Honest Abe

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For the first time in United States, the Union and the Confederacy issued the federal military draft. The two armies, after two grueling years of fighting, needed more men and therefore they issued the draft. In the Union, President Lincoln issued the Enrollment Act on March 3, 1868. This Act allowed male citizen and immigrants between 20 -45 to be drafted into the Union Army. This controversial act was faced with harsh criticism. One of them was that this was beneficial only to the rich and bad for the poor. However, without this bill, the Union army would not have been able to gather enough troops to fight Robert E. Lee and the Confederates.

'Rich man's war, poor man's fight'. The Enrollment Act did just that. Although the draft sent thousands of men to war, many wealthy men avoided this. If a wealthy man from was chosen from the state lottery to serve in the war, he had three options. He could either risk his life and die in the war, or he could hire a substitution or pay $300 to escape the draft. Of course the wealthy did not risk their life, but instead paid their way out of service. Substitution worked by the drafted man paying the substitute a sum of money to serve in place of him. This policy was continued till the end of war and many men used this method. Commutation, which is basically paying off the government $300. The federal government allowed this method since they needed money for the war. In our world, $300 does not seem much but in those days, the yearly wage was about $500. Clearly, the average man between 20-45 did not have that much money to give the federal government.

The Enrollment Act sounds very biased against the poor, but is it really? First of all, paying for substitutes was used widely in European and American wars. The American Revolution, which freed the United States from Britain, used substitution. So the idea of substitution has been used already for centuries. Also, there were many special way that a person could be exempt from the draft. Men who were telegraph operators, railroad engineers, judges, and certain other government employees were exempt. Also, men with mental disabilities, imperfect vision in the right eye, lack of front teeth and molars, and loss of a finger on your right hand exempt you from the draft. Lastly, if a draftee, volunteered, he avoided the stigma of compulsory service and he was eligible for the bounty of $100 offered by the federal government and additional bounties from the state and local communities. Most importantly, around 500,000 thousand men went to fight for the Union because of the draft. This was about 25% of the Union Army. Without the draft, the Union could have easily lost the war to the Confederates or the war could have gone on longer, resulting in more deaths and money.

The Civil war forced President Lincoln to make some very hard choices. The signing of the draft was a tough choice but he did what he felt was best for the nation. Lincoln's job was to bring the civil war to a quick end and this certainly achieved that goal.





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