"The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachment of the others." — James Madison, Federalist No. 51, 1788
On this day in 1944, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill, an unprecedented act of legislation designed to compensate returning members of the armed services — known as G.I.s for their efforts in World War II.
As the last of its sweeping New Deal reforms, Roosevelt's administration created the G.I. Bill— officially the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 — hoping to avoid a relapse into the Great Depression after the war ended. FDR particularly wanted to prevent a repeat of the Bonus March of 1932, when 20,000 unemployed veterans and their families flocked in protest to Washington. The American Legion, a veteran's organization, successfully fought for many of the provisions included in the bill, which gave returning servicemen access to unemployment compensation, low-interest home and business loans, and--most importantly--funding for education.
In his speech at the signing of the bill, Roosevelt acknowledged the sacrifices of America's men and women in uniform and emphasized the moral responsibility of the American people not to let their veterans down once they returned to civilian life. He and his economic advisors foresaw potential problems as the then-robust wartime economy transitioned to peacetime. He hoped that the GI bill would help prevent a situation in which the return of 2.2 million servicemen from war created massive unemployment, economic depression or social unrest. Also in his speech, Roosevelt appealed to Congress to enact some sort of future legislation that would reassure current civilian workers that their services would still be needed in a post-war economy.
The GI bill, named after the slang term for soldiers whose wartime goods and services were government issued, provided funding for education, home loans, unemployment insurance, job counseling and the construction of veterans' hospital facilities. It also greatly strengthened the authority of and scope of services provided by the Veterans Administration. Tuition for advanced education or technical training was covered up to $500 per school year, along with a monthly living allowance while the veteran was in school. GIs could also apply for guaranteed home and business loans.
By giving veterans money for tuition, living expenses, books, supplies and equipment, the G.I. Bill effectively transformed higher education in America. Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15 percent of young Americans, and university campuses had become known as a haven for the most privileged classes. By 1947, in contrast, vets made up half of the nation's college enrollment; three years later, nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, compared with 160,000 in 1939.
The first GI Bill was proposed and drafted by the American Legion, led by former Illinois governor John Stelle, during World War II. The public remembered a post-World War I recession, when millions of veterans returned to face unemployment and homelessness. Twice as many veterans would return from World War II, and widespread economic hardship was a real concern. A healthy postwar economy, it seemed, would depend on providing soldiers with a means to support themselves once they were back home.
Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst became the bill's most ardent and vocal supporter. Hearst and his nationwide string of newspapers lobbied the public and members of Congress to support those who served their country, and his effort was a success. The bill unanimously passed both chambers of Congress in the spring of 1944. President Franklin F. Roosevelt signed the bill into law on June 22, 1944, just days after the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Roosevelt urged that the goal after the war should be the maximum utilization of our human and material resources. After his death and the end of the Second World War, veterans of wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and U.N.-led coalition conflicts continued to benefit from an evolving GI bill.
As a person who is wary of most government programs such as the Departments of Education, Energy, HUD, and Homeland Security and find them unconstitutional under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution I cannot find that fault with the G.I. Bill. Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the power and authority to raise and support an Army and Navy.
Article I, Section 8 states:
“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
1. To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
2. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;
3. To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;
4. To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;
5. To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;
6. To establish post offices and post roads;
7. To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
8. To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;
9. To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
10. To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
11. To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
12. To provide and maintain a navy;
13. To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
14. To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
15. To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
16. To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings; — And
17. To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”
Sections 8.11 thru 8.15 grant Congress the power and authority to raise and support a military force. This includes taking care of veterans. Therefore, in my view the granting of veterans a college or vocational education, along with medical care for their service is in line with the thinking of our Founders.
I recall having two teachers in high school who were products of the G.I. Bill. One, a biology teacher who used a cane and walked with a very pronounced limp, who must have suffered severe wounds. The other a math teacher. Both were good teachers and maintained good discipline in their classrooms conducive to learning.
The original GI Bill offered veterans up to $500 a year for college tuition and other educational costs — ample funding at the time. An unmarried veteran also received a $50-a-month allowance for each month spent in uniform; a married veteran received slightly more. Other benefits included mortgage subsidies, enabling veterans to purchase homes with relative ease.
College campuses did become grossly over-crowded in the postwar years: approximately 7.8 million World War II veterans received benefits under the original GI Bill, and 2.2 million of those used the program for higher education. By 1947 half of all college students were veterans. Prefabricated buildings and Quonset huts were used as classrooms, and military barracks were often converted into dormitories. However, having spent a large part of their youth engaged in battle, World War II veterans were highly motivated. GIs in their late twenties and early thirties returned to the United States in droves, anxious to catch up with their nonmilitary peers, marry, settle down, and support a family. The benefits provided by the GI Bill facilitated these goals.
Veterans were not the only beneficiaries of the GI Bill. Colleges, with increased enrollments, received years of financial security following its enactment. Veterans demanded more practical college course work, and this need led to a changed concept of higher education, with more emphasis on degree programs like business and engineering. The lines of race, class, and religion blurred as higher education became attainable for all veterans. No longer was a college degree — and the higher paying jobs that normally follow it — limited to members of the upper class. Federal income increased as the average income of taxpayers in the United States increased, and as the veterans graduated from colleges, women and members of minorities enrolled to fill the gaps they left. The GI Bill's mortgage subsidies led to an escalated demand for housing and the development of suburbs. One-fifth of all single-family homes built in the 20 years following World War II were financed with help from the GI Bill's loan guarantee program, symbolizing the emergence of a new middle class.
Despite initial misgivings over its success, the GI Bill proved to be enormously effective. Prior to its passage, detractors feared that paying the education expenses of veterans would lead to overcrowding at colleges, which before World War II were accessible predominantly to members of society's upper class. Critics were concerned that veterans would wreak havoc on educational standards and overburden campuses with their lack of preparation for the rigors of higher learning.
As educational institutions opened their doors to this diverse new group of students, overcrowded classrooms and residences prompted widespread improvement and expansion of university facilities and teaching staffs. An array of new vocational courses were developed across the country, including advanced training in education, agriculture, commerce, mining and fishing — skills that had previously been taught only informally.
The G.I. Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America that lasted 30 years after World War II. Only 20 percent of the money set aside for unemployment compensation under the bill was given out, as most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education. Low interest home loans enabled millions of American families to move out of urban centers and buy or build homes outside the city, changing the face of the suburbs. Over 50 years, the impact of the G.I. Bill was enormous, with 20 million veterans and dependents using the education benefits and 14 million home loans guaranteed, for a total federal investment of $67 billion. Among the millions of Americans who have taken advantage of the bill are former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, former Vice President Al Gore and entertainers Johnny Cash, Ed McMahon, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice John Paul Stevens, both of the U.S. Supreme Court; Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher; journalists David Brinkley and John Chancellor, and former Dallas Cowboys football coach Tom Landry.