The Selective Service Act was drafted and passed by the US Congress barely 6 weeks after the US declared its intent to help its allies including Britain, France, Russia, and Italy in the war against Germany during World War I. The need for the act came towards the start of 1917 when the US’ pledge to support the allies in the battle against Germany saw President Woodrow Wilson seek congressional support to reinvent the US army. When the allies contacted President Wilson asking for military support in the form of solders on the ground, the president had at his disposal 100,000 soldiers who were not enough to protect the country and go on the offensive with the allies against Germany.
The Selective Service Act
As a solution, the president agreed with Congress to pass the Selective Service Act in May of 1917 which mandated all men in the country who were between 21 and 30 years to be enlisted for military training and service. Within a few months after passage of the act, over 10 million men across the US had enlisted to train and serve in the military.
The enrollment of the men for service was, however, the first hurdle that the country needed to pass through. Within constrain of time, the men needed to be trained and delivered to the frontlines in the war where their relief was much needed for the allies to win the war. With concerted efforts from the progressive Democrats and the then secretary of war, Newton Baker, the US was able to develop from scratch a formidable military, fully equipped with all the arms, skills and competency to stand against the Nazi forces of Germany.
To meet and surpass the demands, Congress later passed amendment legislation seeking to exert a change on the mandated age limits to men who were between the ages of 18 and 45 years. This led to the expansion of the volunteers who got enrolled in the army from 10 million to 24 million Americans. However, in the interest of having a formidable troop that was well-capable, further selection and elimination process led to qualification of only 4.8 million men. The enrollment enhanced the levels of patriotism across the population and created a new wave of hope among the allies.
To strengthen the army further, the law required that all persons enlisted complete their term without requiring any provisions of being discharged before their full term. This provision sealed a loophole that servicemen used during the civil war where enlisted men could buy or substitute their way of the army.
Outcome of the Act
The provisions of the act enhanced the membership of Americans in the army as over 4.8 million servicemen were enlisted to fight. The number of black Americans also tremendously advanced as over 2.3 million of them were drafted to serve. The huge force created by the US gave way for the allies to strengthen their position in the war, something that motivated their spirits to fight even harder. As a result, German troops were pushed back further into their country, resulting in a victory for the allies and the US.
Indirectly, the act also transformed the US in proportional ways. The huge vacuum created by the exit of the newly-enlisted US servicemen and the involvement of the US in the war created some jobs for the civilians back at home. There were enlisted to serve back at home in the agricultural fields, the factories, and other areas that served to ensure that the US army was well supported regarding medical, food, and combat supplies. The provisions of the Selective Service Act were therefore so successful that they remained in force until this day where their provisions are anchored in the US Constitution under Article I, Section 8.