Throughout the 1930s and the first half of the 1940s, World War II raged overseas, claiming hundreds of thousands of American lives and injuring countless more. On the homefront, a much different battle was being fought, as Americans struggled to determine what benefits to provide returning soldiers.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged for a bill to be passed that provided long-term benefits to the returning G.I.’s, which he reasoned would “reap rich dividends in higher productivity, more intelligent leadership, and greater human happiness. We must replenish our supply of persons qualified to discharge the heavy responsibilities of the postwar world. We have taught our youth how to wage war; we must also teach them how to live useful and happy lives in freedom, justice, and decency.” In January of 1944, Henry W. Colmery, a former head of the American Legion and Republican National Chairman, introduced what would eventually a proposal that would eventually become the G.I. Bill.
A number of social and economic factors converged to ensure the passage of the G.I. Bill in 1944. Almost every American felt that World War II was a just war being fought against an evil dictator and government, which, in turn, led to a strong social fabric that endured throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The American economy was booming due to the need for combat supplies and the subsequent creation of new industries.
Due to these strong socio-economic conditions, the United States government was able to mobilize and pass what may be the most tremendous legislation in American history. The provisions of the G.I. bill were numerous; it created the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, provided free education and job training for veterans and low-cost mortgages and loans to start businesses. According to the National Archives Foundation, “the act put higher education, job training and homeownership within the reach of millions of World War II veterans. By 1951, nearly eight million veterans had received educational and training benefits and 2.4 million had received thirteen billion dollars in federal loans for homes, farms, and businesses.”
Although the G.I. Bill had bipartisan support (It was authored by a Republican and signed into law by a Democratic president.), the legislation was still met with resistance. Many objected to the bill, stating that the unemployment stipend would decrease the incentive to work or that the bill itself would be too costly. Others were uncomfortable with the United States government providing such wide-spread and numerous benefits. In an article written in 1969 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the G.I. Bill, author R.B. Pitkin wrote that “the whole concept was simply too new for the times. Never before had we had a law to help all war veterans get back on their feet.”
Despite these fears, the passage of the bill more than paid off and has been called “the best investment the U.S. government has ever made.” The G.I. Bill staved off a potential unemployment crisis since millions of returning veterans chose to delay employment to pursue higher education and job training instead. In 1947, veterans accounted for a tremendous 49% of college admissions, and by 1956, 7.8 million had participated in a G.I. Bill-funded educational or training program. The G.I. Bill was even described as “the gift that keeps on giving,” as millions of veterans entered the workforce highly skilled. As more Americans than ever received access to higher education, their wages skyrocketed, which meant more money was being invested in the economy.
The G.I. Bill also promised to back loans taken out by veterans for homes and businesses, which promoted the construction of thousands of new homes and the creation of new and innovative businesses. From the introduction of the G.I. Bill in 1944 to 1952, the Veteran Administration guaranteed approximately 2.4 million home loans for veterans. Former president, George H.W. Bush, summarized the success of the bill, saying that “the GI Bill changed the lives of millions by replacing roadblocks with paths of opportunity.”
Even though it has been decades since the passage of the GI Bill, the legislation remains remarkable, as it demonstrates that government legislation which both positively impacts swaths of Americans and respects individual rights is possible. The GI Bill also provided World War II veterans, some of America’s bravest and most dedicated citizens, with the vital opportunities to establish themselves as successful and well-integrated civilians.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.