Youth's Battle for the Ballot: A History of Voting Age in America

By Wendell W. Cultice | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Bullets Versus Ballots: A Congressional Concern (1941-52)

Ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors of bullets.

-- Abraham Lincoln

Beginning in 1941, the three-decade movement to enfranchise 18- to 20- year-olds in the United States falls into four discernible time spans: (1) extension of the franchise premised almost solely on youth's coerced citizenship-military position in our society ( 1941-52); (2) the transitional phase, youth's awareness of their political potential in the society ( 1953- 60); (3) youth's involvement in government, based on the ethical theory of suffrage, as a means for the most complete development of their social and political worth ( 1960-68); and (4) youth's demand that they be enfranchised ( 1969-71).

The practice of military-suffrage existed to a limited degree in colonial America; was alluded to during the first half of the nineteenth century; was debated somewhat seriously during the post--Civil War era; and was furtively referred to by political scientists, politicians, and laypeople before World War II.

As the shells that fell on Fort Sumter had signaled the entry of the black man into the electorate body, so, too, would the bombs raining down on Pearl Harbor bring suffrage to young men, as well as to young women, without restriction to skin color or previous condition of servitude.

In the wake of the outbreak of hostilities in both Europe and Asia and with emphasis on preparedness, Congress had enacted the first peacetime draft in 1940. Known as the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, it imposed liability for military service on men between the ages of 21 and 36. Draftees were required to serve only one year on active duty unless

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