Proclamation 2425: Selective Service Registration Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In the summer of 1940, recognizing the growing military threat from Germany, Congress passed a compulsory military service law. Signing the bill into law, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation outlining the new law's provisions. Upon receiving notification, every able-bodied male citizen would report to a designated location for duty, a system that Roosevelt argued was equitable and democratic. The purpose of the new law, Roosevelt said, was to prepare the nation for war in the event that it spilled from Europe across the Atlantic, threatening the United States. Once that threat had abated, Roosevelt said, American soldiers would return to their jobs and private lives.

Summary Overview

In the summer of 1940, recognizing the growing military threat from Germany, Congress passed a compulsory military service law. Signing the bill into law, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation outlining the new law's provisions. Upon receiving notification, every able-bodied male citizen would report to a designated location for duty, a system that Roosevelt argued was equitable and democratic. The purpose of the new law, Roosevelt said, was to prepare the nation for war in the event that it spilled from Europe across the Atlantic, threatening the United States. Once that threat had abated, Roosevelt said, American soldiers would return to their jobs and private lives.

Defining Moment

By 1940, Adolf Hitler's long-stated goal of expanding Germany's geographic domain was being pursued with great success. After violating the Treaty of Versailles (1919) by inserting troops into the demilitarized Rhineland as well as absorbing Austria, in 1939, the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia and then invaded Poland (an act that prompted France, Britain, and several British Commonwealth countries to declare war). In 1940, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg also fell to the Nazis. In June of that year, France fell, with a puppet government established in Vichy. In Asia, Japan, which had already invaded the Chinese region of Manchuria in 1931, continued its advance toward Beijing and into Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. (In 1940, Japan would join forces with Germany and Italy through the Tripartite Pact.)

By 1940, virtually every corner of the world except the Western Hemisphere was living under wartime conditions. After France fell, Great Britain represented the last viable opponent for Germany. (Russia had entered into a nonaggression pact with Germany in 1939.) German bombers began sorties over London and other key targets in England during the fall of 1940. Offshore, German U-boats (submarines) started sinking merchant ships en route from the United States to Britain. Fear spread that the war was about to spill off the European continent and move across the Atlantic. A similar fear existed regarding Japan, which was gaining strength and territory in the Pacific.

Weary from World War I and separated from Europe and East Asia by thousands of miles of ocean, the United States remained officially neutral. A majority of Americans simply felt that the growing crisis in Europe, while troubling, did not represent an immediate threat to their hemisphere, particularly since no declaration of war had been issued, nor had there been any direct attacks on American interests.

Nevertheless, President Roosevelt and many members of Congress acknowledged the risks involved with being unprepared should such an attack take place. The US Army had been significantly reduced after World War I, and the US Navy was largely occupied with the Japan crisis. Thus, emergency legislation was introduced in Congress to raise a military force capable of addressing the wartime threat through a system of selective compulsory service. There was some debate over the measure, but it largely took place outside Washington—advocates such as Senator James Francis Byrnes of South Carolina and opponents such as New York pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick went on the radio to argue about the timeliness and content of the proposal. However, in the summer of 1940, the bill moved quickly through Congress. In September, President Roosevelt signed the measure and issued a proclamation to the nation outlining the threat and how citizens would be required to address it.

Author Biography

Franklin D. Roosevelt was born on June 30, 1882, in Hyde Park, New York. He attended Harvard University, graduating in 1903 after only three years. After studying law at Columbia University, Roosevelt practiced law in New York before entering politics as a state senator in 1910. Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the navy by President Woodrow Wilson, serving in that role from 1913 to 1920. In 1921, he was diagnosed with polio, a crippling disease that limited his mobility. In 1928, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York, earning reelection in 1930. In 1932, he won the presidency, gaining reelection three times thereafter, during which time he oversaw the country's recovery from the Great Depression and its efforts during most of World War II. On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died from a stroke while on vacation in Georgia.

Historical Document

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

Whereas the Congress has enacted and I have this day approved the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which declares that it is imperative to increase and train the personnel of the armed forces of the United States and that in a free society the obligations and privileges of military training and service should be shared generally in accordance with a fair and just system of selective compulsory military training and service; and

Whereas the said Act contains, in part, the following provisions:

Sec. 2. Except as otherwise provided in this Act, it shall be the duty of every male citizen of the United States, and of every male alien residing in the United States, who, on the day or days fixed for the first or any subsequent registration, is between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-six, to present himself for and submit to registration at such time or times and place or places, and in such manner and in such age group or groups, as shall be determined by rules and regulations prescribed hereunder.

