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Congress Issues the Conscription Act

Between July 13 and 16, 1863, the largest riots the United States had yet seen shook New York City. In the so-called Civil War draft riots, the city's poor white working people, many of them Irish immigrants, bloodily protested the federally-imposed draft requiring all men to enlist in the Union Army. The rioters took out their rage on their perceived enemies: the Republicans whose wealth allowed them to purchase substitutes for military service, and the poor African Americans who were their rivals in the city's labor market and for whom the war was being faught. African Americans, who were not recognized as citizens, were excluded from conscription.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all able-bodies male citizens of the United States, and persons of foreign birth who shall have declared on oath their intention to become citizens under and in pursuance of the laws thereof, between the ages of twenty and forty-five years, except as hereinafter excepted, are hereby declared to constitute the national forces, and shall be liable to perform military duty in the service of the United States when called out by the President for that purpose.

That any person drafted and notified to appear may furnish an acceptable substitute to take his place in the draft; or he may pay to such person as the Secretary of War may authorize to receive it, such sum, not exceeding three hundred dollars and thereupon such person so furnishing the substitute, or paying the money, shall be discharged from further liability under that draft. And any person failing to report after due service of notice, as herein prescribed, without furnishing a substitute, or paying the required sum therefor, shall be deemed a deserter, and shall be arrested by the provost-marshal and sent to the nearest military post for trial by court-martial, unless, upon proper showing that he is not liable to do military duty, the board of enrolment shall relive [sic] him from the draft.

Source | "An act for enrolling and calling out the national Forces, and for other Purposes," Congressional Record, 37th Congress, 3rd Session, Ch. 74, 75, 3 March 1863; from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History,
Creator | U.S. Congress
Item Type | Laws/Court Cases
Cite This document | U.S. Congress, “Congress Issues the Conscription Act,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed February 21, 2024,

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