The 1917-18 military drafts

Here are excerpts from Kennedy about the 1917-18 military drafts. There will be more from him on other subjects, such as the gassing of American troops in France, at a later time.

Wilson might have accepted a comporomise that permitted at least an interim trial to the volunteer system, had not his arch-rival Theodore Roosevelt been busily establishing himself, with strong Republican backing, as the coountry's most visibly eligible volunteer....

Wilson determined to nullify the possibility that Roosevelt might lead a volunteer division to France by largely foreclosing all forms of volunteering....

The first order of business was to compile a national roster of eligible men in the designated age group between 21 and 30. The government quickly decided that the only expedient way to proceed was somehow to induce the men to come forward and register themselves. It was not at all certain that this scheme would work. Memories of Civil War draft riots haunted the adminitration. Senator James Reed of Missouri starkly predicted that the streets of America would run red with blood on registration day, June 5....

Governors, mayors, chambers of commerce, and state council of defense joined in concerted patriotic incantation to urge young men to the registarion places on June 5. Wilson himself struck the keynote of this gigantic propaganda exercise when he proclaimed, some what disingenuously, that the draft was not really a draft but a "selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass." ...

For all its ambiguity, the administration's approach to the distasteful business of military impression was largely successful. Nearly ten million men presented themselves at their local polling places to be registered on June 5, and the day, somewhat to Secretary Baker's amazement, went by without serious incident...

At 10:00 am on July 20, a blindfolded Baker drew the first draft number from a huge glass bowl in a ceremony at the Senate Office Building. College student tellers drew more numbers throughout the afternoon and evening, until by two the following morning a national "order-of-call" list had been compiled and telegraphed to local boards throughout the country...

At first the administration proceeded rather hesitantly against "slackers." By mid-1918 the Justice Department had prosecuted only 10,000 persons for failure to register. But in March of that year the Department inauguarted a new tactic, aimed not at the individual offender but designed to round up thousands of delinquents in one swoop. Justice Department agents launched the first "slacker raid" in Pittsburgh. More raids followed in Chicago, Boston and other cities, most notoriously in New York and norther New Jersey from September 3 thorough 6. In these last raids, armed soldier and sailors joined a canvass that detained more than 50,000 apparently draft-age men who were often apprehended at bayonet point in ball parks, restaurants, or on street corners and made to show their Selective Service documents....

In August, Congress extended the eligible age limits to 18 and 45, a step that called for a massive new registration on September 12 of the estimated 13 million men under 21 and over 30 now suddenly liable to the draft...