Selective Service Act Passed - 9,586,508 Men Enroll

The creation of a new American Army, adequate in numbers to cope if need be with the full strength of the Germanic Allies, was now the chief task of Congress.

Deeming it impractical to depend upon volunteer enlistments in raising such an army, President Wilson presented a modified form of conscription for the approval of Congress. The Selective Service Bill, as it came to be known, encountered much opposition in Congress and elsewhere, but it was finally passed on May 16, 1917, by a vote of 478 to 32 in both Houses, receiving the presidential signature two days later.

Under the provisions of this Act, all male citizens and intended citizens, between the ages of 21 and 30, were subject to call and required to register their names for possible enrollment. The bill also authorized President Wilson to raise the Regular Army by enlistment to its maximum strength of 287,000 men, to draft into the service of the United States all members of the National Guard and the National Guard Reserve, and raise by selective draft an additional force of 500,000 men (or so much as he might deem necessary) and another 500,000 at his discretion, this force to be known as the National Army.

June 5, 1917 was fixed, by proclamation, as Registration Day, save in Alaska, Hawaii and Porto Rico, where a time for registration was named later. The President increased the number of men to be drafted for the United States First Army from 500,000 to 687,000, in order to use drafted men to bring the Regular Army to its full strength of 287,000 and the National Guard to its full strength of 400,000. Before the draft registration was begun, there were 200,000 enlistments in the Regular Army, while the National Guard was recruited to 450,000, three times its former strength. At the same time the Navy personnel was increased to 100,000 as an emergency measure, and 100,000 additional men were secured by September.

Socialists Oppose the Draft

Socialists, slackers, cowards, pacifists and pro-Germans started many anti-draft demonstrations in the larger cities as Registration Day drew near. In Boston, a parade of Socialists was met by a group of sailors, marines and soldiers, who tore the anarchist flags into shreds and compelled the Socialist band to play the Star Spangled Banner. In Philadelphia, thirteen Socialists were arrested while distributing anti-draft pamphlets, and a raid on their headquarters later on brought some 49 slackers into the Government net.

Tons of leaflets and pamphlets, denouncing conscription and urging Americans not to register, were issued from Socialist headquarters. The Socialist party in Cleveland, describing the Selective Draft as a step toward "in voluntary servitude," pledged moral- and financial support to all who refused to "become the victims of the ruling classes." Under this persuasion, numbers of Socialists failed to register, but they were afterward caught and each dissentient in turn was sent to prison for one year.

9,586,508 Young Americans Enrolled

The Draft Law became effective on June 5, 1917, with Gen. Enoch H. Crowder as Provost Marshal in charge of the conscription, assisted by Captains Hugh S. Johnson and Cassius M. Powell. On that day, 9,586,508 young men of military age presented themselves before 4,557 registration boards throughout the country and enrolled their names.

The order in which the registrants were to be called on to determine their availability for military service was settled by a great central lottery at Washington on July 20th. The first quota under the draft was 687,000 men. On July 30, 1917, the National Army accepted the first selected man under the draft plan, and by September 1, 1917, approximately 180,000 men were passed by the Registration Boards and ready for training. In addition to the 687,000 men enrolled, there were added 465,985 men when the quotas were apportioned to the states and territories, making a total enrollment of 1,152,985.

Rebellion in Oklahoma

After registration, and as the time approached when drafted men must appear before their local boards for physical examination, hundreds of I. W. W. members, tenant-farmers, Indians and negroes in Oklahoma organized as the "Working Class Union" and the "Jones Family," determined not to be drafted. They cut telegraph wires, burned bridges, destroyed crops and coerced some peaceful citizens into joining their ranks, spreading terror over three counties. They were soon run down, however. Several of the resisters were killed, 200 were taken prisoners and held under the charge of treason to the United States Government. All those who had evaded their duty were automatically inducted into the military service and made subject to military law, which imposed the death penalty for desertion.

448 Cantonments and Reserve Depots

The first great military operation was the construction in this country of large cantonments and camps. for the mobilization and initial training of the troops. In three months, the construction division of the Quartermaster General's Department had built 16 cantonments, each one practically a city, comprising about 1,400 separate buildings, and providing quarters for 47,000 men. By November 1,1918, the original 16 projects had grown to 448, including only major undertakings.

Army of 1,500,000 in the Making

With the intention of evolving the entire quota by the end of September, 1917, before which time it was thought the cantonments would be ready to receive them, the Selective Service Board proceeded to call and examine over 1,500,000 men. The first registrant was assimilated by the Army as early as July 30, 1917, and by September 1, 1917, the local boards stood ready to deliver 180,000 men, the first three per cent of the entire quota, to the cantonments.

The Selective Service Act or Selective Draft Act (P.L. 65-12, 40 Stat. 76) was passed by the Congress of the United States on May 18, 1917. It was drafted by Brigadier General Hugh Johnson after the United States entered The Great War. It authorized President Woodrow Wilson to raise an infantry force from the general population of no more than four divisions, and it created the Selective Service System. When the United States first entered World War I, the total size of the US army was around 110,000.

While President Woodrow Wilson, at first wished to use only volunteers to supply the troops needed to fight, it soon became clear that this would be impossible. Indeed, three weeks after war was declared, only 32,000 had volunteered for service. Receiving heavy criticism from his own party for destroying democracy at home while fighting for it abroad, Woodrow Wilson called for a draft. With the assistance of his Secretary of War, Newton Baker, he managed to pass the bill even with the opposition.

By the guidelines set down by the Selective Service Act, all males aged 21 to 30 were required to register for military service. (The age limit was later changed to include all men aged 18 to 45.) 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. Due to the effort to incite patriotic fervor, the World War I draft had a high success rate, with less than 350,000 men ”dodging” the draft.

Differences from Previous Drafts

The biggest difference between the draft instated by the Selective Service Act of 1917 and the Civil War draft was that replacements could no longer be hired to fight in a person’s place. In the Civil War, people who did not desire to fight could hire a replacement. However, because it was expensive to hire someone, only very rich people could afford to do so. This resulted in a disproportionately low number of rich men fighting in the war. There was not a specific draft order for the draftee to be put into the service.

However, Section Three of the Selective Service Act of 1917 stated:

No person liable to military service shall hereafter be permitted or allowed to furnish a substitute for such service; nor shall any substitute be received, enlisted, or enrolled in the military service of the United States; and no such person shall be permitted to escape such service or to be discharged there from prior to the expiration of his term of service by the payment of money or any other valuable thing whatsoever as consideration his release from military service or liability there to.