Sec. 5. (a) Commissioned officers, warrant officers, pay clerks, and enlisted men of the Regular Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, the Public Health Service, the federally recognized active National Guard, the Officers' Reserve Corps, the Regular Army Reserve, the Enlisted Reserve Corps, the Naval Reserve, and the Marine Corps Reserve; cadets, United States Military Academy; midshipmen, United States Naval Academy; cadets, United States Coast Guard Academy; men who have been accepted for admittance (commencing with the academic year next succeeding such acceptance) to the United States Military Academy as cadets, to the United States Naval Academy as midshipmen, or to the United States Coast Guard Academy as cadets, but only during the continuance of such acceptance; cadets of the advanced course, senior division, Reserve Officers' Training Corps or Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps; and diplomatic representatives, technical attachés of foreign embassies and legations, consuls general, consuls, vice consuls, and consular agents of foreign countries, residing in the United States, who are not citizens of the United States, and who have not declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, shall not be required to be registered under section 2 and shall be relieved from liability for training and service under section 3 (b).

Sec. 10 (a) The President is authorized?

(1) to prescribe the necessary rules and regulations to carry out the provisions of this Act;

(4) to utilize the services of any or all departments and any and all officers or agents of the United States and to accept the services of all officers and agents of the several States, Territories, and the District of Columbia and subdivisions thereof in the execution of this Act;

Sec. 14 (a) Every person shall be deemed to have notice of the requirements of this Act upon publication by the President of a proclamation or other public notice fixing a time for any registration under Section 2.

Now, Therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, under and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the aforesaid Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, do proclaim the following:

1. The first registration under the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 shall take place on Wednesday, the sixteenth day of October, 1940, between the hours of 7 A.M. and 9 P.M.

2. Every male person (other than persons excepted by Section 5 (a) of the aforesaid Act) who is a citizen of the United States or an alien residing in the United States and who, on the registration date fixed herein, has attained the twenty-first anniversary of the day of his birth and has not attained the thirty-sixth anniversary of the day of his birth, is required to present himself for and submit to registration. Every such person who is within the continental United States on the registration date fixed herein shall on that date present himself for and submit to registration at the duly designated place of registration within the precinct, district, or registration area in which he has his permanent home or in which he may happen to be on that date. Every such person who is not within the continental United States on the registration date fixed herein shall within five days after his return to the continental United States present himself for and submit to registration. Regulations will be prescribed hereafter providing for special registration of those who on account of sickness or other causes beyond their control are unable to present themselves for registration at the designated places of registration on the registration date fixed herein.

3. Every person subject to registration is required to familiarize himself with the rules and regulations governing registration and to comply therewith.

4. The times and places for registration in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico will be fixed in subsequent proclamations.

5. I call upon the Governors of the several States and the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia to provide suitable and sufficient places of registration within their respective jurisdictions and to provide suitable and necessary registration boards to affect such registration.

6. I further call upon all officers and agents of the United States and all officers and agents of the several States and the District of Columbia and subdivisions thereof to do and perform all acts and services necessary to accomplish effective and complete registration; and I especially call upon all local election officials and other patriotic citizens to offer their services as members of the boards of registration.

7. In order that there may be full cooperation in carrying into effect the purposes of said Act, I urge all employers, and Government agencies of all kinds? Federal, State and Local-to give those under their charge sufficient time off in which to fulfill the obligation of registration incumbent on them under the said Act.

America stands at the crossroads of its destiny. Time and distance have been shortened. A few weeks have seen great nations fall. We cannot remain indifferent to the philosophy of force now rampant in the world. The terrible fate of nations whose weakness invited attack is too well known to us all.

We must and will marshal our great potential strength to fend off war from our shores. We must and will prevent our land from becoming a victim of aggression.

Our decision has been made.

It is in that spirit that the people of our country are assuming the burdens that now become necessary. Offers of service have flooded in from patriotic citizens in every part of the nation, who ask only what they can do to help. Now there is both the opportunity and the need for many thousands to assist in listing the names and addresses of the millions who will enroll on registration day at school houses, polling places, and town halls.

The Congress has debated without partisanship and has now enacted a law establishing a selective method of augmenting our armed forces. The method is fair, it is sure, it is democratic-it is the will of our people.

After thoughtful deliberation, and as the first step, our young men will come from the factories and the fields, the cities and the towns, to enroll their names on registration day.

