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Statement on the Justice Department Investigation of the Bonus Army.

September 10, 1932


"On the 28th of July last I announced that I had directed the Department of Justice to exhaustively investigate and report in full upon the incidents of the so-called bonus riots of that day in Washington and to present the facts, through sworn witnesses, to the grand jury. I further stated that I should make the Attorney General's report public when received by me.

"The investigation has been completed. In giving out the report which shows the character of many of the persons assembled, the incidents and character of the instigators of the this, I wish to state emphatically that the extraordinary proportion of criminal, Communist, and nonveteran elements amongst the marchers as shown by this report, should not be taken to reflect upon the many thousands of honest, law-abiding men who came to Washington with full right of presentation of their views to the Congress. This better element and their leaders acted at all times to restrain crime and violence, but after the adjournment of Congress a large portion of them returned to their homes and gradually these better elements lost control. This report should correct the many misstatements of fact as to this incident with which the country has been flooded ."

Note: The White House issued the statement on September 10, 1932 for publication on September 12. The text of the Attorney General's report, dated September 9, 1932, follows:


Immediately following the riot by the so-called Bonus Army on July 28th, you directed that an investigation and report thereon be made in this Department. We have completed it, and I submit herewith a summary of the result. A vast amount of material in the form of reports, affidavits, and documentary evidence has been accumulated. It is only possible here briefly to summarize the conclusions.

1. The entry of the Bonus Army into the District of Columbia.

The first contingent of the Bonus Army arrived about May 27th. On June 3d, information reached the Department that a contingent from Cleveland led by C. B. Cowan and another from Detroit led by John T. Pace, comprising about 1300 men, gathered at the Pennsylvania Railroad yards at Cleveland and had held up a mail train and attempted to commandeer transportation to Washington. Cowan, one of these leaders, has a long police record; he has been convicted and sentenced twice for forgery in Ohio and was sentenced to 13 months for robbing the mails to the United States Penitentiary at Atlanta in 1928. Pace, a well known Communist leader, has an extended police record. By one means and another these groups and others obtained transportation to Washington. By the middle of June they had congregated here in large numbers. They entered into possession of various tracts of government property, on some of which were old buildings. In some instances permission to do so was given by the police authorities with the acquiescence of the Treasury, with the understanding that the occupancy would be temporary and would be discontinued at request and when Congress adjourned. Other government tracts were seized without permission and occupied by members of the Bonus Army. The number of Bonus Army marchers in Washington at the time of the adjournment of Congress on July 16th has been variously estimated at from 8000 to 15,000. Several thousand left shortly after Congress adjourned, but other groups came in, and at the time of the riot the best estimates are that there were from 6000 to 8000 bonus marchers in the city.

2. The quality of the Bonus Army.

To understand the conditions causing the riot it is necessary to know something of the character of the men in the Bonus Army.

(a) Number of marchers who were not ex-service men. A considerable number of the marchers were not in military service during the World War. An approximation of the number is impossible, but two items of reliable information throw some light on this question.

Prior to the riot of July 28th, 341 members of the Bonus Army had been arrested at various dates for a variety of offenses, including disorderly conduct, parading without a permit, assault with a dangerous weapon, destruction of private property, trespass on private property, and soliciting alms. 17 were arrested by the police on July 28th, and 4 on July 29th, making a total of 362. Unfortunately the police did not fingerprint all of these persons for identification, but 51 of them, including those arrested for disturbing the peace near the White House, were fingerprinted. Of these, 16, or approximately one-third, had no World War service record.

Prior to June 12th, 3656 of the marchers who were arriving at Washington registered on the muster rolls of the Bonus Army, giving their names, Army numbers, and other data respecting their World War service. These muster rolls came into the hands of the police and ultimately to the Veterans' Bureau, which commenced to check the names to ascertain whether the marchers were ex-service men. Learning what use was being made of the muster rolls, after June 12th the marchers discontinued the practice of registering. These first 3656 registered arrivals had been checked by the War Department and the Veterans' Bureau against their records of World War service men, with the result that of the total of 3656, 877, or a little more than one-fourth, could not be identified in either department as having had World War service. It is possible that some of the 877 were exservice men and could not be identified because of meagre information, but the bulk of them were evidently imposters. It has been reported in the press that Director Hines of the Veterans' Bureau has said that over 90% of the Bonus Army were ex-service men. General Hines made no such statement. He did make the statement on July 23d that he believed not more than 8000 veterans had ever been present at any one time, but the 877 men not identified as veterans were part of the 3,656 registered to which I have referred.

