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Beyond the Bonus March and GI Bill

How Veteran Politics Shaped the New Deal Era

Stephen Ortiz

Publication Year: 2010

The period between World Wars I and II was a time of turbulent political change, with suffragists, labor radicals, demagogues, and other voices clamoring to be heard. One group of activists that has yet to be closely examined by historians is World War I veterans. Mining the papers of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion (AL), Stephen R. Ortiz reveals that veterans actively organized in the years following the war to claim state benefits (such as pensions and bonuses), and strove to articulate a role for themselves as a distinct political bloc during the New Deal era.

Beyond the Bonus March and GI Bill is unique in its treatment of World War I veterans as significant political actors during the interwar period. Ortiz's study reinterprets the political origins of the "Second" New Deal and Roosevelt's electoral triumph of 1936, adding depth not only to our understanding of these events and the political climate surrounding them, but to common perceptions of veterans and their organizations. In describing veteran politics and the competitive dynamics between the AL and the VFW, Ortiz details the rise of organized veterans as a powerful interest group in modern American politics.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

As an avid, some might say obsessive, reader of Acknowledgments pages, I am daunted by the lyricism so many historians display in recognizing their debts both intellectual and personal. The lack of poetry found here, however, in no way diminishes the genuine gratitude I feel toward the people and institutions that have helped this book come to fruition. ...

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pp. 1-12

In 1930, a dozen years after the conclusion of World War I, the journalist Oliver McKee, Jr., predicted the impact that military veterans would soon have on the American polity. McKee’s article in The Commonweal, “The Political March of the Veterans,” declared that already the “veteran of the World War has won a secure foothold in American politics.” By way of example, ...

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1. Veterans’ Policy and Veteran Organizations, 1917–1929

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pp. 13-31

In the 1920s, American citizens engaged in an extended political debate over the treatment of military veterans. The debate served as a constant, sometimes unpleasant, reminder that the consequences of the Great War would unfold well after the peace. This came as something of a surprise. After all, the federal government had created and implemented innovative wartime veterans’ policies ...

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2. Rethinking the Bonus March

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pp. 32-65

In the late 1920s, the Veterans of Foreign Wars appeared destined for historical obscurity. Despite desperate attempts to recruit from the ranks of the more than two million eligible World War veterans, the VFW lagged behind both the American Legion and even the Spanish War Veterans in membership. And yet, by 1932, in the middle of an economic crisis that dealt severe blows to the membership ...

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3. The “New Deal” for Veterans

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pp. 66-98

On March 9, 1933, as the Roosevelt administration initiated the New Deal in a flurry of legislative activity known as “the Hundred Days,” veteran politics exploded into the national political arena once again. Historians of the New Deal emphasize the significant structural reforms in banking, securities, and agriculture and the relief measures that emerged in those “Hundred Days.” 1 ...

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4. The Bonus Re-emerges

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pp. 99-121

Although the spotlight shifted away from the Bonus after its Senate defeat in 1932, veterans and their congressional allies continued to call for the immediate cash payment of adjusted service certificates. From the start of the 73rd Congress in 1933 until the spring of 1934, however, the rearguard battle to restore veterans’ benefits cut by the Economy Act preoccupied supporters of the Patman Bonus bill. ...

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5. “The Pro-Bonus Party”

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pp. 122-152

In 1935, the legislative drive for the Bonus turned into the most contentious issue in American politics. While Senator Huey P. Long and Father Coughlin had advocated Bonus payment in 1934, and while both had appealed to veterans’ support for their newly formed organizations, a coalition consisting of Long, Coughlin, and VFW-led veterans took shape in earnest when the controversy over two competing ...

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6. Veteran Politics and the New Deal’s Political Triumph of 1936

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pp. 153-186

In the presidential election of 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt cruised to an electoral landslide over his Republican opponent, Kansas governor Alf Landon. The Union Party candidate, Representative William Lemke of North Dakota, received fewer than a million votes nationally, dashing the hopes of the third party’s dissident founders—Father Charles E. Coughlin, Dr. Francis Townshend, and Huey Long’s successor at the Share Our Wealth Society, ...

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Conclusion: GI Bill Legacies

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pp. 187-206

On June 22, 1944, World War II servicemen and servicewomen learned that their military duty would translate into social and economic benefits of unparalleled proportions. Thanks to the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, then more popularly known as the GI Bill of Rights, approximately sixteen million veterans gained access to federally funded vocational training and education benefits; ...

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Postscript: A GI Bill for the Twenty-first Century?

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pp. 207-210

In 1945, the editors at The New Republic assessed the relationship between veterans and earlier manifestations of twentieth-century liberalism. The progressive standard-bearers recognized that liberals of the post–World War I period had joined with fiscal conservatives on veterans’ issues and “had a good many cutting things to say about bonus and pension ‘grabs’ ...


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pp. 211-244


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pp. 245-248

About the Author

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pp. 249-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780814762561
E-ISBN-10: 0814762565
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814762134
Print-ISBN-10: 0814762131

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794698895
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Beyond the Bonus March and GI Bill

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bonus Expeditionary Forces.
  • Protest movements -- Washington (D.C.) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Veterans -- Political activity -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Veterans -- Education -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1933-1945.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1918-1933.
  • New Deal, 1933-1939.
  • Veterans -- United States -- Economic conditions -- 20th century.
  • Veterans -- Government policy -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Veterans -- United States.
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