Draft Limits of 21 to 35 Established (9-12-40)

The Pittsburgh Press (September 12, 1940)


60-Day Delay Abandoned; Final Passage Due Tomorrow

By Ronald G. Van Tine, United Press Staff Writer

Washington, Sept. 12 –

The Senate today receives a final draft of the first U.S. peacetime conscription bill requiring all men from 21 to 35 years of age, inclusive, to register for military training.

War Department officials estimated that 16,500,000 men would be affected by registration provisions of the compromise measure, but that only about five million would be subject to a year’s compulsory military service.

Senate and House conferees, after two days of deliberation, eliminated from the bill the so-called Fish Amendment which would have postponed the draft for 60 days pending trial of a voluntary enlistment system.

Final Votes Near

Chairman Morris Sheppard of the Senate group said he expected to file the conference report in the Senate this afternoon, but that it was impossible to determine if it could be acted upon today. House Representatives said the report probably could not be approved finally until tomorrow. President Roosevelt, it was said, might sign it Saturday.

The conferees meet again today to go through the formality of approving what Senator Sheppard referred to as “the clean language” in the final draft.

No controversies remain, and last night, after the 11-man group had completed nearly six hours’ discussion, there was laughter and back-slapping in the conference room.

Age Provision a Compromise

“I am very well satisfied,” Senator Sheppard said, while Chairman Andrew J. May of the House Committee said he was “glad it’s over.”

Adoption of the 21-35 age limit represented a substantial victory for the Senate, which had been urged to accept the 21-45 age span approved by the House. The Senate, in its version of the measure, provided for registration of all men between 21 and 31.

The Senate and the Administration also came out on top in the dispute over the 60-day “delay” clause. Mr. Roosevelt and his Republican opponent Wendell Willkie both denounced it. The House conferees abandoned it in a burst of enthusiasm for the Senate’s position and Representative Dewey Short (R-MO), the only member who voted for it previously, was heard to shout:

I voted for this amendment in the House, but I now recede!

House Proposal Kept

The House succeeded in sustaining its amendment under which the government could take over and operate on a “fair rental” basis private plants whose owners refused to accept defense contracts. But the Senate conferees, led by Senator Warren R. Austin (R-VT) wrote safeguards into the section to comply with Supreme Court rulings on the government’s commandeering rights.

Under the revised provision, the President, through the War or Navy Departments, could not take over plants unless he declared that “the public danger is immediate, imminent and impending” and that the emergency is so acute that it is impossible to resort to any other means of supply. The conferees also sought to appease manufacturers and businessmen by providing that they can sue the government if they are not satisfied with the “just compensation.”

The conferees also:

  1. Eliminated a Senate amendment providing that any person required to give up his job within 30 days prior to enactment of the bill should be deemed, for re-employment purposes, to have been discharged as the result of the impending draft. The job protection clause – requiring employers to restore jobs to conscripts after service – was not affected by this change.

  2. Accepted a House provision granting draft exemptions until June 30, 1941, to students entering colleges this year.

  3. Retained Senate provisions giving the Department of Justice a voice in determining the legitimacy of objections raised against the draft by “conscientious objectors.”

  4. Tossed out a Senate provision placing upon Army contracts for guns, tanks and other supplies the same profit limitations applying on airplane contracts.

  5. Re-wrote the housing provisions to guarantee that no person should be inducted into military service until arrangements have been made for adequate shelter and sanitary facilities.

  6. Eliminated the House language under which an employer could not hire an alien to replace an employee drafted for service, but retained the restriction against the employment of a member of the Communist Party or the German-American Bund.

As Congressional leaders strove to send the history-making legislation to the White House, it was understood that President Roosevelt probably will fix the date of registration shortly after he signs the bill.

Holiday Expected

Mr. Roosevelt is expected to proclaim the day a national holiday, with schools and other public institutions closed to facilitate the vast registration task.

War Department officials, who will be in charge of mobilizing the nation’s manpower, have indicated “R-Day” would be about Oct. 15. Previous plans were to register prospective conscripts Oct. 1.

If registration day is set in mid-October, it is believed the first contingent of 400,000 conscripts will not be called to the colors until about Nov. 15 – or at least until after Election Day, Nov. 5. Earlier Army plans had contemplated an initial mobilization about Oct. 15.


A lot of folks who were drafted liked it because we were in a depression and they just needed jobs. It’s amazing to think that in 1932 our military was either smaller than Guatemala’s army or only slightly larger. It was also mainly focused on Latin America and not Europe or Asia.

Henry Ford was probably the biggest industrialist who opposed the expansion of the military. His fellow conservative, Harold Gray, clearly supported expanding the military in Little Orphan Annie. So you definitely had a split among conservatives on this issue.

The Left’s reaction is what’s particularly interesting. While generally most Democrats supported FDR’s call for a Peacetime Draft enthusiastically, the Communist Party and its fellow travelers did not. With the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact still in force, Stalin was directing CPUSA to oppose militarization. Many anti-military propaganda projects backed by CPUSA began at this time. The most famous of these works is “Johnny Got His Gun” by Dalton Trumbo. Lesser known is that Pete Seeger was writing tons of anti-War songs at this time.


According to Wendell Willkie (emphasis mine):

If I am elected, I promise you jobs. I promise honest work and honest wages. The only jobs now are made by the defense program. Hitler is requiring us to do that. Why has Hitler struck France and England? Because they were weak and economically unsound.