After the US declared war upon the Central Powers in April, 1917, President Wilson introduced compulsory conscription. This was after the first six weeks of voluntary enlistment produced only 73,000 recruits, rather than the anticipated million. The Selective Service Act introduced a ‘liability of military service of all male citizens’ initially confined to those between the ages of 21 and 31, later extended to 18–45 years of age. Local boards were set up to institute the draft, based on numbers called in a national lottery. Eligibility for exemption was determined by dependents, reserved occupations or on religious grounds. The highest rates of exemption were granted in Connecticut, the lowest in Mississippi. Registration rates were high, estimated at 98 per cent by the war’s end; around a quarter were rejected on medical grounds. Penalties for evasion, or false claims for conscientious objection, were harsh: instances of the latter incurred 17 death sentences.
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