Government and the Draft:
Pro and Con

Currently leaning towards "Con" 

The People will debate the war and then either decide to not start it or to stop it if everyone is involved, subject to the draft?  Look at WWI.  As in many wars, the need for war was not fully debated, the costs not fully or fairly assessed but defending honor and visions of early triumph made to look easy.  Once into war, those arguing against it were either shamed into silence as unpatriotic or dealt with as treasonous.  With a conscripted military, getting easily into war, made possible by provoking or falsifying an attack on the "homeland, then getting out of war can take years, with the attendant loss of many, many lives.  Judgment made against the small, perpetual wars quite possible with the standing military comprised of volunteers and contractors.   

'"It may be laid down, as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defence of it, and consequently that the Citizens of America (with a few legal and official exceptions) from 18 to 50 Years of Age should be borne on the Militia Rolls, provided with uniform Arms, and so far accustomed to the use of them, that the Total strength of the Country might be called forth at Short Notice on any very interesting Emergency." 

â?? George Washington, "Sentiments on a Peace Establishment" in a letter to Alexander Hamilton, May 2, 1783; Fitzpatrick 26:389'

"It may be laid down, as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defence of it, and consequently that the Citizens of America (with a few legal and official exceptions) from 18 to 50 Years of Age should be borne on the Militia Rolls, provided with uniform Arms, and so far accustomed to the use of them, that the Total strength of the Country might be called forth at Short Notice on any very interesting Emergency."

– George Washington, "Sentiments on a Peace Establishment" in a letter to Alexander Hamilton, May 2, 1783; Fitzpatrick 26:389 






1.  All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these being Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.... "The Declaration of Independence"

2.  We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfection Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. 

3.  Government of the people, by the people, for the people....   "Gettysburg Address"  (hint regarding limited effectiveness of invasion/occupation)

4.  Taxation:  Taxation is for protection (defense); taxation is the cost of government (and a civil society).  No taxation without representation (consent).

5.  2nd Amendment to the Constitution:  "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  Saul Cornell, author of "A Well Regulated Militia," states that the right to arms implied that people would maintain a militia, a civic duty, a form of draft.  Click here for book description and reviews.  However, the US Supreme Court has recently ruled that the individual's right to arms is primary and not dependent upon the needs of the locality, the state, or the federal government.

6.  Militia in America were traditionally formed in villages and towns for the common defense.  Born free, citizens made a mutual support compact with each other for self-protection.  Service in the local militia for males from age 16 through 30 was obligatory for good, able-bodied citizens. Militia officers were elected, and each member of the militia had a vote (consent) in choosing the officers.  "The Minute Men" by John Galvin.  "Minutemen" from Wikipedia.  The militia commonly mustered at least twice a year for a day of roll-call, inspection, drill, and manuevers.*   

7.  The draft (continuous involuntary service?) is not local, not state, but federal and was first used in the United Sates during the Civil War.  Control by representation diminishing ever further as the organization increases in size, where is the consent of those actually serving?  The  primacy of freedom in/from the US federal government is demonstrated in Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death!" 

8.  The book "Breach of Trust" demonstrates the problems of not having a draft, prime among them:  perpetual war. 


And Daniel Webster, arguing against a proposed draft in 1814 (War of 1812), said "[The draft] is a distinct system, introduced for new purposes, & not connected with any power, which the Constitution has conferred on Congress." 

