The First Draft: FDR Signs Selective Training And Service Act

By | September 14, 2020

test article image
(U.S. War Department)

Conscription, or the draft, is something that every young man in America thinks about when they turn 17. In order to do anything—get a driver's license, vote, or just move freely throughout the states without a hassle—you've got to sign up for the draft, whether we're at war or not. This hasn't always been the case: For most of the country's young life, Americans have only had to sign up for the draft when there's an actual war on, but in 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Selective Training and Service Act, creating the first draft in the United States.

History Of The Draft In The U.S.

FDR didn't just create the first draft out of thin air. Conscription has always been a thing, but it was never used in peacetime. During the colonial era, able-bodied men were drafted into local militias, and in the Civil War, Southerners and Northerners were obligated to their respective armies. During World War I, Woodrow Wilson drew up a draft order after only 73,000 men joined the military of their own volition. The thing that differentiates all of these drafts from the one FDR drew up in 1940 is that they ended eventually. In FDR's vision of conscription, the draft never stopped.

test article image
(Associated Press)

Support For The Draft

After Germany conquered France in 1940, it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the young men of the U.S. would head off to war. That summer, LIFE Magazine conducted a series of surveys of young people to find out where they were at with this whole war thing, and 68.9% of them said that military training should be compulsory. Meanwhile, 66% of Americans believed that Germany would be a major problem for the U.S. following the fall of France, and 71% of Americans wanted "the immediate adoption of compulsory military training for all young men."