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Manditory Concription in the United

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Sven H. Dubie

A.P. United States History

Spring 2018

January 29, 2018





The draft, known
formally as conscription, is legislation forcing citizens to register and join
the armed forces of their nation. Dating
back to ancient times military service has been a fundamental obligation of
citizenship. 27 countries currently require military service around the
world, the United States is not one. Military Conscription was never a part of
the founding fathers plan for a new nation, however when not enough volunteers
appeared to militia duty to fight the british, a draft was created.

Conscription is commonly defined as “the compulsory enrollment of all
physically capable citizens of a certain age to perform mandatory military
service, or risk being penalized.” Conscripts differ from volunteers and
professional, as well as mercenaries, who will work for any government for pay.
Conscripts may be called at any time to serve or train for service. In the
United State, conscription is commonly referred to as “the draft” or
“selective service”.
( “Conscription,”Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000, accessed
Dec. 20, 2017, HTTP://

Organized warfare has existed throughout history. Some of the earliest
documented accounts date back 5,000 years to ancient Egypt, where cities
protected themselves against invading nomadic tribes, by small, local volunteer
garrisons of spearmen and archers, equipped with simple spears, arrows and
leather shields. After the devastating invasion by the Hyksos in 1650 BC,
ancient Egyptians realized they needed to replace their makeshift military,
with a well-trained and equipped standing army. They replaced their unprepared
infantries, made up mainly of former prisoners of war, with a full-time army.
These new armies included a combination of conscripted peasants, citizens, and
foreign paid mercenaries.

By the time of Ramses II, in 13th century BC, one in every ten Egyptian men was
forced to join the military. Military service was considered a necessary
experience for future leaders. Sons of Pharos and powerful men were often sent
to the army for training, as early as age five. To deter potential deserters,
the pharaoh and his overlords promised victorious Warriors parcels of land
averaging 12 acres. However, many men saw the army as a way to seek their
fortunes and voluntarily joined. Those men, particularly officers, who
distinguish themselves during battle, were given large estates, where they
later earned money and established themselves as members of a new wealthier
social class. 

During the 18th century BC, ancient Babylonia established the Iikum system,
which included mandatory army service during times of war, and labor for the
state during peacetime. The conscripts received rights to plots of land and
special privileges for their service. Although the Code of Hammurabi prohibited
those drafted into the army from using a substitute to serve on their behalf,
there is evidence to suggest that frequent substitutions did occur.

Postgate, J.N. (1992). Early Mesopotamia Society and Economy at the Dawn of
History. Routledge. p. 242. ISBN 0-415-11032-7.

The Shang dynasty of ancient China used nomadic chariot armies to defend
against invading forces. These Bronze Age armies consisted of ill-trained
serfs, with limited supplies, fully dependent on feudal lords or kings.
Typically, the armies fought only a few months at a time before being forced to
give up any gains made, due to running out of supplies. The 5th century B.C.
writings of Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”, greatly influence ancient China’s
approach to war and its military. Chinese leaders began to look at war from a
more strategic and offensive perspective. Conscription was used to build better
trained standing armies and provide labor for construction, including the
approximately, 800,000 people who build the Great Wall. The “Terracotta Army”
of Qin Shi Huang, created during the 2nd century B.C. shows how organized and
well equipped the standing armies had become. Conscription played a major role
in building the military superiority of Qin’s army, which enabled him to unify
China and declare himself China’s first Emperor.

Portal, Jane (2007). The First Emperor, China’s Terracotta Army. British Museum

Press. ISBN 978-1-932543261

In ancient Greece, conscription was prevalent. Military service was considered
a fundamental obligation of citizenship, prestigious and a sign of wealth and
status in the city-state communities. Young men were required to become part of
the citizen-soldier class by spending several years in a citizen militia. The
most respected program was in Sparta, where sever training and harsh conditions
produced some of the most fierce soldiers in history. The Greek approach to
military service and citizen-soldiers provided early inspiration to many
subsequent powers, including what many consider to be the most successful army
in history, the Romans.

Throughout most of the Roman Republic, mandatory service in the army was
considered a privilege. During the Early Republic, 500-300 BC, the army was
almost exclusively, conscripted Romans serving short, six-year terms. All Roman
male citizens between 16-46 were required to draw ballots for service. Those
who refused to serve were imprisoned or had their property confiscated. Each
man was required to serve their time without pay and provide their own
equipment. The level of equipment determined the position he would serve in
battle. The lower ranked infantry tended to come from the poorer classes, while
the wealthy, who could afford horses, were placed in the more prestigious
cavalry. The community, realizing that victory of the Roman Army meant security
at home, was very active in supporting the soldiers, and help to keep the
soldiers’ moral and sense of duty to Rome high.

