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Statement About the Bonus Marchers.

July 28, 1932


"For some days police authorities and Treasury officials have been endeavoring to persuade the so-called bonus marchers to evacuate certain buildings which they were occupying without permission. These buildings are on sites where Government construction is in progress and their demolition was necessary in order to extend employment in the District and to carry forward the Government's construction program.

"This morning the occupants of these buildings were notified to evacuate and at the request of the police did evacuate the buildings concerned. Thereafter, however, several thousand men from different camps marched in and attacked the police with brickbats and otherwise injuring several policemen, one probably fatally.

"I have received the attached letter from the Commissioners of the District of Columbia stating that they can no longer preserve law and order in the District.

"In order to put an end to this rioting and defiance of civil authority, I have asked the Army to assist the District authorities to restore order.

"Congress made provision for the return home of the so-called bonus marchers who have for many weeks been given every opportunity of free assembly, free speech, and free petition to the Congress. Some 5,000 took advantage of this arrangement and have returned to their homes. An examination of a large number of names discloses the fact that a considerable part of those remaining are not veterans; many are communists and persons with criminal records.

"The veterans amongst these numbers are no doubt unaware of the character of their companions and are being led into violence which no government can tolerate.

"I have asked the Attorney General to investigate the whole incident and to cooperate with the District civil authorities in such measures against leaders and rioters as may be necessary."

Note: The President referred to an attached letter from the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, which is printed in the note to Item 248.

On the same day, the White House issued a text of Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley's order to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army. In addition, Secretary Hurley and Gen. MacArthur held a late evening news conference following their report to the President. The texts of these items follow:

TO: General Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.

The President has just informed me that the civil government of the District of Columbia has reported to him that it is unable to maintain law and order in the District.

You will have United States troops proceed immediately to the scene of disorder. Cooperate fully with the District of Columbia police force which is now in charge. Surround the affected area and clear it without delay. Turn over all prisoners to the civil authorities.

In your orders insist that any women and children who may be in the affected area be accorded every consideration and kindness. Use all humanity consistent with the due execution of this order.
Secretary of War

[Washington, D.C., July 28, 1932, 2:55 p.m.]

[News conference with Secretary Patrick J. Hurley and General Douglas MacArthur, held at 11 p.m.]

SECRETARY HURLEY. I think I better let Gen. MacArthur speak to the press. General, tell the press yourself what you have to tell them.

GENERAL MACARTHUR. Most of you saw what happened. Let me give you the features pertaining to it from the time we started from the Ellipse.

At that time I sent word by General Glassford 1 to the various camps that I was going to evacuate them, clear Government property and that I hoped that they would not be humiliated by being forced out. I hoped that they would take advantage of the time element and evacuate without trouble. We moved down Pennsylvania to the avenue area. It is unnecessary to describe what took place there. You all saw it, I think. That mob down there was a bad looking mob. It was animated by the essence of revolution. The gentleness, the consideration, with which they had been treated had been mistaken for weakness and they had come to the conclusion, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they were about to take over in some arbitrary way either the direct control of the Government or else to control it by indirect methods. It is my opinion that had the President not acted today, had he permitted this thing to go on for 24 hours more, he would have been faced with a grave situation which would have caused a real battle. Had he let it go on another week, I believe that the institutions of our Government would have been very severely threatened. I think it can be safely said that he had not only reached the end of an extraordinary patience but that he had gone to the very limit in his desire to avoid friction and trouble before he used force. Had he not used it at that time, I believe he would have been very derelict indeed in the judgment in which he was handling the safety of the country. This was the focus of the world today, and had he not acted with the force and vigor that he did, it would have been a very sad day for the country tomorrow.

1 Brig. Gen. Pelham D. Glassford, Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, Washington, D.C.

To go back to the incidents; after we cleared Pennsylvania Avenue, the insurrectionists fired their billets. I again sent word by General Glassford to the group at 13th and C Streets that we would be there within an hour. We were. But they were not. They had evacuated. They also burned their area. I then again sent

Q. Did they set fire to any buildings ?

GEN. MACARTHUR. No, sir. This was all flimsy stuff they had constructed themselves.

