Skip to content
Interpreting the Evidence

Letter to the National Council of Defense from Wrecking Company Inquiring about Draft Exemptions

  1. Load Letter to the National Council of Defense from the Merritt & Chapman, Derrick & Wrecking Company Inquiring about Draft Exemptions for Employees, World War I, August 6, 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
In a letter addressed to the National Council of Defense, the Merritt & Chapman, Derrick & Wrecking Company asks that their employees be exempt from the draft, "on the account of this Company doing so much Government work," August 6, 1917.

Historical Context
On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act was passed authorizing the President to increase temporarily the military establishment of the United States. The Selective Service System was responsible for the process of selecting men for induction into the military service. These organizations, or boards, were responsible for registering men, classifying them, taking into consideration needs for the military, as well as life at home.
The local boards were given broad discretion to decide deferments and exemptions. This discretion led to wide divergence in interpretations. On the other hand, local decision-making helped assure support for the draft system. Deferments were granted for the following:
(a) Persons already in the armed forces or national guard [Only these men were also exempt from registration]
(b) Officers of the federal and state legislatures, judiciary and executive branch
(c) Clergy and theological students
(d) Those who were physically or "morally" deficient
(e) Those with dependents
(f) Persons whose occupations were necessary for maintaining military or national interests

Essential Question
How do civilians contribute to a war effort?

Check for Understanding
Summarize the purpose of the letter and evaluate the validity of the company's claim.

Historical Challenges
In what ways would a draft harm a country in a time of war? Is it fair that certain government officials were exempt from war?

Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a letter to the state requesting exemption from the draft based on one of the reasons mentioned in the historical background. Be sure to describe your unique circumstances and the reason for your request.