Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Enrollment Act, enacted March 3, 1863
The Enrollment Act, enacted March 3, 1863, also known as the Civil War Military Draft Act, was legislation passed by the United States Congress during the American Civil War to provide fresh manpower for the Union Army

A form of conscription, the controversial act required the enrollment of every male citizen and those immigrants who had filed for citizenship between ages twenty and forty-five. 

Federal agents established a quota of new troops due from each congressional district. 

In some cities, particularly New York City, enforcement of the act sparked civil unrest as the war dragged on, leading to the New York Draft Riots on July 13–16. 

The policies of substitution and commutation were controversial practices that allowed drafted citizens to opt out of service by either furnishing a suitable substitute to take the place of the drafted, or paying $300. Both of these provisions were created with the intention of softening the effect of the draft on pacifists, the anti-draft movement, and the propertied classes. The result however was general public resentment of both policies. These two practices were major points of contention among the general public and led directly to the slogan "rich man's war, poor man's fight."

The problem with substitution was that it provided substitutes with powerful incentives to desert soon after enlisting. Career "jumpers" made a living off of enlisting as a substitute, collecting their compensation, deserting before their units were dispatched to the front, and repeating the process. This problem was well known to the military commanders who regularly saw the same recruits repeatedly. In addition, troops furnished through substitution were considered to be of an inferior quality in comparison to regulars and volunteers.

Commutation (paying $300 to escape the draft) was created in an effort to keep substitution prices low. If commutation were not instated, the price of a substitute would have quickly soared past $300. In addition to suppressing substitution prices, commutation was intended to raise money for the war effort. While commutation did raise war funds, it was often a criticism of the draft that it was better at raising money than troops. The rationalization for commutation was that unwilling troops were ineffective, so the government may as well extract funds from the unwilling if it couldn't get proficient service. Despite the good intentions behind commutation, it was one of the most hated policies of the war.

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