Select Service Act of 1917

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Draft Division on the steps of City Hall in Lynn, Massachusetts, June 24, 1918. Courtesy of the Lynn Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

Overall, the Select Service Act of 1917, which mandated enrollment in the military draft for those between twenty-one and thirty years of age, received little pushback. The United States government had learned from its previous mistakes; when it authorized the Enrollment Act of 1863, it brought many new soldiers into the Civil War, but also incited much resistance. As part of that resistance, draftees could hire a substitute to participate or pay a fee to avoid service, and many men of means did just that. Draft evasion was so common that the Civil War is often referred to as a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” In contrast, in the 1917 draft, with no substitute or evasion possible, the pool of draftees represented a broader, more representative cross section of American life.