Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Pickerill, J. Mitchell

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


Political science


Despite its unpopularity when used during the American Civil War, conscription was used during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Conscription, mandatory military service, required America's male population to be registered and serve the nation. These men, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, fought in these declared and undeclared wars. Conscription laws lapsed, which drastically reduced the size of the military. Members of Congress enacted legislation to initiate new conscription calls to serve the military needs of the nation. President Abraham Lincoln, President Woodrow Wilson, President Franklin Roosevelt, President Harry S. Truman, and President Lyndon Johnson were president when conscription bills were passed by the Congress. Each of these presidents signed the bills into law. While the presidents had not taken an active role regarding the passage of the bill, the bills were signed into law. This project examines the role of the presidents as they delivered proclamations or issued executive orders regarding conscription. Some presidents, however, have been noticeable silent during their terms in office. Presidents verbally encouraged compliance among eligible men and other Americans. These statements often contained strong language that linked compliance to patriotism and a requirement of duty. Other presidents made statements that addressed the fairness of the system while they expressed their intent to improve conscription. Presidents also made statements related to clemency or pardoning of violators. These sources expose the role of the American presidency to elicit support for conscription or empathy for violators. Conscription is an interesting case study to examine amid the theories of critical juncture, path dependency, power of the president, unilateral action, and the Two Presidencies Thesis. In a departure with the militia system, the implementation of federal conscription signifies a critical juncture. In creating this new system, Congress passed legislation to directly conscript men into the United States military. The theories of unilateral action should not be broadly used to explain the actions of all presidents at the time of an active draft. There are, however, few instances in which presidents took unilateral action in regard to conscription. Presidents have followed the action of Congress to draft and pass bills regarding conscription. The Two Presidencies Thesis has been used to explain the deference of Congress to presidents in matters of foreign policy, but conscription remains an example of Congress leading the action. While there are some noted exceptions (such as President Richard Nixon, President Gerald Ford, and President James Carter), presidents have mostly followed Congress rather than take an outward stance regarding conscription.


Advisors: J. Mitchell Pickerill.||Committee members: Andrea Radasanu; Scot Schraufnagel.||Includes bibliographical references.


103 pages




Northern Illinois University

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