After acquiring overseas territories through their victories of the second
Punic War of 2001 BC, Rome needed a longer-term standing army to protect its
overseas empire. Citizen conscripts were supplemented with volunteers who
agreed to serve longer terms far from home. Most volunteers were non-Italian
mercenaries from the poorer classes of Rome, who saw military service as a way
to make money and share in potential war profits.

The Roman army of the Late Republic period (88-30 BC) continued to evolve from
conscripted citizen-soldiers to mostly non-Italian, volunteer, soldiers willing
to serve longer sixteen-year terms. By 30 BC, the Citizen conscription system
was fully replaced by a standing, professional, volunteer, army serving 20-40
year terms of active duty. Emperor Augustus created a two-level army built
around legions and auxilia. Each legion contained 5,000 heavy infantry
soldiers, made up exclusively of Roman citizens. Auxilia were similar In size
to the legions, but were comprised of non-citizen inhabitants of the empire,
serving minimum twenty-five year terms. Many of these soldiers were granted
honorary Roman citizenship at the end of their completed service. However, as
the Roman army became less Roman, through the replacement of Roman
citizen-soldiers by professional soldiers and mercenaries, Rome’s military
dominance started to weaken. Foreign mercenaries and professional soldiers were
less physically and emotionally connected to Rome. Non-Romans filled
strategically important roles like border protection and territorial
administration. With no sense of duty to country, the Non-Roman soldiers were
less motivated to help the empire and more motivated by self interests of money
and power, the Roman army started to weaken. Warring factions within the army
allowed foreign intruders to invade, eventually leading to the downfall of the
most powerful empire in ancient history, Rome.

Southern, Pat, The Roman Army: A Social and Institutional History, Oxford,
England: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Heather, Peter, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Macmillan Publishers, 2005. Isbn
0330 491369


“Conscription,” Microsoft Encarta Online
Encyclopedia 2000, accessed Dec. 20, 2017,

Modern History

Modern forms of conscription began roughly the same time in Europe and America.
The French Royal Army of the 17th and 18th centuries mainly consisted of
long-serving volunteers and paid foreign mercenaries. Conscription was resented
and local militia groups were called up only during emergencies. The attitude
towards conscription changed during the French Revolution when citizens
realized that to achieve and maintain the liberty, equality, and fraternity
they wanted, universal military service would be necessary. In 1793, the Levée en masse was passed, as a one time
draft for men 18 to 25 years old. Men were required to register in their towns
and the youngest was called up first, and the others if needed. Later, as a war
with Austria became imminent,  France
instituted conscription in 1798 with the Loi Jourdan. The Jourdan law stated,
“Any Frenchman is a soldier and owes himself to the defense of the
nation”. The law required single men over age 20, to be eligible for
conscription for five years. Men were chosen by ballots in their hometowns. In
1805, the law was changed to allow a drafted man to purchase exemptions that
paid someone else to fulfill his duty. This made the conscription burden rest
mainly on the poor. This law remained the main method for army recruiting in
France throughout the 19th century. Over three million Frenchmen were drafted
between 1800-1813, with up to half a million potential draftee evading or
deserting. Conscription was one of the most divisive issues in Napoleonic
France. By the late 1800s, France returned to relying on long-serving
volunteers and some paid foreign mercenaries, mainly Swiss and German
mercenaries, to fill most military roles, with only limited conscripted


In 1905, 
France passed a law requiring two years mandatory military service for
all men, excusing only those with certain medical conditions. In 1913,  the law was extended to three years military
service, to allow France to match the size of the large Imperial German Army.
Even some Algerian Muslims were required to serve in the French Army. Over the
next 80 years, France maintains some version of conscription to meet its
military needs. In 1996,  France
suspended peacetime military conscription, and 2001 formally announced the end
of compulsory military service.  in the
end of compulsory military Service. Today, all young French men and women are
required to register for possible obligatory service, if the need were to





Keegan, John, The
Second World War. New York: Penguins Books, 2005.