Q. Shacks ?

GEN. MACARTHUR. Yes. All done by the bonus marchers themselves; all done by the elements that were causing the trouble. I call them "insurrectionists."

There were, in my opinion, few veteran soldiers in the group that we cleared out today--few indeed. I am not speaking by figures because I don't know how many there were, but if there was 1 man in 10 in that group today who is a veteran it would surprise me.

The Anacostia Camp was large. It took more time to evacuate it. I didn't want to cause physical harm and wanted to avoid as far as I could any hardship. I halted my own command and waited till about 9:00 until moving on Anacostia. All of these moves, of course, had been at the solicitation of the District Commissioners, the District Government. They requested not only that those areas should be evacuated by the military but they requested through General Glassford, speaking for Commissioner [Luther H.] Reichelderfer and Commissioner [Herbert B.] Crosby, that we proceed from Anacostia and evacuate the areas at Camp Meigs, at Camp Simms, and at a locality near the 7th Street docks and another locality that was near the Library in the 200 block on A Street. When we reached Anacostia the camp was practically abandoned. The control line of shacks were fired. There were a few people in the interior of the camp still packing and they were given full opportunity and time to go.

Q. Who fired the camp?

GEN. MACARTHUR. They must have fired it themselves. It was burning when we got there. There were just the frontline shacks. I think had we been an hour later the whole camp would have been burned. Those people at that camp evacuated when I arrived. They were apparently bound for Camp Bartlett.

The movement ceased at Anacostia. A battalion of infantry which was engaged will probably bivouac there with General Miles 2 tonight. The squadron of cavalry will probably go back to barracks at Fort Myer. The police of the town are in entire charge with the exception of these focal points at which the District Commissioners have requested Army help. Under my suggestion, the patrols throughout the city of Washington have been doubled in strength and these loci of trouble and friction with these insurrectionists--namely, the Avenue Camp, the 13th and B Streets Camp, and the Anacostia Camp--are patrolled by the Army tonight, the police being released to General Glassford for this accentuated patrol duty.

2 Brig. Gen. Perry L. Miles, Commanding General, 16th Brigade.

I have never seen greater relief on the part of the distressed populace than I saw today. I have released in my day more than one community which had been held in the grip of a foreign enemy. I have gone into villages that for 31/2 years had been under the domination of the soldiers of a foreign nation. I know what gratitude means along that line. I have never seen, even in those days, such expressions of gratitude as I heard from the crowds today. At least a dozen people told me, especially in the Negro section, that a regular system of tribute was being levied on them by this insurrectionist group; a reign of terror was being started which may have led to a system of Caponeism, and I believe later to insurgency and insurrection.

The President played it pretty fine in waiting to the last minute, but he didn't have much margin.

I think as a military maneuver, if you can call a thing of this kind a military maneuver, that it was unique.

I have been in many riots, but I think this is the first riot I ever was in or ever saw in which there was no real bloodshed. So far as I know there is no man on either side who has been seriously injured.

Q. Since the Army took over?

GEN. MACARTHUR. Since the Army took over. I know nothing of what took place before that except what appears in the press.

SECRETARY HURLEY. Now if you have some questions--

Q. The General spoke about Camp Meigs, Bartlett, and the 200 block on A Street. Are there men in camp there? I haven't been around those areas myself. Are they occupied by both sides?

GEN. MACARTHUR. Yes, they were this morning. I don't know if they will be tomorrow morning. Those are all on Government property. There is another property at Camp Bartlett which is not on Government property which has been loaned to these men by Ex-Governor Bartlett. That camp is beyond the present purview of my operations.