(b) Number of bonus marchers with criminal or police records. Two sources of information are available on this subject. Of the 51 arrested men fingerprinted by the police prior to the riot of July 28th and checked in the fingerprint division of this Department, 17, or an even one-third, had been convicted of various offenses, including larceny, assault, sex offenses, forgery, robbery, military offenses, and disorderly conduct. A more striking result is obtained from the check by the criminal identification bureau of this Department of the fingerprints of 4723 of the bonus marchers who were admittedly veterans and applied for and obtained loans from the Veterans' Bureau, after Congress adjourned, for the ostensible purpose of returning to their homes. Of these 4723, 1069 were found to have police records.

829 or nearly 1 in 5 of the World War service men among the bonus marchers who obtained loans, had been convicted for various offenses, including assault, larceny, burglary, embezzlement, robbery, felonious homicide, forgery and counterfeiting, rape, sex offenses, and narcotic drug violations.

A summary of the police and criminal records of these men follows:


Disposition Charges
Total pending or dismissed Convictions
Assault 46 2 7 37
Auto Theft 32 0 6 26
Burglary 88 1 21 66
Carrying Concealed Weapons 9 1 2 6
Disorderly Conduct and Vagrancy 107 3 35 69
Driving While Intoxicated 24 0 0 24
Drunkenness 98 1 2 95
Embezzlement and Fraud 52 1 13 38
Felonious Homicide 13 0 6 7
Forgery and Counterfeiting 48 0 4 44
Gambling 4 0 2 2
Larceny Theft 167 2 27 138
Liquor Laws 61 3 9 49
Military, Offenses, Desertion, etc 84 2 2 80
Miscellaneous 41 4 5 32
Narcotic Drug Laws 12 0 2 10
Offenses against the Family and
Children 18 0 2 16
Rape 8 0 2 6
Robbery 63 0 17 46
Sex Offenses (except rape) 27 0 7 20
Suspicion and Investigation 63 0 49 14
Traffic and Motor Vehicle Laws 4 0 0 4
Totals 1069 20 220 829

Total number of bonus marchers (ex-service men) upon whom fingerprints
were obtained 4723
Number of bonus marchers with police records as found from fingerprints 1069
Percentage of these bonus marchers having police records 22.6%
Total number of bonus marchers found to have one or more convictions 829
Percentage of marchers convicted to number having police records 76.9%
Percentage of bonus marchers having convictions to total number whose fingerprints
were searched 17.4%

Of those individuals convicted, 149 had one prior conviction for some offense, 49 had two prior convictions; 28 had three prior convictions; and 26 had more than three prior convictions. Dispositions of all arrests were not obtainable.

I am submitting also with this report, as Exhibit "A", a detailed alphabetical list of each one of the 1069 men out of the 4723 borrowers who have police records, giving in detail the time and place of their arrests or convictions. It will be noted that many of them had been repeatedly convicted under various names. When it is realized that the men who applied for loans to go home after Congress adjourned were the most sensible and the least disorderly, that many with criminal records no doubt refrained from disclosing their identity for any purpose, and a considerable portion of the Bonus Army were not ex-service men and included Communists, radicals, and disorderly elements which always congregate under such conditions, it is probable the Bonus Army brought into the City of Washington the largest aggregation of criminals that had ever been assembled in the city at any one time.

