American Legion, national association of male and female war veterans, founded (1919) in Paris. Membership is open to veterans of World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The preamble to the organization's constitution, adopted at the convention in St. Louis that same year, expresses its purposes in part as
"to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States; to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism; … to safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom, and democracy; to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness."
The organization has done much work in social welfare, particularly in the areas of veterans' benefits and child care. With national headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind., it is the largest veterans' association; it holds an annual convention, which often addresses national issues. The American Legion's efforts have been bent not only to obtaining benefits for veterans but also for the families of those who died in war. Although it is organized on a nonpartisan, nonpolitical basis, its policies have been criticized as extremely conservative by many opponents, and its influence has waned, particularly with the loss of many World War II veterans. There is also a women's auxiliary for the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of veterans.
See R. Moley, The American Legion Story (1966); W. Pencak, For God and Country: The American Legion, 1919–1941 (1989).