Q. Is the number of men scattered about the camps small?


Q. How many men evacuated from Anacostia tonight?

GEN. MACARTHUR. I should say that Thursday morning the Anacostia Camp had between 2,000 and 2,500 people. I should say my own estimate was that the entire group this morning represented not more than 3,500 men. Their numbers have been woefully exaggerated from the very beginning.

Q. About how many did you estimate were there at the Anacostia Camp when you arrived tonight?

GEN. MACARTHUR. I couldn't guess, but probably about 200 or 300.

Q. Is the camp completely evacuated now ?

GEN. MACARTHUR. Practically evacuated when I arrived. We let them take their time about getting out. There may be a few stragglers. I can't tell you.

Q. Did they go up Nichols Avenue?
GEN. MACARTHUR. Couldn't tell you. I don't know where they went.

Q. What's going to be done about the people dispersing if they continue to wander about the city ?

GEN. MACARTHUR. To begin with 3,500 people in a city the size of Washington is nothing. You would absorb them that way. They could number 10,000 and you wouldn't know it. You are thinking of 3,500 people as an integrated mass. The majority have left the District. Representatives from the railroads and depots tell me that they are getting out as fast as they can go.

Q. Is the policy of the Government to keep them out of the District?

GEN. MACARTHUR. I couldn't tell you. I couldn't discuss that. That will probably be governed by the exigencies of the occasion as they arise.

Q. What about Camp Meigs and the smaller groups ?

GEN. MACARTHUR. I couldn't tell you, but I am not going to interfere tonight.

Q. General, does the staff have plans for removing them from the District back to their homes or sufficiently distant from this town to be sure that they are not coming back?

GEN. MACARTHUR. The staff has no plans except to meet any emergency that might arise. I don't know exactly what you are trying to get at. I have no information about the future. And as I have said, these men have dispersed. They are no longer an integrated group.

Q. Is this a fair statement? Now that they are disintegrated that the problem is again up to the police?

GEN. MACARTHUR. The protection of the population of the District is up to the police except where there is a situation which makes it a menace to the institutions of this city. As I have said before I do believe they are scattered in the District so it is not warranted.

Q. The staff has no plans for trucking these people one day's ride for instance?

GEN. MACARTHUR. None whatsoever. The Army has had nothing to do with this problem until today, until called upon by the Commissioners who needed sufficient force to protect the institutions of this community.

Q. General, I didn't get the number quite clear. You say there were 3,500 this morning. They are now mostly gone ?

GEN. MACARTHUR. I was talking about the whole group. I think there were not more than 3,500 this morning left. The group, mob, on Pennsylvania Avenue were mostly spectators. There were three or four spectators for every bonus marcher on the Avenue. Thousands of people turned out, but most of them were spectators. They were there for the show. It looked like there were a lot more than there were. I don't believe on Pennsylvania Avenue, when I got there, there were more than 600 or 700 of the so-called bonus marchers.

Q. Have you reported to the President on the dispersement?

GEN. MACARTHUR. I have. I gave the President a brief outline of the situation and the events of the day.

SECRETARY HURLEY. There is one thing that I think the General has emphasized-the Commissioners and the District asked the President for this support when they felt that they could no longer maintain law and order. The movement since that time, since the clearing of the first area, has been on the request and at the direction of the civil government. The civil government has functioned throughout.

GEN. MACARTHUR. We have not taken over the city at all. The force that the Army used was merely in conjunction with the civil authorities to clear out the camps. We haven't taken over any functions of Government and the Commissioners are in complete control of their city now as they were this morning, except that when they call on us we are going to help them.

Unless I get other instructions I will proceed with this matter so as to keep those men off Government property, or from congregating on Government property; and if the District Commissioners call on me again to keep them from congregating dangerously on the public thoroughfares I will do so. Camp Bartlett is private ground, and unless there is some unlawful operation there it is beyond my purview of operations.

All those today that I evacuated were on Government property.

Herbert Hoover, Statement About the Bonus Marchers. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/207308

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