Federal Conscription Enacted

Tuesday, March 3, 1863

A notice informing men of the draft. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Enrollment Act, or Civil War Military Draft Act, provides for the first federal military conscription in American history, although conscription operated by local militias had been used since the American Revolution. Every male citizen and any male immigrants filing for citizenship (between the ages of 20 and 45) must enroll for a draft, and a quota of individuals has to be met for each congressional district. African Americans are excluded from the drafts because they are not considered citizens. Most controversially, the act allows drafted men to avoid service by hiring a substitute to take his place or by paying $300 for commutation of the draft, leading critics to label the conflict a "rich man's war, poor man's fight." Some substitutes, called "jumpers," repeatedly enlist to receive payment and then risk dissertion, a violation punishable by execution. The commutation and substitution policy leads to an uproar, particular in the New York City draft riots of July 13-16, 1863.


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