When Was the First Military Draft Initiated?

The U.S. armed forces operated on an all-volunteer basis as of 1973.
... Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

Military conscription has been in existence for centuries, and has often been controversial. Numerous examples of military conscription exist in the ancient world, but in the United States, the first instance of a draft occurred during the American Revolution. Thereafter, military drafts were expanded in the U.S. to include peacetime conscription, but the practice has since ended.

1 Ancient Examples

The first military drafts existed in the ancient world. For example, ancient Greek city-states, including Sparta, required all young men to serve several years in citizen militias. In the Roman Republic, conscription was regarded as a privilege, but was still compulsory for men between 17 and 60.

2 In the United States

As early as the American Revolution, a type of military draft existed. The Continental Congress requested that all states initiate a draft in 1778, but many did not follow through. The Militia Act of 1792 was the first conscription law passed by the U.S. Congress, though it was lightly enforced. During the Civil War, the Federal Militia Act of 1862 was passed, but it was suspended before it was fully implemented. The Draft Act of 1863 was then initiated, though draft evasion was rampant. Later during World War I, the draft was re-initiated under the Selective Service Act, and the first non-war, peacetime, conscription law was enacted in 1940.

Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan, Textbooks.com, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.