Conscription in the U.S.


conscription, compulsory enrollment of personnel for service in the armed forces. Obligatory service in the armed forces has existed since ancient times in many cultures, including the samurai in Japan, warriors in the Aztec Empire, citizen militiamen in ancient Greece and Rome, and aristocrats and their peasants or yeomen during the Middle Ages in Europe. In England, compulsory military service was employed on the local level in the Anglo-Saxon fyrd as early as the 9th cent. In the 16th cent. Machiavelli argued that every able-bodied man in a nation was a potential soldier and could by means of conscription be required to serve in the armed forces. Conscription in the modern sense of the term dates from 1793, when the Convention of the French Republic raised an army of 300,000 men from the provinces. A few years later, conscription enabled Napoleon I to build his tremendous fighting forces. Following Napoleon's example, Muhammad Ali of Egypt raised a powerful army in the 1830s. Compulsory peacetime recruitment was introduced (1811–12) by Prussia. Mass armies, raised at little cost by conscription, completely changed the scale of battle by the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The institution of conscription, which was increasingly justified by statesmen on grounds of national defense and economic stimulation, spread to other European nations and Japan in the 19th cent. At the outbreak of World War I, Great Britain adopted conscription and used it again in World War II; it was abolished in 1962. Though little used in the United States prior to the Civil War, conscription was used by both sides in that war and in most large-scale U.S. wars since, often with great controversy. Most of the important military powers of the 20th cent. have used conscription to raise their armed forces. China, because of its large population, has a policy of selective conscription. Impressment is the forcible mustering of recruits. It lacks the scope and bureaucratic form of conscription. Many countries throughout the world, such as Israel, have mandatory military service; a few allow for alternate civilian service or release for conscientious objectors. See also selective service.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Conscription in the U.S. : Selected full-text books and articles

The Military in the Service of Society and Democracy: The Challenge of the Dual-Role Military By Daniella Ashkenazy Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian's tip: "Racial Organization and Integration in Conscript Service" begins on p. 103
Getting US into War By Porter Sargent P. Sargent, 1941
Librarian's tip: "40 Million Conscripts" begins on p. 361, "Conscription Is Opposed" begins on p. 396, and "The Tide Turns against Conscription" begins on p. 426
A More Perfect Union: The Impact of the Civil War and Reconstruction on the Constitution By Harold M. Hyman Alfred A. Knopf, 1973
Librarian's tip: Chap. XIII "Military Government and Conscription: Terrible Machines, Capital When under Good Control"
The Confederate Congress By Wilfred Buck Yearns University of Georgia Press, 1960
Librarian's tip: Chap. VI "Conscription under Attack"
Over Here: The First World War and American Society By David M. Kennedy Oxford University Press, 1982
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "'You're in the Army Now'"
Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War By Christopher M. Sterba Oxford University Press, 2003
Librarian's tip: Part I "Your Country Needs You"
The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics By George C. Rable University of North Carolina Press, 1994
Librarian's tip: Discussion of conscription begins on p. 138
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