Published: mic (August 20, 2013)
As liberals prepare to celebrate President Benjamin Harrison’s birthday today ….
I’m sorry? Most people don’t know that August 20 is Harrison’s birthday, much less care?
Well, that certainly is a pity. After all, if it wasn’t for Harrison, many of the policies liberals consider so important today might have never been enacted. Indeed, it was the Harrison administration that was responsible for such bills as:
1. The Dependent Pension Act of 1890. To fully appreciate the importance of this bill, one must first understand the origins of the modern welfare state in America. As policy historian Theda Skocpol has pointed out, the first comprehensive social insurance system established in this country was the veteran pension program enacted after the Civil War. Although its original function was to support Union veterans and veteran dependents who could trace their financial difficulties to injuries and/or deaths caused by the war, many began to call for it to provide benefits for anyone connected to the Union cause (as a veteran or veteran dependent) who was suffering from economic hardship that was perceived as being beyond their control, regardless of whether their difficulties were causally linked to the war itself. Because virtually everyone outside the South fell under this aegis, this constituted a de facto welfare program for all of the poor and struggling within the Civil War generation … one that Harrison’s immediate predecessor, Grover Cleveland, opposed in a number of ways (which I discuss in more detail in Chapter One of my master’s thesis here). Upon taking office, Harrison rejected Cleveland’s position and immediately began pushing for the enactment of the most ambitious economic relief measure in our nation’s history up to that point, one that provided general relief for those considered unable to find sustainable employment for themselves and nearly doubled both the pension budget and the number of pensioners by the end of Harrison’s term. For better or worse, the dam for social insurance in this country had been broken, with 20th century presidents from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Barack Obama building on the logic and precedent established by Harrison.