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Special Message to the Congress on Draft Reform.

April 23, 1970

To the Congress of the United States:

The draft has been with us now for many years. It was started as a temporary, emergency measure just before World War II. We have lived with the draft so long, and relied on it through such serious crises, that too many of us now accept it as a normal part of American life.

It is now time to embrace a new approach to meeting our military manpower requirements. I have two basic proposals.

--The first deals with the fundamental way this nation should raise the armed force necessary to defend the lives and the rights of its people, and to fulfill its existing commitments abroad.

--The second deals with reforming the present recruitment system--part volunteer, part drafted--which, in the immediate future, will be needed to maintain our armed strength.


On February 21, I received the report of the Commission on an All-Volunteer Armed Force, headed by former Defense Secretary Thomas S. Gates. The Commission members concluded unanimously that the interests of the nation will be better served by an all volunteer force than by a mixed force of volunteers and draftees, and that steps should be taken in this direction.

I have carefully reviewed the report of the Commission and have discussed the subject with many others knowledgeable in this field. The preeminent consideration in any decision I make involving the American Armed Forces must be the security of the United States. I have had to weigh carefully how our responsibilities in Vietnam and our overall foreign policy would be affected by ending the draft. I also had to consider the budgetary impact, and the possible effect on our economy.

On the other hand, we have all seen the effect of the draft on our young people, whose lives have been disrupted first by years of uncertainty, and then by the draft itself. We all know the unfairness of the present system, no matter how just we try to make it.

After careful consideration of the factors involved, I support the basic conclusion of the Commission. I agree that we should move now toward ending the draft.

From now on, the objective of this Administration is to reduce draft calls to zero, subject to the overriding considerations of national security.

In proposing that we move toward ending the draft, I must enter three cautions: First, the draft cannot be ended all at once. It must be phased out, so that we can be certain of maintaining our defense strength at every step. Second, existing induction authority expires on July 1, 1971, and I expect that it will be necessary for the next Congress to extend this authority. And third, as we move away from reliance on the draft, we must make provisions to establish a standby draft system that can be used in case of emergency.

To move toward reducing draft calls to zero, we are proceeding with a wide array of actions and proposals:

--This Administration proposed, and the Congress has approved, a six percent across-the-board pay increase for Federal employees, retroactive to the first of this year. This raises the pay of members of the Armed Forces by $1.2 billion a year.

--I shall propose an additional 20 percent pay increase for enlisted men with less than two years of service, to be effective January 1, 1971. This action, if approved by the Congress, will raise the annual pay of enlisted men with less than two years of service by $500 million a year, and is a first step in removing the present inequity in pay of men serving their first two years in the Armed Forces. The cost for Fiscal Year 1971 will be $250 million.

--In January 1971 I shall recommend to the Congress, in the Fiscal Year 1972 budget, an additional $2.0 billion for added pay and other benefits-especially for those serving their first two years--to help attract and retain the personnel we need for our Armed Forces.

--I have today directed the Secretary of Defense to give high priority to the expansion of programs designed to increase enlistments and retention in the services. Further, I have directed that he give me a report every quarter on the progress of this program. Other agencies have been directed to assist in the effort.

--I am also directing the Secretary of Defense to review the policies and practices of the military services to give new emphasis to recognition of the individual needs, aspirations and capabilities of all military personnel.

No one can predict with precision whether or not, or precisely when, we can end conscription. It depends, in part, on the necessity of maintaining required military force levels to meet our commitments in Vietnam and elsewhere. It also depends on the degree to which the combination of military pay increases and enhanced benefits will attract and hold enough volunteers to maintain the forces we need, the attitude of young people toward military service, and the availability of jobs in the labor market.

However, I am confident that, barring any unforeseen developments, this proposed program will achieve our objective.

The starting pay of an enlisted man in our Armed Forces is--taking the latest raise into account--less than $1,500 a year. This is less than half of the minimum wage in the private sector. Of course, we should add to this the value of the food, uniforms and housing that is provided free. But it is hardly comparable to what most young men can earn as civilians. Even with special allowances, some married enlisted men have been forced to go on welfare to support their families.

The low pay illustrates another inequity of the draft. These men, in effect, pay a large hidden tax--the difference between their military pay and what they could earn as civilians. Therefore, on the grounds of equity alone, there is good reason to substantially increase pay.

While we focus on removing inequities in the pay of men serving their first few years in the military, we must not neglect the career servicemen. They are the indispensable core of our Armed Forces. The increasing technological complexity of modern defense, and the constantly changing international situation, make their assignments ever more difficult--and critical. We shall continue to make every effort to ensure that they are fairly treated and justly compensated.

