The American Legion was chartered by the U.S. Congress as a patriotic, mutual-help, wartime veterans organization of the United States armed forces who served during a wartime period as defined by Congress. The American Legion was founded in 1919 by veterans returning from Europe after World War I and is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana and also has offices in Washington D.C.. The group has nearly 3 million members in over 14,000 Posts worldwide.
In addition to organizing commemorative events and volunteer activities, the American Legion is active in U.S. politics. While its primary political activity is lobbying on the behalf of the interests of veterans, service members including support for veterans benefits such as pensions and the Veterans Affairs hospital system, it has also been involved in more general political issues, generally taking a conservative position. Most criticism of the Legion is based on its political activities.
The American Legion at the state level, also known as Departments, run an annual civic training event for high school juniors called Boys State. Two members from each Boys State are selected for Boys Nation. The American Legion Auxiliary runs Girls State and Girls Nation. The American Legion also hosts many social events.
The American Legion's Post Officers Guide recounts the organization's founding:
"A group of twenty officers who served in the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) in France in World War I is credited with planning the Legion. A.E.F. Headquarters asked these officers to suggest ideas on how to improve troop morale. One officer, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., proposed an organization of veterans. In 1919, this group formed a temporary committee and selected several hundred officers who had the confidence and respect of the whole army. When the first organization meeting took place in Paris in March, 1919, about 1,000 officers and enlisted men attended. The meeting, known as the Paris Caucus, adopted a temporary constitution and the name The American Legion. It also elected an executive committee to complete the organization’s work. It considered each soldier of the A.E.F. a member of the Legion. The executive committee named a subcommittee to organize veterans at home in the U.S. The Legion held a second organizing caucus in St. Louis, Missouri, in May 1919.
As is confirmed by The National Library of the American Legion and its official supporting documents, the first post of the American Legion is George Washington Post 1 in Washington, D.C. Organized March 7, 1919, it obtained the first charter issued to any post of The American Legion on May 19, 1919. Originally, the post was named the “General John Joseph Pershing Post Number 1” in part to its members’ sincere admiration of Pershing as a man, as well as their appreciation for his career as a soldier in the United States Army. However, at the St. Louis caucus that same year, members decided that posts of the American Legion should not be named after living persons, and therefore the "Pioneer Post" was given its new and current name. The post completed the constitution and made plans for a permanent organization. It set up temporary headquarters in New York City and began its relief, employment, and Americanism programs.
Congress granted the American Legion a national charter in September, 1919. Among the founders was Ernest O. Thompson (1892-1966) of Texas, later Lieutenant General of the Texas National Guard, a member of the Texas Railroad Commission, and an expert on petroleum issues.