The Selective Service Act or Selective Draft Act, 40 Stat. 76 was
passed by the Congress of the United States on 18 May 1917 creating the
Selective Service System. The Act gave the President the power to draft
The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was passed by
the Congress of the United States on September 6, 1940 becoming the first
peacetime conscription in United States history. This Selective Service Act
required that men between the ages 21 and 30 register with local draft boards.
The age range was later changed to 18-45.
World War I
In his war message on April 2, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson pledged all the
nation's "material resources" to the Allied war effort. But what the Allies most
urgently needed were fresh troops. Few Americans, however, rushed to volunteer
for military service.
By the end of WWI, some 24 million men had registered, and some 2.8 million
had been drafted. In fact, more than half of the almost 4.8 million Americans
who served in the armed forces were drafted.
World War II
In May 1940 Congress appropriated $2.5 billion for Franklin D. Roosevelt's
program of rebuilding military infrastructure, but Roosevelt did not feel the
country was ready for a peacetime draft. However, on 20 June the Burke-Wadsworth
Bill was brought before Congress. The Burke-Wadsworth Bill was drafted by
Grenville Clark of the Military Training Camps Association, a World War I
Signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, the Burke-Wadsworth Act the
first peace-time draft in United States history. Under the Burke-Wadsworth Act,
all American males between twenty-one and thirty-five years of age registered
for the draft. The government selected men through a lottery system. If drafted,
a man served for twelve months. According to the Burke-Wadsworth Act's
provisions, drafted soldiers had to remain in the Western Hemisphere or in
United States possessions or territories located in other parts of the world.
The act provided that not more than 900,000 men were to be in training at any
one time, and it limited service to 12 months.
Section 5(g) of the Burke-Wadsworth Bill contained a provision for
- Nothing contained in this Act shall be constructed to require any person
to be subject to combatant training and service in the land and naval forces
of the United States who, by reason of religious training and belief, is
conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.
- Any such person claiming such exemption from combatant training and
service because of such conscientious objections whose claim is sustained by
the local draft board shall, if he is inducted into the land or naval forces
under this Act, be assigned to noncombatant service as defined by the
President, or shall if he is found to be conscientiously opposed to
participation in such noncombatant service, in lieu of such induction, be
assigned to work of national importance under civilian direction.
Civilian oversight of the program for conscientious objectors was a
significant improvement over WWI policy where the military was responsible for
COs, resulting in mistreatment such as short rations, solitary confinement and
phyical abuse. Abusive practices were so extreme that two Hutterite men died
from their treatment at Alcatraz and Fort Leavenworth.
Congress did not define work of national importance nor was the
country, while gearing up for war, planning for the infrastructure necessary to
handle thousands of conscientious objectors. This would ultimately be left to
the historic peace churches.
The draft began in October 1940. By the early summer of 1941, President
Franklin Roosevelt asked the U.S. Congress to extend the term of duty for the
draftees beyond twelve months. The United States House of Representatives
approved the extension by a single vote. The Senate approved it by a wider
margin, and Roosevelt signed the bill into law.
Many of the soldiers drafted in October 1940 threatened to desert once the
original twelve months of their service was up. Many of these men painted the
letters "O," "H," "I," and "O" (OHIO) on the walls of their barracks in protest.
These letters were an acronym for "Over the hill in October," which meant that
the men intended to desert upon the end of their twelve months of duty.
Desertions did occur, but they were not widespread. Following the Japanese
Attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, thousands of American men
and women swelled the United States' military's ranks by volunteering for
After the United States entered World War II, a new selective service act
made men between 18 and 45 liable for military service and required all men
between 18 and 65 to register. The terminal point of service was extended to six
months after the war. From 1940 until 1947—when the wartime selective service
act expired after extensions by Congress—over 10,000,000 men were inducted.
A new selective service act was passed in 1948 that required all men between
18 and 26 register and that made men from 19 to 26 liable for induction for 21
months' service, which would be followed by 5 years of reserve duty.
Though the United States halted conscription in 1973, the Selective Service
remains as a means to register American males upon reaching the age of 18 as a
contingency should the measure be reintroduced. The registration requirement was
suspended in April 1975, but reinstituted in 1980.