8.  Benefits of the draft: 

    a.  Going to war:  no need to get the consent of those conscripted:  "The method [the draft] may appear practicable, because it often works when applied to those who are merely hesitant.  When applied to those who are definitely unwilling, it fails, however, because it generates friction and fosters subtle forms of evasion that spoil the effect which is sought.  The test of whether a principle works is to be found in the product.  Efficiency springs from enthusiasm -- because this alone can develop a dynamic impulse.  Enthusiasm is incompatible with compulsion -- because it is essentially spontaneous.  Compulsion is thus bound to deaden enthusiasm -- because it dries up the source.  ...  The modern system of military compulsion was born in France -- it was, ironically, the misbegotten child of [French] Revolutionary enthusiasm.  Within a generation, its application had become so obnoxious that its abolition was the primary demand of the French people following Napoleon's downfall.  ... Twenty-five years spent in the study of war, a study which gradually went beyond its current technique to its well-springs, changed my earlier and conventional belief in the value of conscription.  It brought me to see that the compulsory principle was fundamentally inefficient, and the conscriptive method out of date -- a method that clung, like the ivy, to quantitative standards in an age when the trend of warfare was becoming increasingly qualitative.  For it sustained the fetish of mere numbers at a time when skill and enthusiasm were becoming ever more necessary for the effective handling of the new weapons.  Conscription does not fit the conditions of modern warfare -- its specialized technical equipment, mobile operations, and fluid situations.  Success increasingly depends upon individual initiative, which in turn springs from a sense of personal responsibility -- these senses are atrophied by compulsion.  Moreover, every unwilling man is a germ carrier, spreading infection to an extent altogether disproportionate to the value of the service he is forced to contribute."  Liddell Hart, "Essays on Liberty, Volume 2, FEE, 1954" 

    b.  Avoiding war:  hesitancy in going to war because the people to be conscripted (seeing no or little in the way of motivation from clear, present or personal danger from an enemy) would highly object, likely resulting in riots and disorder.  In practice, however, it can be and has been relatively easy to find/invent "compelling" reasons and pretexts to go to war.  With a draft, especially with an initially enthusiastic population, the momentum of social psychology is such that war becomes inevitable and hard for anyone to stop until it has went its course.  With a draft, the spark of war thus more quickly becomes the raging inferno than had there been no draft.  Later, if unsuccessful prosecution results in an unwon war, the riots and disorder do eventually appear.    

9.  Benefits of a volunteer (free choice) army:

    a.  Enthusiastic, willing participation   

    b.  Specialization of labor

            1.  mirrored in nature: 

"The first brood [ant colony] then goes through a series of operations to breed more workers, and before long you've got soldier ants, worker ants, and foragers, and you've got a teeming colony."  "Edward Wilson (Lord of the Ants)"   

"In the colonies of a few ant species, there are physical castes—workers in distinct size-classes, called minor, median, and major workers. Often the larger ants have disproportionately larger heads, and correspondingly stronger mandibles. Such individuals are sometimes called "soldier" ants because their stronger mandibles make them more effective in fighting, although they are still workers and their "duties" typically do not vary greatly from the minor or median workers [thus being volunteer, specialized citizen-soldiers, so to speak]."  Wikipedia 

            2.  requirements of modern warfare:  high technology demands specialization.   

Note:  All things may not be equal, especially if those in government ever decide to hide/obscure reasons for going to war.  Propaganda could be issued and false flags constructed that rile the populace into war frenzy.  Obviously in this case, any constitutional requirement of Congressional approval of war declarations, even if performed, could be circumvented.  If such circumventions ever happen, it may be relatively easy to quickly mobilize a large draft army and may take years for the truth to be uncovered and grievances set aright, if ever.   




"Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American...[T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people."  — Tench Coxe , The Pennsylvania Gazette [February 20, 1788]

Adam Smith and defense:

"Military Draft and Economic Growth in OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] Countries" -- Military conscription has a statistically significant negative impact (compared to an all-volunteer force) on economic performance.

"Policy Debate: Should the U.S. reinstitute a military draft?"

"Already Adam Smith ["Wealth of Nations"] made a clear case against conscription and found an “irresistible superiority which a well-regulated standing [all-volunteer] army has over a militia [conscription].”12    


"The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."  -Adam Smith


Steady Under Fire

"A History of Sub-Saharan Africa" by Robert O. Collins, James McDonald Burns, p 252:  "One of the central beliefs of the eighteenth century European Enlightenment was in natural law, which forcefully affirmed the universal equality of all men of whatever race or color the corollary of which was that involuntary servitude was anathema to natural law and therefore could not be condoned.  The economists of the Enlightenment opposed slavery; the Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) argued that slavery was an economically inefficient form of labor." 