On that eventful day my generation will salute their generation. May we all renew within our hearts that conception of liberty and that way of life which we have all inherited. May we all strengthen our resolve to hold high the torch of freedom in this darkening world so that our children and their children may not be robbed of their rightful inheritance.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

Glossary

attachés: in a military context: to place on temporary duty with or in assistance to a military unit

hereunder: under or below this; subsequent to this; under authority of this

Document Analysis

President Roosevelt signed into law a bill that required every able-bodied American man between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-six to report for active duty in the military. At the time of the signing of the bill, no declaration of war had occurred, nor had any attack taken place. In his proclamation, Roosevelt does not speak to any specific threat, but instead focuses on the equitable and administrative characteristics the system will manifest as long as it is in place. Still, Roosevelt makes clear his desire to raise the military in an expedient and efficient manner, particularly as the war in Europe continued to worsen and spread across that continent. He does not argue for or against US intervention in that conflict, but emphasizes that the American military should be trained and prepared to defend the nation.

Central to the Roosevelt's proclamation is the theme of equality. Any American man between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-six could be called upon to report for duty, Roosevelt says, and it is expected that the call to duty would be answered. Any man could be called, he adds—whether from the city or rural America. Roosevelt states that selective service is fair, democratic, and “the will of our people.” He makes this point to underscore that every congressperson seriously weighed its options (taking into consideration the input of his or her constituents) and delivered a compulsory service bill that would raise an army reflective of every walk of life in the United States.

Roosevelt also highlights the administrative features of the new selective service system. The system defers to states to establish registration centers to which those who were selected would report. Elected officials and other civic organizations and leaders, if not called up for service, would be expected to volunteer their time to ensure that these centers operate efficiently. Furthermore, the system ensures that those reporting for duty would not lose their full-time jobs; federal, state, and local government agencies would work to ensure that recruits would have employment once their service was complete.

In raising a suitable armed force, Roosevelt does not speak to a direct threat to the United States. By 1940, there had been no declaration of war, nor any attack on American soil. Still, Roosevelt says, the United States can no longer turn a blind eye to the growing war in Europe. There was a legitimate threat to the international community, he says. Those European nations ill-prepared to defend themselves when war came have been soundly defeated and conquered, Roosevelt suggests. Therefore, it is imperative for the United States to prepare itself to repel such threats or else suffer the same fate as other nations. Compulsory service makes that capability possible, he says. Once such a global threat no longer exists, Roosevelt adds, the large force this system will create can be reduced, sending Americans back to their private lives.

Essential Themes

The selective compulsory service bill generated some controversy during the legislative process. Proponents such as those in the Roosevelt administration argued that it was fair, administratively optimal, and absolutely necessary in light of the growing threat of war. Opponents decried it as undemocratic and alarmist. By the time the bill landed on President Roosevelt's desk, he signed it quickly. In this proclamation, he argued that the law was sound, equitable, and essential to US security.

With regard to the system's fairness, Roosevelt said that every American would play a role, regardless of his or her social standing or socioeconomic background. Roosevelt argued that the system, which would be in operation in every state and Puerto Rico, was the most democratic and fair recruitment policy that could be created in a timely manner.

In this proclamation, Roosevelt made clear that time was of the essence. Although no declaration of war had been issued, nor was any attack on the United States imminent, he said, the country could no longer exist in isolation. If the nation did not act quickly to raise, train, and position a formidable armed force, along with the infrastructure to support that military, the United States could find itself susceptible to attack. He invited Americans to witness what happened to France, the Netherlands, Poland, and other countries as evidence of the risks of unpreparedness when a force such as Nazi Germany was spreading rapidly in Europe. Though some considered Roosevelt's stance alarmist, a little more than a year later the United States was a full participant in World War II. The closest the war came to the American mainland was Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941. Nonetheless, the event triggered American involvement in the conflict on two fronts, underscoring the foresight exhibited by American leaders in passing a bill of conscription.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • “Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt.” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, 2014. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
  • Burns, James MacGregor, and Susan Dunn. The Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America. New York: Grove, 2001. Print.
  • Fosdick, Harry E. “The Country Is Being Rushed Pell-Mell into Military Conscription.” Vital Speeches of the Day. Vol. 6. N.p.: n.p., 1939–40. Ibiblio.org, n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
  • “Franklin D. Roosevelt.” WhiteHouse.gov. White House, n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
  • Stimson, Henry L. “Our Duty Is Clear: Compulsory Service Must Be Adopted.” Vital Speeches of the Day. Vol. 6. N.p.: n.p., 1939–40. Ibiblio.org, n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
  • “World War II Time Line.” National Geographic. Natl. Geographic Soc., 2001. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
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