“Conscription,”Microsoft Encarta Online
Encyclopedia 2000, accessed Dec. 20, 2017,



United States


Conscription in the United States is older than
the country itself. Starting back in the colonial period, each colony, except
Pennsylvania, had laws requiring unmarried, adult male citizens, aged 16-60, to
possess a weapon, register on the lists of those available to serve, report
during muster roll call, train periodically with their unit and be ready to
serve. Those exempt included: married men, officials, teachers, and those with
medical conditions. Typically, substitutions were allowed and in some colonies,
even service avoidance fees were accepted. During the Revolutionary War, there
was such a shortage of men in the Continental Army, that the government offered
enticements of cash bonuses and promises of free western land after the war.
The enticements were not successful in getting sufficient soldiers, and General
George Washington was forced to call on several state militias.  However, the militias also fell short in
filling the country’s gap, with their poorly trained men, and short terms of
service. who and after he became president, Washington tried to create a
national conscription process to build a strong and available American
military. Many colonies were opposed to sending their men away, to fight in
another colony, under the command of an officer, they did not know or trust.
Luckily, France entered the war and provided the Americans with much need troops. 


The colonies were so opposed to a national
conscription, that neither Washington nor the four presidents who followed him
were able to convince Congress to pass national conscription legislation. The
Militia Act of 1792 was as close as Congress would go. This act required every
able-bodied, free, white male citizen between 18-45, to train and serve in
their respective state’s militia. The system did not receive full support from
many states and during the war of 1812, when President Monroe convinced Congress
to authorize the call-up of 100,000 state militia members, some states refused
to provide soldiers. The Militia Act of 1792 failed to meet its objectives, and
once again, the country was forced to depend on volunteers and go to war
without sufficient American troops. This same shortage of manpower occurred
again during the Mexican War of 1846-1865.



During the early days of the Civil War, southern
enthusiasm for the cause enabled the Confederate Army to enlist sufficient
volunteer troops to meet their needs. By the end of 1861, over 200,000 men had
enrolled in the Confederate Army. These men, together with volunteers and
militia members, provided the minimum sized army to defend the Confederacy.
While many southerners had eagerly signed up for one-year terms, as the war
dragged on, and the expected, immediate victory looked less likely, southern
troops became disenchanted. Confederate leaders looked to conscription as a way
maintain the army, after enlistment periods ended. Jefferson Davis convinced the
Confederacy Provisional Congress to passed the conscription law of 1862, which
mandated three years of military service from all white men, ages 18-35.
Substitutes were allowed and many exemptions were granted, including men who
served in national and state governments, worked in heavy industry, mining,
communications, and transportation, as well as teachers, ministers, and
druggists.  The provisions were
controversial and abused, suddenly men without any experience became teacher,
druggist, and miners.  In October 1862,
after extensive lobbying by wealthy plantation owners, the Confederate Congress
passed the “Twenty Negro Law,” which gave military exemptions to owners and one
overseer on each plantation with twenty or more working slaves. News of this additional
exemption for the wealthy angered the troops more and decreased the already
injured morale. While conscription was not a complete success for the
Confederacy, it did create a sense of nationalism for the newly declared
Confederate State of America (CSA) and provided necessary men to fill the army
and keep it competitive.



“Conscription,”Microsoft Encarta Online
Encyclopedia 2000, accessed Dec. 20, 2017,


 The North
also depended on conscription to fill its army. The Federal Militia Act of 1862
allowed President Lincoln to draft 300,000 men, but it was never enacted due to
the wide opposition, especially among northern businessmen. Horatio Seymour,
Governor of New York, declare the conscription act unconstitutional. Lincoln
was forced to rely on volunteers, serving three or nine-month terms, to build
his Union Army. As the harsh realities of war started to emerge, the number of
northern men volunteering drastically reduced. Lincoln went back to Congress
for help, and in March 1863, Congress passed the Draft Act (Enrollment Act)
which required all men, black and white, aged 20-45, to register for the draft,
regardless of their profession or if they were married. It also allowed men to
use substitution soldiers, or pay “commutation”, an avoidance fee, of $300 (the
average annual income for a man working in manufacturing during the 1860s) be
excused from service. Like in previous historical examples, these exemptions
meant the heaviest burden for military service fell on poor families and
blacks. In July 1863, angry mobs rioted for four days in New York City against
the draft. They burnt down homes of abolitionists, conscription offices, and
city buildings. They looted shops as tortured blacks and those people refusing
to join the protest were tortured.  Over
one thousand people died during the protests. Governor Seymour was forced to
bring back troops from Gettysburg to control the riots, and comply with the new


Even though it was controversial, the Draft Act of
1863 established the principles that all US citizens were obligated to defend
the country, and the federal government had the right to directly require
citizens to serve in the National Army, without going through the states.
Ironically, it also succeeded in encouraging more northern men to volunteer.
Only two percent of the men who served in the Union Army were drafted. Only six
percent of those who were drafted were forced to enter service. Draft insurance
policies and increases in bounties made it easier for those who were drafted to
find substitutes to serve them. Northern men found it increasingly easy to
avoid serving during the war.



