May 11, 1935 – Huey Long Talks About The Veterans Bonus Bill
Huey Long. For those of you who draw blanks, Huey Long was the 40th Governor of Louisiana, A U.S. Senator, elected in 1932 and was assassinated in 1935. He was generally considered a Populist figure, whose Share The Wealth program struck a chord with much of Depression era America.
A supporter of FDR, Long split with Roosevelt in 1933 and became a vocal critic of his New Deal policies, feeling they didn’t go far enough to aid the poor and the working person.
This address, in support of the Bonus Bill, a bill before Congress known as The Patman Greenback Bonus Bill, gave Veterans the bonus that was owed to them after World War 1, which was one of many bills before Congress introduced to pay Veterans:
Huey Long: “We have generally referred to this proposition as a “soldier’s bonus,” but here is what it was. When the boys came back from the war in 1918 and 1919 and some as late as 1920, the government said that since all common labor had been paid from three dollars to four dollars per day during the war without taking any chance of being shot down, or of having their legs shot off, or their eyes shot out, that they would pay the soldiers for the time that they worked, fought, and risked their lives and money — the same amount per day as the commonest kind of laborer was paid for the same days worked during the war.
Now since they figured that the soldier had already been paid around 30 dollars to 40 dollars per month while he was in the war, they deducted the one dollar or dollar and a quarter per day and gave the soldier a certificate for the balance. So that when the certificate was paid, the soldier would receive as much money from the days that he stood in the trenches as a commonest kind of laborer received for the same day that he worked.
Now I think you or I or most any other person would say that as a general rule, the man who worked and fought, who slept in the trenches on the ground, in the rain, and in the mud, and who took a chance of never coming back, was entitled to get a little bit more money for that kind of service, than the man who lived in comfort in his home and took no such chance of being maimed or killed.
But we did not regard it that way when we gave the soldiers our certificates for service. We took the view that they were not entitled to any more money than the sorriest kind of field hand or workhand. And that is the certificate which they hold today and which is called the soldiers’ bonus.
A few years ago Congress provided that the soldiers could borrow about half the money that was due on the certificates. Now what we have done here this week is to provide to pay them the balance, equal to the face value of the certificate issued by the government for their services.
Some people talk as though the soldiers had already been paid one bonus. That is not true at all. We have not paid the soldiers the bonus — once or twice or anything of the kind. What we did was to issue a certificate to each man, giving him an allowance to be paid later. And we have allowed them to borrow on this certificate up to one-half the face value. But we have never paid the obligation at all. That is what we’re trying to do now.
Now we proposed and it passed to law to pay the amount in full. The law which has been passed is known as the Patman Bill. It is the same bill that previously passed the House of Representatives. Last year I offered this bill as an amendment to another bill in the United States Senate. It failed to pass. But in this session of Congress, this same Patman Bill was voted in the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority. It came to the Senate and it was voted there by a very large majority. It will become the law if the President will sign it. But even though the President vetoes the bill, it would still become the law if two-thirds of the United States senators will vote to override the President’s veto.
We are very near to the mark of getting two-thirds of the senators to vote to override the veto in case the President vetoes. It is a shame to have a few votes doing this wrong to the men who fought our battles. That being the case, every person whether he has or has not written to the President, should immediately write or wire to his United States senators asking them to vote to override the veto on the soldiers’ bonus bill in case the President vetoes the bill.”
This bill was vetoed by President Roosevelt in favor of another bill along the similar lines. But instead of giving the Veterans a cash pay-out, The Harrison Bill, authored by Senator Pat Harrison, offered to pay the Veterans in Treasury Notes, given in increments of $50.00 which would mature in 10 years.
Here is Huey Long’s take on the whole thing as he presented it before a nationwide radio audience on May 11, 1935.