Year
1940
Month Day
September 16

United States imposes the draft

The Burke-Wadsworth Act is passed by Congress on September 16, 1940, by wide margins in both houses, and the first peacetime draft in the history of the United States is imposed. Selective Service was born.

The registration of men between the ages of 21 and 36 began exactly one month later, as Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who had been a key player in moving the Roosevelt administration away from a foreign policy of strict neutrality, began drawing draft numbers out of a glass bowl. The numbers were handed to the president, who read them aloud for public announcement. There were some 20 million eligible young men—50 percent were rejected the very first year, either for health reasons or illiteracy (20 percent of those who registered were illiterate).

In November 1942, with the United States now a participant in the war, and not merely a neutral bystander, the draft ages expanded; men 18 to 37 were now eligible. Blacks were passed over for the draft because of racist assumptions about their abilities and the viability of a mixed-race military. But this changed in 1943, when a “quota” was imposed, meant to limit the numbers of blacks drafted to reflect their numbers in the overall population, roughly 10.6 percent of the whole. Initially, blacks were restricted to “labor units,” but this too ended as the war progressed, when they were finally used in combat.

“Conscientious objector” status was granted to those who could demonstrate “sincerity of belief in religious teachings combined with a profound moral aversion to war.” Quakers made up most of the COs, but 75 percent of those Quakers who were drafted fought. COs had to perform alternate service in Civilian Public Service Camps, which entailed long hours of hazardous work for no compensation. About 5,000 to 6,000 men were imprisoned for failing to register or serve the nation in any form; these numbers were comprised mostly of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

By war’s end, approximately 34 million men had registered, and 10 million served with the military.

READ MORE: The Draft

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Suspected Christian spy is murdered

Phineas Wilcox is stabbed to death by fellow members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois, because he is believed to be a Christian spy. The murder of Wilcox reflected the serious and often violent conflict between the Church of Jesus Christ of ...read more

Gunman kills 12 in D.C. Navy Yard massacre

On September 16, 2013, a 34-year-old man goes on a rampage at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., killing 12 people and wounding several others over the course of an hour before he is fatally shot by police. Investigators later determined that the gunman, Aaron Alexis, a computer ...read more

Mayflower departs England

On September 16, 1620, the Mayflower sails from Plymouth, England, bound for the New World with 102 passengers. The ship was headed for Virginia, where the colonists—half religious dissenters and half entrepreneurs—had been authorized to settle by the British crown. However, ...read more

Mexican War of Independence begins

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, launches the Mexican War of Independence with the issuing of his Grito de Dolores, or “Cry of Dolores.” The revolutionary tract, so-named because it was publicly read by Hidalgo in the town of Dolores, called for the end of 300 years ...read more

Opera star Maria Callas dies

Celebrated soprano Maria Callas dies in Paris at the age of 53. Born in New York City in 1923 to Greek immigrants, Callas demonstrated her talent for singing at an early age. When she was 13, she went to Athens to study under the noted soprano Elvira de Hidalgo. Her first major ...read more

Gandhi begins fast in protest of caste separation

On September 16, 1932, in his cell at Yerwada Jail in Pune, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi begins a hunger strike in protest of the British government’s decision to separate India’s electoral system by caste. A leader in the Indian campaign for home rule, Gandhi worked all his life ...read more

Settlers race to claim land in Oklahoma

On September 16, 1893, the largest land run in history begins with more than 100,000 people pouring into the Cherokee Strip of Oklahoma to claim valuable land that had once belonged to Native Americans. With a single shot from a pistol the mad dash began, and land-hungry ...read more

William Durant creates General Motors

On September 16, 1908, Buick Motor Company head William Crapo Durant spends $2,000 to incorporate General Motors in New Jersey. Durant, a high-school dropout, had made his fortune building horse-drawn carriages, and in fact he hated cars–he thought they were noisy, smelly, and ...read more