(c) Communists. As soon as the bonus march was initiated, and as early as May, 1932, the Communist party undertook an organized campaign to foment the movement, and induced radicals to join the marchers to Washington. As early as the edition of May 31, 1932, the Daily Worker, a publication which is the central organ of the Communist party in the United States, urged worker veteran delegations to go to Washington on June 8th. Under date of June 1st, Emanuel Levin, alias Herman Levin, managing editor of the Daily Worker with a long police record for Red activities and rioting, arrived in the city. He then contended that the bonus march had been largely planned in the headquarters of the Workers Ex-service Mens League, a Communist organization with headquarters in New York City. Another Communist leader present in Washington was John T. Pace, who led a large contingent of bonus marchers to Washington, and in a demonstration on July 25, 1932, near the White House he was arrested by the Washington police. Pace was elected Field Marshal of the Detroit bonus marchers. James W. Ford, colored, now candidate for Vice President on the national ticket of the Communist party, was one of the bonus marchers arrested on July 29th. Clair Cowan, another Communist leader, led a contingent of bonus marchers from Cleveland consisting of several hundred men. Cowan himself was intercepted and arrested at Pittsburgh on June 8th and did not reach Washington. Another leader of the radical element among the bonus marchers was Waiter F. Eicker. He was arrested on July 21st and again on July 25th by the Washington police. Another leader of the demonstration made by bonus marchers on July 25th at the White House was Sylvester G. McKinney, a Communist organizer with a police record for Communist activity.

One of the bonus camps--that within 12th and 14th and B and C Streets, S.W.-was occupied principally by Communists headed by Pace. Possession of this government property had been seized and occupied by these marchers without any authority. During June and July, while the Bonus Army was present, Communist meetings were held in this city frequently. The files of this Department contain voluminous reports of these meetings, at many of which incendiary speeches and plans to stir the Bonus Army to violence and bloodshed were made. During the various disorders, including the final riot, persons identified as radicals and Communists were observed among the disturbers. There is irrefutable proof that a very large body of Communists and radicals, some ex-service men and some not, were in the city as part of the Bonus Army, circulating among them and working diligently to incite them to disorder.

(d) The investigations we have conducted have demonstrated that a very much larger proportion of the Bonus Army than was realized at the time, consisted of ex-convicts, persons with criminal records, radicals, and non-service men. On the other hand, a very considerable number were genuine ex-service men of good intentions and clean records. This is particularly true of the conditions prior to the adjournment of Congress and before the exodus of those who realized that they had no further justification for remaining in the city. Some of their leaders were decent and law-abiding, and others were not.

3. Further conditions prior to the rioting.

After the adjournment of Congress, the quality of the men in the Bonus Army steadily deteriorated. With Congress gone, no possible excuse existed for remaining in the city. No one here had authority to grant their demands. Many of the better elements left, but small groups of troublemakers augmented the forces. The Army was repeatedly asked to disband and vacate government property, but refused. It circulated around the city individually and in small groups and even in large bodies, asking or demanding money and supplies. Many reports have been received that they practically levied tribute on small merchants, and intimidated housewives when their demands were refused. Some of them boarded running boards of cars driven by women and were disagreeable and insulting. It was quite impossible for such a body of men to be in the city without violating a variety oœ laws and ordinances. They were living in partly dismantled buildings which they had seized, and on vacant tracts in shacks constructed of debris. It was impossible that the conditions could continue. The health authorities of the District inspected their camps. We have a report from the Health Officer of the District stating that:

"The sanitary conditions were necessarily very bad. Open latrines were freely used and, of course, flies and vermin infested the camps due to these and to refuse scattered about. In some instances vacant buildings with no toilet facilities, were used for latrines. The fact that it was warm weather increased the dangers incident to such practices, as well, causing, in many instances, foul odors that were extremely objectionable to citizens who lived near.

"In one instance open latrines were found within four hundred feet of the large wholesale and retail market at Fifth and Florida Avenue, N.E. The exceptionally dangerous character of such a condition as this is obvious.

"There was no time during the weeks that the Bonus Army was here when its presence, under the conditions that existed, was not an extreme menace to the public health, as soiled and vermin infested bedding, exposed garbage, open latrines and inadequate facilities for the preparation of food and the disposition oœ waste inevitably leads to the development and spread of contagious and infectious diseases."

Notwithstanding all these conditions, they were tolerated and gently dealt with by the community in the hope that they would see the futility of remaining and would consent to return to their homes. Before adjournment, Congress had provided for loans by the Veterans' Bureau to those holding bonus certificates to enable them to leave. The Secretary of War conferred with their leaders and urged them to disband, and made a definite offer to furnish them with Army trucks for part of the transportation and to arrange with National Guard units to transport them across the states, and still they declined to leave.

