In 1932, as the nation lingered in the desperate depths of the Great Depression, thousands of World War I veterans and their families marched on Washington to demand immediate lump-sum payment of their military pensions. To the consternation of President Herbert Hoover, who was about to embark upon a difficult reelection campaign, the ragtag army camped in tents and shacks along the Anacostia River, and began trying to pressure the White House and Congress by marching up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. Unfortunately, the bill to pay them their benefits passed the House but was overwhelmingly defeated in the Senate in June.
The marchers stubbornly stayed, and rebuffed the Hoover administration's offer of train fare out of town. In response, Hoover decided to evict them by force. On July 28, in one of the most disturbing moments in the history of Washington, U.S. horse cavalry wearing gas masks and steel helmets, and backed by five tanks, descended upon the bonus marchers, scattering them and their wives and children and burning their campsites.