. . . Washington's worst celebration of Independence Day may well have occurred 50 years ago today. The Depression that had begun in 1930 was reaching the nadir, and there was sniping between President Herbert Hoover and Congress over what to do. Before the latter adjourned for a long weekend (the fourth fell on Monday), the president had signed an economy bill that forced the retirement of some government employees and required others to take a 30-day furlough without pay.
Congress didn't like the legislation, nor did the president--but for different reasons. "I have signed the economy bill," said Hoover, "with but limited satisfaction. First, it falls far short of the economies proposed by the Cabinet. . . ." The White House and Capitol Hill were also at odds over a relief bill.
Then there was the nagging matter of booze. The nation had been dry for over a decade, but it was not sober in dealing with the problems of Prohibition. Enforcement necessitated significant outlays of money, yet 65 to 70 employees were targeted for layoffs just shortly before the July 4 weekend began.
Taking another tack was the Democratic convention that was meeting at the same time in Chicago: it was considering what dries called "a dripping wet banner." And there were some congressmen who were not about to wait until the November elections, insistent on an immediate amendment to the Volstead Act to permit the brewing of 3.2 beer. But nothing happened by July 4 to lift the spirits of anyone concerned about the issue.
In Anacostia, a group of unemployed veterans of World War I that had marched to the city in May to demand immediate payment of bonuses encamped under miserable housing and sanitary conditions. Under the watchful eye of the Washington police, the marchers drilled in the hot sun and awaited congressional action by July 4 as a sort of Independence Day gesture.
Congress, however, recessed for the weekend without taking action. The veterans marched to the Capitol in protest, but found the doors were locked. They planned a parade on the holiday, but rain forced a postponement. Later in July, they would be ousted from their encampment.
The federal deficit for fiscal year 1932, announced in early July, was in wretched shape: $2,885,000,000 in comparison to the modest sum of $931,000,000 in 1931. The National Education Association was up in arms about budget cuts for schools and was urging the creation of a federal department of education with a Cabinet-level secretary.
The newspaper industry was hurting, with photoengravers in some areas taking a 12 percent pay cut home for the holidays. And ex- president Calvin Coolidge, celebrating his 60th birthday on July 4, was suffering from an attack of hay fever in Plymouth, Vt., where it rained cats and dogs.
It was the quietest holiday in decades. Throughout the nation the deaths from accidents declined from 354 in 1931 to 203. There wasn't even an Independence Day speech from the president, who chose instead to communicate his sentiments to a dinner guest who in turn released them to the press: President Hoover "hopes that . . . throughout the land today (we) may renew our faith in a government by the people as not only the surest road to equality and justice but also as the only system that makes it possible to permanently release the energies of all the people in voluntary productive enterprise."
About the only good news of the day for Washingtonians concerned the Senators, who took a doubleheader from the league-leading Yankees. But the victories, which moved the Nats back into fourth place, were not without gloom. It seems that a fight broke out between Yankee catcher Bill Dickey and Carl Reynolds, Washington's right fielder. Reynolds lost the fight. He suffered a fracture of the jaw.
And in keeping with the overall misery of the holiday, it was a double fracture at that.