In the latter part of June the Treasury Department commenced to press for possession of some of the property occupied by the bonus marchers and which was urgently needed by the Government to carry on its program of public improvements, one purpose of which was to furnish employment. The bonus marchers were obstructing and delaying this program. I attach herewith, as Exhibit "B", a report from the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, dated August 3d, giving the particulars respecting this situation.

One of the tracts occupied by the Bonus Army, and at which the riot of July 28th later commenced, is known as Reservations A and B, bounded by 3d and 6th Streets and Pennsylvania and Missouri Avenues. Part of this was vacant and part occupied by partially dismantled buildings. The property was occupied by the Bonus Army. A contract had previously been let for the demolishing of these old buildings, and the contractor was demanding possession. The demolition of the buildings was necessary to the extension of Constitution Avenue and the further development of the Mall area. On May 16, 1932, the Treasury Department has awarded a contract for the completion of the Department of Agriculture Extensible Building, which included, as a part of its site, the tract within 12th and 14th and B and C Streets, S.W. In this area the Bonus Army had, without permission, seized and occupied some buildings and open areas, from which it was necessary to excavate earth to fill and level off Reservations A and B. Subcontracts had been let for the wrecking of the buildings, but the subcontractor could not proceed, and only limited excavation was possible. Request was made by the Treasury through the Superintendent of Police on July 20th that these buildings be evacuated. The Superintendent of Police reported that he had conferred with Commander Waters of the Bonus Army, who objected that he would not move his men into the open, and insisted that he intended to hold together a number of veterans in the District of Columbia to accomplish the object for which they had assembled, notwithstanding the adjournment of Congress.

There are statutes in the District of Columbia authorizing the summary removal by its officers of any person unlawfully or forcibly withholding the possession of government property. On July 23d the Treasury Department served notice on the Bonus Army occupants of these several areas to vacate. On July 25th attorneys for the Bonus Army conferred with the Treasury officials, who granted a 24-hour extension of its order of vacation to July 26th. On July 26th the attorney, Mr. Herbert S. Ward, and Captain Doak Carter, one of the leaders of the Bonus Army, presented a proposal consisting merely of the statement that the veterans were willing to withdraw from the government areas and retire to some private property which they were permitted to occupy, but that they required tentage and equipment, and demanded the assistance of the Treasury in procuring such equipment, with a view to their permanent encampment in the city. They requested what the Treasury had no power or authority to grant. This proposal was only a repetition of former statements made by Commander Waters, and nothing was accomplished. On July 26th a further letter was written by the Treasury to the Commissioners of the District, stating that the Treasury planned to begin work in the area between 3d and 6th Streets and Pennsylvania and Missouri Avenues on the morning of July 27th, and requested that a sufficient detail of police be on hand to prevent any interference with the contractor or his workmen. On the 27th, the proposed resumption of possession by the Treasury was again postponed to July 28th, and on the morning of Thursday, July 28th, a small portion of the old National Guard Armory on the space referred to, including an area about 25 yards in all directions surrounding it, was occupied by Treasury representatives under police protection. It was at this point that the serious disorder commenced.

