Sunday, March 3, 2013

Congress Establishes First Federal Military Draft, March 3, 1863

150 years ago today, Congress established the first Federal military draft in U.S. history.  The Enrollment Act required all male citizens—and immigrants who had filed for citizenship— between the ages of twenty and forty-five to register for the draft. Each congressional district was assigned a quota that it was required to meet through draft lotteries  held on July 11, 1863..  The law exempted felons, the physically or mentally unfit, senior government officials and judges, only sons of needy families or widows, and most controversially those affluent individuals who opted to furnish a paid substitute for up to $300.  The draft, which was then unprecedented in U.S. history,  generated a significant backlash most famously expressed in the July 1863 New York City draft riots.

A Draft Wheel used to pick names during a draft lottery now on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. (Courtesy Smithsonian Institution)

John  Hay, one of President Lincoln's private secretaries, is shown on the above July 1863 list as a Washington resident subject to conscription under the Enrollment Act.