What Is the Selective Service Act?

The Selective Service Act in the United States gives the president the power to draft citizens into the military. The first Selective Service Act was passed by Congress on May 18, 1917 in response to World War I. Since 1917, several amendments to the Act have passed, but the Selective Service System remains in effect as of 2014.

The pressures of World War I and the United States' relatively small peacetime army led to the creation of a formalized conscription process for the U.S. military. At the beginning of World War I, the U.S. army consisted of approximately 100,000 men, far too few to aid allies adequately in the growing conflict overseas. In an effort to increase the size of the army, President Woodrow Wilson pushed Congress to adopt conscription as an official practice, and the Selective Service Act was passed. The act required all men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for military service. By the end of World War I, around 2.8 million men had been drafted to serve in the military. During the Vietnam War, the Selective Service Act was a subject of great controversy, but the Act was upheld. Currently, the United States requires all men between the ages of 18 and 25 to register with the Selective Service System. Any man failing to do so can be denied jobs or benefits such as financial aid for college.