changed the attitude of the veterans and converted the atmosphere of protest into that of a college football rally. So superficial, one might say, is their apparent revolt. Out in their camps they show even less spirit. Squalid, miserable, and unhealthful as these camps certainly are, life there offers more security and comforts than many of these men have known for months.