1940 September 16

First Peacetime Draft in American History Enacted


On this day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed The Selective Service and Training Act, which was passed by Congress two days earlier. It was the first peacetime draft in American history. Although the law provided a more generous provision for conscientious objectors than the World War I draft law, a large number of conscientious objectors refused to cooperate with the draft during World War II and were convicted and sentenced to prison. The majority were Jehovah’s Witnesses. While prisoners, some COs staged hunger strikes protesting racial segregation in the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut (see August 11, 1943) and censorship in the federal prison at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (see September 29, 1943).

The law also included a section prohibiting racial discrimination. Civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph confronted President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House, on September 27, 1940, over his refusal to fully implement that aspect of the law. A racially segregated draft operated during World War II. It was unsuccessfully challenged by Winfred Lynn (February 3, 1944) and never enforced. Several of the COs who engaged in the hunger strikes in the 1960s became noted civil rights activists and leaders of the anti-Vietnam War movement. President Harry Truman finally desegregated the U.S. armed forces by executive order on July 26, 1948.

Read: David Dellinger, From Yale to Jail: The Life Story of a Moral Dissenter (1993)

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