4. The riot and the use of troops.

At the time of resuming possession .of the small area on Pennsylvania Avenue on July 28th, it was not planned immediately to attempt to regain possession by the Government of any of the other tracts occupied by the Bonus Army. It was hoped that their evacuation could be gradually accomplished. The small number of bonus marchers occupying this building vacated it, forcible resistance having been offered only by two or three. No one was hurt by this movement, and the persons evicted were given ample opportunity to pack and leave. However, while this was taking place, speeches of an incendiary nature were being made at Camp Marks, an open area across the Anacostia River, on which a large bonus camp had been established. About noon, when the situation on Pennsylvania Avenue was well in hand and entirely peaceful, the bonus marchers from Camp Marks started across the Anacostia River to the Pennsylvania Avenue tract in large numbers by trucks and other means. They gathered in the street area near the property, then in the possession of the Treasury Department, which was being guarded by 75 policemen, and their number increased to 2000 or 3000. Suddenly, during the noon hour, the mob that had come from Camp Marks rushed the' policemen and attacked them with bricks and rocks. Some of the police were felled with clubs. The police had revolvers, but had orders not to use them and did not do so. This attack finally subsided. Thousands of persons were attracted to the scene. The crowd of bonus marchers assembled at this point increased to numbers estimated at 4000 to 6000. With the bystanders, the crowd increased to an estimated number of nearly 20,000. The situation became more strained, and many of the Bonus Army were walking about with clubs and bricks in their hands. This continued until the middle of the afternoon, with continuous talk about attacking the police and driving them out. Some lawfully inclined veterans attempted to calm others, but made no impression. Finally the mob of bonus marchers again attacked the police with bricks, lumps of concrete, and iron bars. Two of the bonus marchers were shot by police who had been set upon and were in danger of their lives. The entire mob became hostile and riotous. It was apparent that a pitched battle on a large scale might start at any moment. Practically the entire police force of the city were called from their posts and assembled at this point, but they were outnumbered 10 or 15 to 1. Notwithstanding the large number of irresponsible persons in the city, the rest of the city was stripped of police protection. Many of the policemen had been on duty all night. It was obvious that the situation was entirely out of the control of the police, and that when darkness arrived appalling scenes of disorder would follow, during which the rest of the city would be without substantial police protection, except for a few scout cars.

Meanwhile, as early as 12:30, Lieutenant Keck of the Metropolitan Police and Aide to General Crosby, Commissioner of the District, reported to the Commissioners that in his opinion and in the opinion of the Assistant Superintendent of Police and two police inspectors, the situation was beyond control, and that bloodshed could only be averted by the presence of federal troops. The Commissioners then stated that before calling for military aid they desired the opinion of Major Glassford, the Chief of Police. Major Glassford stated that since Waters, the Commander of the Bonus Army, had lost control of his own men, the police could not control the situation any longer. Major Glassford, accompanied by Lieutenant Keck, went to the office of the District Commissioners at 1:00 P.M. In response to questions by the District Commissioners he stated that the situation was out of his control and that the police could no longer hold the bonus marchers in check. He was asked the direct question whether he thought it was necessary to secure the assistance of Federal troops, to which he replied in the affirmative. The Commissioners then notified the Chief of Staff of the Army that the assistance of troops would be needed and requested that the necessary preparations might be made. Before asking for military assistance, Commissioners Reichelderfer and Crosby themselves then visited the area where the serious situation was apparent. After their return to the District Building it was reported to them that further rioting had broken out and that a bonus marcher had been killed. Then it was decided to dispatch a communication to the President requesting the assistance of federal troops to preserve law and order. A statement from the District Commissioners respecting this matter, dated August 2, 1932, is attached and marked Exhibit "C". From this time until the troops arrived the situation steadily grew worse. There is no difference of opinion about the fact that the presence of troops was necessary to and did prevent further disorder and bloodshed. In their absence, further rioting would have occurred with further bloodshed among bonus marchers and police, and possibly innocent bystanders.

The troops arrived and, with the use of practically no weapons except tear gas, restored order and cleared the area and put an end to the disturbance.

5. Casualties.

Two bonus marchers were killed in the disturbance. They were shot by police in self defense, not by troops. A full investigation by a coroner's jury established that the police shot in necessary self defense to save themselves from threatened fatal injury. After the troops arrived, no serious injuries to anyone followed. A few of the troops were stoned and slightly injured, and one bonus marcher had his ear cut, but no other casualties were suffered after the troops came. Stories published in some quarters that the troops shot or seriously injured bonus marchers are utterly without foundation. The published reports that an infant child of a bonus marcher named Myers died as a result of tear gas are false. The records at the Gallinger Hospital show that the child died of intestinal trouble contracted and diagnosed before the riot.

