Student's Guide to Landmark Congressional Laws on Social Security and Welfare

By Steven G. Livingston | Go to book overview

7

The Servicemen's Readjustment
Act of 1944 (The G.I. Bill)

Better known as the “G.I. Bill,” the Servicemen's Readjustment Act was the first important social legislation of the post-World War II era. Two of the most prominent features of contemporary American life, the vastly increased importance of higher education and the suburbanization of the United States, may, in good measure, be attributed to this bill. However, its impact on America's social insurance system has been much debated. Some believe the G.I. Bill not only furthered the nation's social protections but served as a bulwark that protected the still fragile Social Security system in the politically hostile environment of the 1940s. But others view the bill as a step back, a return to an earlier view of social insurance, more like that of the Civil War pension system, and away from the idea of a universal, comprehensive social insurance system for all Americans.

The G.I. Bill passed Congress without a dissenting vote. But that unanimity masquerades one of the stranger legislative histories of any major act. The bill was introduced by two unlikely bedfellows, the reactionary, avowedly racist Democratic Mississippi congressman John Rankin and Senator Bennett Clark (Dem., MO). Clark's most famous political moment came when he fell asleep at the 1944 Democratic Convention after nominating his fellow Missourian, Harry Truman, for vice president. Supporters then had to work overtime to convince the Senate's leading social-welfare advocates, Robert Wagner (Dem., NY) and Robert LaFollette (Rep., WI) and they had to overcome the indifference, if not hostility, of President Roosevelt himself to attain passage.

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