On this date of March 3, 1863, the Enrollment Act (a.k.a. the Civil War Military Draft Act) was passed and signed by President Lincoln. The purpose was of course to provide a new source of personnel for the Union Army. This was a very controversial program, requiring the enrollment of men from ages 20-45. Numerous exceptions were made for physical, mental, criminal, and dependency issues. Quotas were set for each legislative district.
To address the unpopularity of this act, particularly for pacifists and people of substance, two provisions were made: substitution and commutation. A person would be exempt if he supplied a sufficient substitute, and the requirement could be commuted upon the payment of $300 … leading to the popular adage, “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.”
Attempts to enforce this act resulted in civil unrest and even rioting, particularly in July in New York City. (see picture)
The measure did increase the level of volunteerism. Actually, only about 162,000 men were brought to the War through the draft – about 6% in total of those who served. And only about 30% of those drafted served personally, with the remainder furnishing substitutes. Paying the commutation fee would be an addition 87,000.