There is another essential element-beyond pay and benefits, beyond the best in training and equipment--that is vital to the high morale of any armed force in a free society. It is the backing, support and confidence of the people and the society the military serves. While government can provide the economic justice our men in arms deserve--moral support and backing can come only from the American people. At few times in our history has it been more needed than today.

The consideration of national security contains no argument against these historic actions; the considerations of freedom and justice argue eloquently in their behalf.


As we move toward our goal of ending the draft in the United States, we must deal with the draft as it now exists. This nation has a right to expect that the responsibility for national defense will be shared equitably and consistently by all segments of our society. Given this basic principle, I believe that there are important reforms that we must make in our present draft system.

It is my judgment, and that of the National Security Council, that future occupational, agricultural and student deferments are no longer dictated by the national interest. I am issuing today an Executive Order [11527] to direct that no future deferments shall be granted on the basis of employment. Very few young men at age 19 are in such critical positions that they cannot be replaced. All those who held occupational deferments before today, as well as any who may be granted such deferments from pending applications filed before today, will be deferred as they were previously.

This same Executive Order will also eliminate all future paternity deferments--except in those cases where a local draft board determines that extreme hardship would result. All those who held paternity deferments before today, as well as any who may be granted deferments from pending applications filed before today, will be deferred as long as they are living with and supporting child dependents.

I am also asking the Congress today to make some changes in the Military Selective Service Act of 1967.

The first would restore to the President discretionary authority on the deferment of students seeking baccalaureate degrees. If the Congress restores this authority, I shall promptly issue a second Executive Order that would bar all undergraduate deferments, except for young men who are undergraduate students prior to today. These young men would continue to be eligible for deferment under present regulations during their undergraduate years. This Executive Order would also end deferments for young men in junior college, and in apprentice and technical training programs, except for those who entered before today. Men participating in such programs before today would continue to be deferred until they complete them.

Should Congress pass the legislation I have requested, those young men who start college or enter apprentice or other technical training today or hereafter, and subsequently receive a notice of induction, will have their entry into service postponed until the end of the academic semester, or for apprentices and trainees, until some appropriate breaking point in their program.

Even if college deferments are phased out, college men who through ROTC or other military programs have chosen to obligate themselves to enter military service at a later date would be permitted to postpone their active duty until completion of their study program.

In each instance, I have spoken of the phasing out--not the elimination---of existing deferments. The sudden elimination of existing deferments would disrupt plans made in good faith by individuals, companies, colleges and local school systems on the basis of those de ferments.

My second legislative proposal would establish a direct national call, by lottery sequence numbers each month, to improve the operation of the random selection system. We need to ensure that men throughout the country with the same lottery number have equal liability to induction.

Under the present law, for example, a man with sequence number 185 may be called up by one draft board while a man with a lower number in a different draft board is not called. This can happen because present law does not permit a national call of young men by lottery sequence numbers.

Some local draft boards may not have enough low numbers to fill their assigned quota for the month. As a result, these local boards are forced to call young men with higher numbers. At the same time, other draft boards throughout the country will have more low numbers than necessary to fill their quotas.

I am recommending to the Congress an amendment to suspend this quota requirement while the random selection system is in effect. If the Congress adopts this amendment, I will authorize the Selective Service System to establish a plan under which the draft call each month will be on a national basis, with the same lottery sequence numbers called throughout the country. This will result in a still more equitable draft system.

As long as we need the draft, it is incumbent upon us to make it as fair and equitable as we can. I urge favorable Congressional action on these legislative proposals for draft reform.


While I believe that these reforms in our existing draft system are essential, it should be remembered that they are improvements in a system to be used only as long as conscription continues to be necessary.

Ultimately, the preservation of a free society depends upon both the willingness of its beneficiaries to bear the burden of its defense--and the willingness of government to guarantee the freedom of the individual.

With an end to the draft, we will demonstrate to the world the responsiveness of republican government--and our continuing commitment to the maximum freedom for the individual, enshrined in our earliest traditions and rounding documents. By upholding the cause of freedom without conscription we will have demonstrated in one more area the superiority of a society based upon belief in the dignity of man over a society based on the supremacy of the State.


The White House

April 23, 1970

Note: On the same day, the White House released background material on the impact of the President's proposed draft reform on individual registrants and the transcript of a news briefing on the message by Roger T. Kelley, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower and Reserve Affairs), and Dr. Curtis W. Tarr, Director, Selective Service System.

Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania and Representative Leslie C. Arends of Illinois discussed the message during a news briefing following a Republican leadership meeting with the President that morning. The transcript of the briefing was also released.

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress on Draft Reform. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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