"Theory of Moral Sentiments"  Penguin Classics 250th Anniversary Edition:  Cover notes:  Best known for his revolutionary free-market economics treatise "The Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith has long been a champion of selfishness.  But in his first book, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," he investigated the flip side of economic self-interest:  the interest of the greater good.  Smith's classic treatise advances ideas about benevolence, justice, and sympathy that have taken on renewed importance in business and politics, offering a vision of social responsibility that remains widely influential two hundred fifty years after its first publication." 

"One of the truly outstanding books in the intellectual history of the world."  -- Amartya Sen, from the Introduction


13th Amendment against involuntary servitude was disallowed by the Supreme Court during the WWII draft as not expedient.

Adam Smith  Needs updating


Some other opinions/research regarding the pros and cons of a military draft:

"Why Our Best Officers Are Leaving"  by Tim Kane
"A Market Alternative

"Today’s Army requires a similar philosophical shift if it is to generate more-entrepreneurial leadership and start retaining its most talented officers. When presented with 10 proposed policy changes, the panel of West Point grads was strongly in favor of five, marginally in favor of three, split on one, and strongly against the last. Dead last was reauthorizing the draft instead of the all-volunteer force, a proposal that drew support from only 14 percent of respondents. So what did they think would help?"


Also of possible relevance/interest:  "Willing Obedience:  Citizens, Soldiers, and the Progress of Consent in America, 1776-1898" by Elizabeth Samet


“Willing Obedience:  Citizens, Soldiers, and the Progress of Consent in America, 1776-1898”  by Elizabeth Samet, Stanford University Press, 2004

 p. 156   “Michael Walzer calls attention to the fact that ‘the more a soldier fights because he is committed to a ‘common cause,’ the more likely we are to regard it as a crime to force him to fight.’  It was a paradox Lincoln perceived only too clearly.  In the aftermath of the summer’s urban violence, in an unpublished letter on the constitutionality of the draft, he dissolved its coercive element by rhetorical sleight of hand.  The letter begins with a meditation on the diversity of motives prompting men to enter the service voluntarily:  ‘patriotism, political bias, ambition, personal courage, love of adventure, want of employment, and convenience, or the opposites of some of these’ (AL, 2: 504-5).  Refusing to romanticize by attributing to all volunteers an idealistic love of country, Lincoln insists that what in actuality united them was a ‘voluntary weighing of motives.’  By implication, those who waited to be drafted had failed to exercise this rifht of deliberation; they had in effect chosen to serve involuntarily.   Suggesting in his conciliatory way that a dislike of conscription implied no lack of patriotism, Lincoln nevertheless exhorted draftees to have the courage to defend the trust of their ‘grand-fathers,’ those ‘iron men’ of his earlier speeches.  Affording the draftees one last out, he proposed that if sufficient numbers volunteered, they could render the draft unnecessary:  ‘Or it not a sufficient number,’ the letter continues, ‘but anyone of you will volunteer, he for his single self, will escape all the horrors of the draft; and will thereby do only what each one of at least a million of his manly brethren have already done.  Their toil and blood have been given as much for you as for themselves.  Shall it all be lost rather than you, too, will bear your part?’ (AL, 2:506)  The fear of the draft was the fear of bondage itself, but the last-minute volunteer, circumventing ‘the horrors of the draft’ by willingly embracing the horrors of the battlefield that so many of his countrymen had already experienced on his behalf, could still participate in the circuit united him to his fellow citizens and to his forefathers.” 

p. 161  “Testifying before the American Freedman’s Inquiry Commission in 1863, [Colonel Thomas Wentworth] Higginson [] painstakingly differentiated the two types of obedience:

“’You asked in regard to the habit of obedience being favorable to military life.  It is favorable and the reverse.  It is unfavorable because it has not hitherto been associated in their minds with the idea of Justice – it has not hitherto been associated in their minds with the idea of Justice – it has been a cringing obedience.  Their idea of obeying their masters was not because it was wise and just, but because he was powerful and could enforce obedience.  I have often had occasion to say that the best slave does not make the best soldier, but on the contrary, the habits of a soldier will never do for a slave.  I have taken unwearied pains to explain to them and I think they understand that they must obey their officers simply because they are officers, and just so every officer must obey me, and I obey General Saxton and he General Hunter.  They understand that thoroughly, and it therefore does not diminish their self-respect. (BME, 58-60)”

p. 164  “To illustrate the workings of such an army, Higginson depicts his soldiers as independent thinkers who posses both an innate sense of liberty and a growing comprehension of their cause.  The degree to which the soldiers of the 1st South Carolina felt an allegiance to principles over persons was made clear from a diary entry of 12 January 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the regiment.  The event, Higginson reports, proved something of a disappointment because his men ‘had been told so often that they were free.’  Afterwards, Higginson suggested the soldiers make a pledge of fidelity ‘to those still in bondage.’  One soldier, he later learned, had ‘refused to raise his hand, saying that his wife was out of slavery with him, & he did not care to fight.  The others of his company were very indignant and shoved him about a good deal, marching back to camp, calling ‘coward.’  Higginson uses this confrontation between the individual and the majority to illustrate his men’s considered fidelity to a principled commitment.

 “It is significant that Higginson frequently refers to the responsibility of command as ‘governing,’ for he considered the endpoint of military training to be a soldier who was capable of self-governance.  The 1st South Carolina’s assumption of provost guard duty at Beaufort signaled their readiness:  ‘what pleases the men is that it is only the military duty hitherto withheld from them, and then it is a soft of self government, guarding the peace of their own town.”54  The double sense of self-government illuminates Higginson’s conception of his mission.  The moment when a black corporal from the 1st South Carolina first leads a white detachment at the changing of the guard becomes symbolic of black soldiers’ capacity for postbellum citizenship and self-possession – a capacity realized specifically through the forms of military discipline.  Like Douglass, Higginson insists that military service awakened rather than instilled the conception of freedom in the contrabands.  To Emerson, whose abolitionist ‘Boston Hymn’ he read to the regiment, Higginson explained that his men fully understood ‘the principles of liberty; on this point their minds are very clear, you cannot entangle them nor sophisticate them.”55


Work in progress.
Copyright 2011-14, William J. Bahr


* "In colonial times, the Thirteen Colonies used a militia system for local defense. Colonial militia laws—and after independence those of the United States and the various states—required able-bodied males to enroll in the militia, to undergo a minimum of military training, and to serve for limited periods of time in war or emergency. This earliest form of conscription involved selective drafts [by the states] of militiamen for service in particular campaigns. Following this system in its essentials, the Continental Congress in 1778 recommended that the states draft men from their militias for one year's service in the Continental army; this first national conscription was irregularly applied and failed to fill the Continental ranks.

"For long-term operations, conscription was occasionally used when volunteers or paid substitutes were insufficient to raise the needed manpower. During the American Revolutionary War, the states sometimes drafted men for militia duty or to fill state Continental Army units, but the central government did not have the authority to conscript. President James Madison unsuccessfully attempted to create a national draft of 40,000 men during the War of 1812." 

Two paragraphs above from "staisil" on  with sources  & 

"A good militia is of such importance to a nation, that it is the chief part of the constitution of any free government. For though as to other things, the constitution be never so slight, a good militia will always preserve the public liberty. But in the best constitution that ever was, as to all other parts of government, if the militia be not upon a right foot, the liberty of that people must perish. The militia of ancient Rome, the best that ever was in any government, made her mistress of the world: but standing armies enslaved that great people, and their excellent militia and freedom perished together. The Lacedemonians continued eight hundred years free, and in great honour, because they had a good militia. The Swisses at this day are the freest, happiest, and the people of all Europe who can best defend themselves, because they have the best militia."
— Andrew Fletcher, A Discourse of Government With Relation to Militias [1698]



To obviate the problem of a standing army, how about the idea of a militia, with required service, as many of the colonists had, from age 16 to 60?  This would involve the populace in war deliberations, not just the young subject to draft or a professional/mercenary army.  Also consider the Swiss model.

Contractors?  "There is nothing that gives a man consequence, and renders him fit for command, like a support that renders him independent of everybody but the State he serves."  -- George Washington's letter to the president of Congress, Heights of Harlem (24 September 1776)





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