Selective Service System , an independent agency of the United States government. Its purpose is to conduct, when specifically authorized to do so, compulsory registration of all men and to select from the registrants a pool of manpower for induction into the armed forces. It existed during both World Wars and was made permanent in 1951. The agency inducted (drafted) men into the armed forces until 1973, when conscription was ended. However, the Selective Service continues to exist, being maintained at a minimal level of organization with the capacity to expand quickly if military needs require reinstitution of the draft.


The draft was first used in the United States during the Civil War. Both sides originally relied on volunteers, but when these proved to be insufficient, conscription was authorized. The South adopted a draft law in 1862. From its beginning, it was highly unpopular. The poor felt it to be unfair, resenting the provision that men could hire a substitute, which allowed the wealthy to avoid the draft.

"The North instituted its first national conscription law in 1863. There was widespread opposition to it, most seriously in New York, which underwent several days of near-anarchy during the Draft Riots of July, 1863. A person could avoid the draft by hiring a substitute or purchasing an exemption for 300 dollars.

The present Selective Service System dates back to the entrance of the United States into World War I. Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917, authorizing the “selective service" of men 21 through 30 years of age for the duration of the war. Avoiding the mistakes of the Civil War, it prohibited substitutions and the purchase of exemptions. The draft had popular support, partly because it involved the citizenry by making them responsible for conscription through local selective service boards.

Within three weeks of the passage of the Selective Service Act, more than 10 million men were registered, and an army of 700,000 was raised within months. The 1917 draft terminated with the end of the war in November, 1918.

Under the National Defense Act of 1926, the Joint Army and Navy Selective Service Committee was set up to plan for a national draft in the event of another war emergency. When the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was passed by Congress, the committee had already developed a nationwide selective service system that was ready to go into operation within days after the law took effect.

The 1940 law was the country's first peacetime draft. The first registration involved more than 16 million men 21 through 35 years of age.

The 1940 law was repeatedly renewed by Congress during World War II, but was allowed to expire in 1947. By the following year, however, it had become evident that the manpower needs of the armed forces were not being met through voluntary enlistment, and Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1948. The first registration included more than 8 million men aged 18 through 26. Subsequently, registration became came a continual process, requiring all men to register as they reached 18.

Under 1951 amendments, the Selective Service System was made a permanent agency, but its authority to induct men was granted only for specific periods of time by Congress. For the first time, the induction of students was deferred until completion of their studies.

Congress renewed the Selective Service's authority to induct in 1955, 1959, 1963, and 1967 with little change in law. The 1967 act extended such authority to 1971. During the late 1960's the system came under intense criticism by some of the public. Many persons felt the system was unjust, because student deferments tended to permit men from prosperous families to avoid military service through continual deferment. Some opposed Selective Service because it sent men into service at a time when the United States was fighting in the Vietnamese War, a conflict in which many thought the country was wrongfully involved.

In 1969 the period of draft eligibility for registrants was reduced from seven years to one year. Previously, men could be conscripted anytime after their 18th birthday up to the age of 26 (35 if they received deferments), but the new law limited the period of eligibility to a 12-month period beginning (in most cases) with the 19th birthday. There was no need to draft everyone who was eligible each year, so a lottery was used to select the men to be drafted.

Under the Selective Service Act of 1971, most student deferments were eliminated. In 1973, the draft was abolished. Registration was discontinued in 1976 but reestablished in 1980.