6. Fires.

After the troops arrived, fire broke out among the old shacks occupied by bonus marchers on the Pennsylvania Avenue tract where the rioting occurred, and later at the big camp known as Camp Marks on the Anacostia River, from which the bulk of the rioters had come to attack the police. The cause of the outbreak of the fire in the Pennsylvania Avenue area is not known. The troops had no orders to set any fires. There was inflammable debris around, and the cause of the origin of the fire in the Pennsylvania Avenue area is variously given as having been set by cigarettes or hot tear gas bombs. The evacuation of the large camp known as Camp Marks occurred later. At 7:00 o'clock in the evening the bonus marchers at that camp were notified that they would have to evacuate and that the troops would arrive. Sometime later the troops arrived at Camp Marks and were asked by the bonus marchers to delay an hour more to give the marchers time to evacuate comfortably. This request was granted. Many of the bonus marchers had already left, but the troops waited until the remainder packed up and marched out. While the troops were waiting, fires set by the retiring bonus marchers broke out in a number of localities among the shacks and debris in the camp, and the conflagration became general. Such action as the troops took at either of these places with respect to fire was later to complete the work of the retiring bonus marchers by burning up the remainder of the debris. Photographs of soldiers setting fire to debris were evidently taken at this stage of the proceedings. The bonus marchers at these two sites, having evacuated their camps, then proceeded to leave the city. Camp Bartlett, on private property, was not disturbed by the troops, but was later evacuated by the bonus marchers.

7. Women and children.

The principal group of women and children in the Bonus Army was located in the Communist camp at 12th and 13th Streets, S.W., which was not disturbed by the troops but was voluntarily evacuated by the marchers. The Red Cross promptly offered and furnished assistance and transportation to all women and children in the Bonus Army and to their men-folks, and actually did furnish transportation to 221 women and 247 children. There is no evidence whatever that any women or children were injured or ill-treated. The Veterans' Bureau, under authority of Congress, issued transportation to 4344 veterans by railroad and 939 by automobile. Transportation by truck to their homes had been offered by the Secretary of War to all remaining bonus marchers, but was not furnished because the offer was refused.

8. Grand Jury.

Indictments have been returned by the Grand Jury of the District of Columbia against a number of the alleged rioters. The results of this effort to bring to justice the principals who incited this riot have been unsatisfactory. The reason is that on the day of the riot no detective officers were at Camp Marks, where originated the large movement to march over and attack the police. The function of having detectives and crime prevention agents in a position to observe and obtain evidence against those who at the last moment incited the riotous march and attack, belonged to the District police. The inspector in charge of that branch of the police service reports that he had no orders to place men for that purpose, and, on the contrary, on the day of the disturbance was directed to keep his men out of the area. Consequently, in the confusion and absence of this detective service, it has been impossible to identify and bring to justice some of the principal inciters of the disorder. It is always the case under such conditions, that the radicals and disorderly elements who incite such action do so warily and sometimes fade from the scene when the trouble commences.

9. Conclusion.

This experience demonstrates that it is intolerable that organized bodies of men having a grievance or demand upon the Government should be allowed to encamp in the city and attempt to live off the community like soldiers billeted in an enemy country. Attempts by such groups to intimidate or coerce Congress into granting their demands hurt rather than help their cause, and can only end as this one did, in riot and disorder. The available facts demonstrate that the bonus marchers who remained in the city after Congress adjourned represented no fair cross-section of ex-service men. Prior to the adjournment of Congress, law-abiding ex-service men dominated this gathering and preserved order. Afterwards, the proportion of disorderly and criminal elements among these men steadily increased. Such of their leaders as were well-intentioned lost control over them entirely. It is appalling to think of the disorder and bloodshed that would have occurred if darkness had fallen on the city with the police hopelessly overwhelmed at the scene of the disturbance, and the balance of the community without police protection. The prompt use of the military to outnumber and overawe the disturbers prevented a calamity. The principal reason why the Federal Government was given exclusive jurisdiction over the Capital City was m enable it to preserve order at the seat of government and to protect the Congress and other public officials from unlawful interference while in the discharge of their duties. The right peaceably to petition Congress for redress of alleged grievances does not include assemblage of disorderly thousands at the seat of the government œor purposes oœ coercion.
Respectfully submitted,
Attorney General

[The President, The White House]

Herbert Hoover, Statement on the Justice Department Investigation of the Bonus Army. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/207472

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