Top of page

Exhibition Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I

Drafting an Army

The Selective Service Act of 1917 gave the government the power to conscript a national army. Raising an army largely through conscription represented a dramatic new obligation for citizens. Ever mindful of the tension between federal powers and states' rights, the draft occurred nationally, but draft boards at the local level conducted the actual selections. They appealed to local populations by including regional languages such as this example from the Territory of Hawaii issued in Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Chinese (on view). By comparison with the Civil War, in which eight percent of Union soldiers were conscripts, draftees made up seventy-two percent of the United States Army in World War I.