The Proclamation for the First Draft Registration, 1917

World War I Draft Registration Card for Cole Porter, 5 June 1917.

World War I Draft Registration Card for Cole Porter, 5 June 1917. The Draft Registration Card of Cole Porter Indicates That He Worked for a Music Studio at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Record Group 163: Records of the Selective Service System (World War I), 1917 - 1939. Series: Draft Registration Cards, 1917 - 1918. National Archives and Records Administration are ID # 641783. GGA Image ID # 18dc04d492

The Proclamation of the President for the first registration of 1917 was prepared before the passage of the act and was issued on the day the law became effective.

It recited at great length in the legal language of the statute the main provisions regarding it and called on all the registrants in the various classes to register.

At the conclusion of the official part of the proclamation, when it presumably was completed, there was added by the President a highly characteristic statement of the reasons for the proclamation and an appeal to the patriotism of the country.

One might very well have thought that such a statement should have introduced the proclamation rather than have been appended to it. This is particularly so as we recall the words of this appeal.

“It is,” said President Wilson, “in no sense a conscription of the unwilling; it is rather selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass.” The memorable words of this proclamation are properly included here :

The power against which we are arrayed has sought to impose its will upon the world by force. To this end it has increased armament until it has changed the face of war. In the sense in which we have been wont to think of armies there are no armies in this struggle.

There are entire nations armed. Thus the men who remain to till the soil and man the factories are no less a part of the army that is France than the men beneath the battle flags. It must be so with us. It is not an army that we must shape and train for war; it is a nation.

To this end our people must draw close in one compact front against a common foe. But this can not be if each man pursues a private purpose. All must pursue one purpose.

The Nation needs all men; but It needs each man, not in the field that will most pleasure him, but in the endeavor that will best serve the common good.

Thus, though a sharpshooter pleases to operate a triphammer for the forging of great guns, and an expert machinist desires to march with the flag, the Nation is being served only when the sharpshooter marches and the machinist remains at his levers. The whole Nation must be a team in which each man shall play the part for which he is best fitted.

To this end, Congress has provided that the Nation shall be organized for war by selection and that each man shall be classified for service in the place to which it shall best serve the general good to call him.

The significance of this cannot be overstated. It is a new thing in our history and a landmark in our progress. It is a new manner of accepting and vitalizing our duty to give ourselves with thoughtful devotion to the common purpose of us all.

It is in no sense a conscription of the unwilling ; it is rather selection from a nation which has volunteered in mass. It is not more a choosing of those who shall march with the colors than it is a selection of those who shall serve an equally necessary and devoted purpose in the Industries that lie behind the battle line.

The day here named is the time upon which all shall present themselves for assignment to their tasks. It is for that reason destined to be remembered as one of the most conspicuous moments in our history.

It is nothing less than the day upon which the manhood of the country shall step forward In one solid rank in defense of the ideals to which this Nation is consecrated. It is important to those Ideals no less than to the pride of this generation in manifesting its devotion to them that there be no gaps in the ranks.

It is essential that the day be approached in thoughtful apprehension of its significance and that we accord to it the honor and the meaning that it deserves.

Our industrial need prescribes that it be not made a technical holiday, but the stern sacrifice that is before us urges that it be carried In all our hearts as a great day of patriotic devotion and obligation when the duty shall lie upon every man, whether he is himself to be registered or not, to see to it that the name of every male person of the designated ages is written on these lists of honor.

The Doubts and Fears of National Authority

In spite of the confident note of the preliminary planning for the new Selective Service law and the stirring words of President Wilson’s appeal in the first proclamation, there apparently was some doubt, hesitation, and fears in the minds of those in Washington charged with the administration of the law.

A week after the law was passed and the proclamation issued, President Wilson issued a second proclamation apparently designed to stop a movement out of the country of citizens liable for registration. This appears to be an unusual thing to make the basis of a proclamation, hut it was so nevertheless.

After a “WHEREAS” citing the passage of the law and the issuance of the first proclamation, he says:

Now therefore I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, do hereby give warning that all persons subject to registration under the provisions of the said act of Congress and the proclamation of the President who withdraw from the jurisdiction of the United States for the purpose of evading said registration, expose themselves upon their return to the jurisdiction of the United States, to prosecution for such evasion of registration pursuant to section 5 of the Act of Congress approved May 18,1917r which enacts that “Any person who shall willfully fail or refuse to present himself for registration or to submit thereto as herein provided, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall, upon conviction in a district court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, be punished by imprisonment for not more than one year, and shall thereupon be duly registered.”

Two days later Attorney General Gregory called attention to other laws in addition to the Selective Service law penalizing those who attempted to discourage registration or conspire to hinder, prevent, or delay Federal Agencies from putting a law into effect. The Attorney General’s statement is as follows :

My attention has been called to the circulation of propaganda designed to discourage registration in accordance with the provisions of the Army bill approved May 18, last Such action is a plain violation of the law, and the Department of Justice is prepared to prosecute promptly any person guilty of such conduct. The officers and agents of the department throughout the country have been instructed to watch carefully for infractions of this law.

The complete registration of the persons required to register on June 5,1917, answered fully these doubts and fears. The registration was accomplished without incident in any section of the country and reports began to arrive in Washington that night about the total number registered and the cooperation of the people in complying with the law. Within 48 hours practically a complete report was available.

The Intermediate Proclamations

The two subsequent proclamations requiring the registration of those who had become 21 years old were entirely official and formal in character. No flaming words or ringing appeals were added to them.

Excerpts from "Chapter III: The Registrations of 1917-18," in Registration and Selective Service, Special Monograph No. 4, Selective Service System, 1945, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1946, pp. 12-15.

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