The Military Draft

By Phillip G. Kayser · 12/1/2015

Over the past few decades I have heard several politicians propose a mandatory military draft. If this were to happen, it would be important for Christians to already know what the Bible says about this subject. I believe there are at least three Biblical reasons why Christians should oppose any future mandatory conscription: 1) While there is a moral duty before God for citizens to defend liberties by fighting in just wars, Deuteronomy 20:5-9 mandates that magistrates allow citizens every opportunity to opt out of any war. 2) The best militaries are composed of people who freely desire to defend their homeland.[1] 3) Other Scriptures related to conscription show that the Biblical ideal is a willing enlistment.[2]

Prior to 1862 the Federal Government did not exercise any power to directly conscript soldiers and certainly had no power to compel men to serve in the military against their will. Instead, from 1778-1862 it raised an army by asking the State Governors to enlist men into the Army. There was an unsuccessful attempt to create a mandatory national draft in 1812, but the very idea was offensive to that generation and was fiercely opposed by Daniel Webster as being a serious form of “despotism.”[3]

The main reasons advanced by Webster against a mandatory conscription were:

  1. The Constitution is a limiting document and strict construction of the document shows that the Federal Government was not given this power.[4]
  2. To grant the Federal Government plenary power of the draft is to turn the government into a master rather than a servant, thus overturning the stated intention of the Constitution.[5]
  3. A general draft bypasses state authority over their militias.[6]
  4. A general draft makes a new military category distinct from the constitutional provision of militias for defense.
  5. A general draft during peace-time bypasses the constitutional purpose for an army, namely "to repel invasion, suppress insurrection, or execute the laws."
  6. Forced conscription was akin to the tyranny that led to the War of 1812 - impressment of American sailors. The issue of conscription shows that infringements of liberties started very early in America and illustrates the importance of resisting such infringements early.

It is my belief that the Conscription Acts of 1862, the Enrollment Act of 1863, the National Security Act of 1916, and the Selective Service Act of 1917 have all been acts that have unconstitutionally stripped states of their militia powers.

The Cox v. Wood decision of the Supreme Court (1918) also unconstitutionally gave the Federal Government excessive power when it claimed that the provision to raise armies gives plenary power that is “not qualified or restricted by the provisions of the Militia Clause.” The transition of the National Guard into a national reserve during the Cold War was also unconstitutional.

Congressional[7] and Supreme Court[8] decisions notwithstanding, strict construction interpretation of the Constitution makes it unlawful for the Federal Government to impose a mandatory direct draft. One additional reason that has been unsuccessfully raised since 1865 is that forced conscription amounts to involuntary servitude, thus violating the thirteenth amendment.

  1. This is illustrated so well in all the valiant men of David who were willing to risk their lives because they believed in the cause. Under Jehoshaphat it says of Amasiah, that he “willingly offered himself to the LORD, and with him two hundred thousand men of valor” (2 Chron. 17:16). God ensured a strong force for Gideon by weeding out all but the best (Judges 7).

  2. Judges 5 gives God’s perspective on the recruitment of soldiers. Verse 2 indicates that responses to a recruiter were voluntary: “When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the LORD.” Verse 9 says, “My heart is with the rulers of Israel who offered themselves willingly with the people. Bless the LORD!”

    Though “the recruiters staff” was exercised in verse 14, the actual number who would enlist depended entirely on the individual “resolves of heart” (v. 15) and “searchings of heart” (v. 16) of the people. Some willingly risked their lives (v. 18) while others refused to serve (v. 17). The state had no recourse against those who refused to serve other than to ask God to judge them (v. 23). This is consistent with my interpretation of Deuteronomy 20, where even lame excuses were legitimately used to escape a draft.

  3. Webster said, “The question is nothing less than whether the most essential rights of personal liberty shall be surrendered, and despotism embraced in its worst form.” For the full transcript of one of his speeches, see

  4. Webster said, “Where is it written in the Constitution, in what article or section is it contained that you may take children from their parents and compel them to fight the battles of any war in which the folly or the wickedness of the government may engage it?” This “strict constructionism” was being replaced by “broad constructionism.” Strict Constructionism says that the Federal Government has only limited, delegated, enumerated powers, and even when powers are given, the extent of such powers must be spelled out in the Constitution. Broad constructionism says that the Federal Government has unlimited powers granted unless those powers are explicitly restricted by the Constitution. Webster described the broad constructionism of the time when he said, “Congress having, by the Constitution, a power to raise armies, the Secretary contends that no restraint is to be imposed on the exercise of this power, except such as is expressly stated in the written letter of the instrument. In other words, that Congress may execute its powers, by any means it chooses, unless such means are particularly prohibited.”

  5. One sample statement: “It is enough to know that [the Constitution] was intended as the basis of a free government, and that the power contended for is incompatible with any notion of personal liberty. An attempt to maintain this doctrine upon the provisions of the Constitution is an exercise of perverse ingenuity to extract slavery from substance of a free government. It is an attempt to show, by proof and argument, that we ourselves are subjects of despotism, and that we have a right to chains and bondage, firmly secured to us and our children by the provisions of our government.”

    The Preamble and Article VII of the Constitution make it clear that the chain of authority is “our Lord,” “we the people,” “the States,” and then the Federal Government. This mandatory draft reverses that order.

  6. “All the authority which this government has over the militia, until recently called into the ranks of an army, for the general purposes of war, under color of a militia power it has exercised. It now possesses the further power of calling into its service any portion of the militia of the States, in the particular exigencies for which the Constitution provides, and of governing them during the continuance of such service. Here its authority ceases.”

  7. In the 1980s several governors attempted to prevent units from their states from deploying to Honduras and El Salvador for training. In response, Congress passed a law “prohibiting a governor from withholding consent to a unit of the National Guard’s being ordered to active duty outside the United States on the ground that the governor objects to the location, purpose, type, or schedule of that duty.” The Supreme Court upheld the Congress’s decision in Perpich v. Department of Defense (1990).

  8. The main Federal court decisions were Arver v. United States, 245 U.S. 366 (1918); United States v. Holmes, 387 F.2d. 781 (7th Cir), cert denied, 391 U.S. 936 (1968); Gilbert v. Minnesota, 254 U.S. 325 (1920)