The DC Insurrection of 1932


Given Santayana’s warning to those who forget the past, there yet remains the problem of what to remember. Events during the summer of 1932 have frequently been remembered to promote some political cause. What follows is an outline of the incontrovertible facts that create their own perspective. The context for these events begins with the demobilization of the WWI veterans and the problems of their re-integration into civilian society. In 1924, Congress overrode the veto of President Coolidge to enact the World War Adjusted Compensation Act, which included an insurance policy that could be redeemed for cash in 1945. President Coolidge had argued that existing programs were adequate to help the dependents of killed or disabled veterans and that the act would inevitably lead to a balloon payment in 1945. When the Depression hit, demands grew to pay the veterans immediately. In May of 1932, about 300 veterans, led by Walter W. Waters, entered the yard of the Union Pacific Railroad in Portland, Oregon; refused to leave until they were allowed to ride in empty boxcars; and started on their way to Washington, D.C. to “lobby” for the immediate payment of their “bonuses.”

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