PS 32 510
Prof. Dr. M. Mayer
SoSe 2003
Freie Universität Berlin
Minute Taker: Jason Beery
Overseer: Thorsten Unger
May 16th Session Minutes
Theda Skocpol’s second chapter, “State Formation and Social Policy in the
United States,” in her book Social Policy in the United States served as the basis for
today’s presentation. The discussion that followed analysed Skocpol’s argument that
the first comprehensive social policy in the United States began with the paying of
pensions to Civil War veterans during the second half of the Nineteenth Century and
not with the New Deal programs of the 1930s, commonly regarded as the beginning
of expansive social policy in the U.S.
In his presentation, Andreas, the discussion leader, provided a short summary
of the text and explained the evolution of the pension system that Skocpol describes,
showing its development from the granting of preexisting benefits to soldiers in 1861
to the passage of the Dependent Pension Act of 1890. The reasons for the
increasingly progressive legislation during this period he, as Skocpol does, attributed
to several minor causes and one major cause. The minor reasons included: the need to
increase benefits for service to increase participation in a war in a mass democracy;
the lobbying of both veterans’ groups and and attorneys (both of whom would benefit
from an extension of pensions); and the need to spend the large budget surpluses
stemming from high tariffs. The main reason for the expansion of benefits, however,
was the rise of patronage democracy: parties, particularly the Republican Party,
sought to expand their power base by attracting veterans with increases in pension
payments immediately before elections and with promises of further expansion of
pension benefits. The conclusions that followed were that the Civil War pensions
usually ignored by scholars were the most successful social policy ever in the U.S.
and that large-scale social policy did indeed exist before the New Deal.
The discussion that followed was based on two questions. First, taking
Skocpol’s argument into account, was Katznelson’s thesis that civil unrest is the main
reason for the implementation of social security and welfare systems wrong?
Secondly, can the pattern of ‘patronage democracy’ be used as a general approach to
explain the development of the U.S. welfare state? Though neither question received a
definite answer, the answers provided insight into characteristics of the U.S. welfare
system during the late 1800s.
The rise of the American welfare state through the disbursement of pension
benefits underscores a significant difference between the emergence of European
welfare states and the U.S. welfare state in that time period. The European welfare
state developed from democratic roots. There, fear of working class unrest prevailed
during the period of mass industrialization. The industrialization led then to the
increase in the number of factories, which in turn, by concentrating once disperse
workers in central buildings, provided for the organization of labor. Through this
organization of labor in Europe, social democratic parties formed to represent and
improve the conditions of the working class. In the United States, however, the roots
of the social welfare system came not by democratic means, but rather by bureaucratic
ones. Although limited civil unrest did occur in the United States during the
industrialization of the late 1800s as the result of the rise of a working class, the
pension based welfare system did not develop from fears of working class organizing,
but instead, as Skocpol argues, from the rise of patronage democracy.
Within this new social welfare system in the U.S. lies a major difference
between the U.S and German welfare states. Whereas in Germany at that time, where
citizenship was the requirement to receive aid if one was unable to work, the welfare
system in the U.S. was based upon merit. The government distributed pensions only
to those (or closest relative thereof) who had served a ‘patriotic duty’ to the country
by participating in the Civil War.
Despite these differences, the development of a social welfare state in both
European nations and the United States grew out of local networks of social support.
Though the impact of localities on the creation of the social state was greater in
Europe, towns and counties in the U.S. also provided bases of social support, which
influenced the creation of a social state during the late Nineteenth Century.

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