Roster, Bernard, I Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force. Santa Monica:
RAND, 2006.

“Conscription,”Microsoft Encarta Online
Encyclopedia 2000, accessed Dec. 20, 2017,



During World War I (WWI) all of the powerful
fighting nations depended on conscripted soldiers, except Britain which relied
on volunteers until 1916, when it was forced to switch to a draft. The US
passed the Selective Service Act in 1917, with the objective of letting
government draft boards pick the specific troops they wanted and leaving out
the men who more valuable to the economy or wanted nonmilitary roles. Seventy
percent of those drafted in WWI were manual laborers. This was very different
from the upper class and elites who served with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough
Riders of the Spanish-American War. The role of the soldier was starting to be
seen as not suitable for men with other options in life.


On the eve of World War II (WWII), Congress passed
the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, requiring all males between
ages 21-35 to register for the draft. Once the US entered the war, the early
rounds of the draft were done by lottery. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor,
the draft age was dropped to eighteen and men were called by age, oldest being
first. In order to share the responsibility and support for the war among all
Americans, no occupational groups were exempted from the draft. However, since
local draft boards decided who from their town would go, often favoritism was
shown towards married men, sons from wealthy families and those who provided
favors.  This again sent the message that
being a soldier was something to avoid.



Keegan, John, The
Second World War. New York: Penguins Books, 2005.



During the Korean War, volunteers and professional
soldiers made up the army. Even though no one was drafted, the draft acted as a
tool to encourage men to volunteer. Volunteers served three years active duty,
while draftees served twenty-one months active service and five years of
reserve obligation. It is estimated that forty percent of volunteers enlisted
to avoid being drafted.


High levels of opposition to the Vietnam War
caused protests against the draft. These were the first anti-draft riots since
the Civil War. College campuses were filled with students burning their draft
cards and screaming “Hell no, we won’t go!” Thousand of young men left the
country and moved to Canada and Mexico to avoid the draft.

To dampen the protests, President Nixon ordered
the “19-year old draft”, which said men who are not drafted at age nineteen,
would be exempt from future military service unless a war or national disaster
occurred. He granted many other exemptions as well, including conscientious
objectors, hardship cases, clergymen, certain occupation and high school and
college students. Suddenly, the draft seemed to be only for those who could not
think of a way to get out.  To make
matters worse, those who were drafted, tended to get the hardest jobs. In 1969,
one out of six men in the military was a draftee, but eighty-eight percent of
the infantry in Vietnam were draftees. Perhaps the biggest burden men who
served in Vietnam had to bare, was the ungratefulness and disrespect of their
fellow citizen when they returned. The television images of protest against
returning Vietnam soldiers reinforced the negative feels of many Americans
towards the draft.


The Selective Service Act of 1967 expired in June
1973, and the US military became an all-volunteer force. Today, all male
citizens are required to register with the Selective Services System within
thirty days of their eighteenth birthday and are liable for training and
service until age thirty-five.





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enlistment) in the U.S.,” Newshour, PBS, accessed Dec. 10, 2017,


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Flynn, George Q., The Draft: 1940-1973. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993.




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Time of War. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007.

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Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993.

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Crisis in Our Military and Why Selective Service is Wrong for America. New
York: Random House, 2006.

Harding, Lauri, Military Recruiters: At
Issue Series. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2008.

Heather, Peter, The
Fall of the Roman Empire. Oxford, England: Oxford University

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Keegan, John, The
Second World War. New York: Penguins Books, 2005.

Maddow, Rachel, Drift. The Unmooring of
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Portal, Jane, The First Emperor: China’s
Terracotta Army. London: The British Museum Press, 2007


Postgate, J.N., Early
Mesopotamia Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. Oxfordshire:
Routledge, 1992.


Roster, Bernard, I
Want You! The Evolution of the All-Volunteer Force. Santa Monica: RAND,

Roth-Douquet, Kathy, and Frank Schaeffer, AWOL
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it Hurts Our Country. New York: Collins, 2006.

Southern, Pat, The
Roman Army: A Social and Institutional History. Oxford, England: Oxford
University Press, 2007.

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Date Published:
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