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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
World War I Unit

Lesson 2: A Question of Honor - The Selective Service

Background Information for Teachers

 

Even before America entered the war, President Woodrow Wilson had embarked on a "preparedness program" to marshal the resources of the nation for war if it should come. The program included plans to stimulate industrial production, augment the number of merchant and naval ships, and increase the size of the army. All were underway by the time the United States declared war on April 6, 1917. Efforts in each of these areas would have a strong impact on the state: Birmingham was a leading steel producer, Mobile was an important shipbuilding center, and Alabama would contribute 74,000 draftees to the cause.

 

While Alabamians united with their fellow Americans behind the war effort, some doubts remained about their country's involvement in a fight primarily between distant European powers. Some were suspicious of the blind patriotism of those who urged American participation, while others had reservations about the legality or necessity of conscription, the first "draft" of Americans to fight since the Civil War. They expressed these concerns to their representatives in Washington, D.C., who themselves had some misgivings about America's entry into the war.

 

Learning Objectives
Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:
  1. Define conscription.
  2. Define jingoes and jingoism.
  3. Relate the chronological order of documents to the events of the specified time period.
  4. Describe the preparedness program as presented by President Wilson.
  5. Describe the importance of a non-voting portion of the population to a democracy.
  6. Analyze the importance of economic concerns upon national policy.
  7. Synthesize a response to the issue of conscription.

Suggested Activities
  1. Make a copy of each of the following documents for each student.
  2. Ask the students to arrange the documents in chronological order.
  3. The students should discuss the following questions:
    1. Define the term conscription.
    2. Using reference material, describe the preparedness program as outlined by Pres. Wilson. What were some of the major concerns of Alabamians concerning the preparedness program as advocated by President Wilson?
    3. Define jingoes and jingoism as used by Senator Bankhead and by Mrs. C. J. Barnes in her letter to Senator Bankhead.
    4. Why did Senator Bankhead support the increase of naval forces and oppose the increase of army forces? Would the shipbuilding activities of Mobile and the steel production activities of Birmingham have any impact on his decisions? Why or why not? Would the rural composition of Alabama have any impact upon his decisions? Why or why not?
    5. Does Senator Bankhead's stance on conscription change by 1917? Why or why not?
    6. Women got the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Do you think that the letters from Alabama women were important to Senator Bankhead? Why or why not? Did he have an obligation to answer the concerns of women in Alabama? Why or why not?
    7. What is a petition? What is the purpose of a petition? What is the purpose of this petition? What can you determine about the people who have signed the petition of May 10, 1917? What additional information would you wish to have if this petition had been mailed to you?
  4. Assign each student one of the following roles. Have the students write a letter to Senator Bankhead which would explain their positions concerning conscription prior to the declaration of war. Remind students that educational and social backgrounds, as well as age, sex, religious beliefs and economic ability will affect the stance of the role which they are assigned concerning this issue.
    1. Farmer, age 21
    2. Sharecropper, age 45
    3. Wife of cotton merchant, age 32
    4. Wife of farmer, age 22
    5. Widow of merchant, age 56
    6. Widow of farmer, age 42
    7. County sheriff, age 39
    8. Teacher, age 60
    9. Farmer, age 64
    10. Carpenter, age 41
    11. Blacksmith, age 53
    12. Wife of Sharecropper, age 28
    13. Mayor of small town, age 64
    14. Cotton mill worker, age 19
    15. Cotton mill supervisor, age 48
    16. Rabbi, age 39
    17. Baptist minister, age 52
    18. Banker, age 31
    19. Doctor, age 69
    20. Domestic servant, age 48
    21. Prisoner, age 22
    22. City policeman, age 37
    23. Cook, age 58
    24. Rural veterinarian, age 37
    25. Male student, age 15
    26. Mine worker, age 29

Documents: Conscription Letters to U.S. Senator John H. Bankhead
  • Document 1: Burgess, J. L., Huntsville, Alabama, to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 9 April 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 2: Burgess, J. L. , Huntsville, Alabama, to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 11 April 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 3: Bankhead, Hon. John H. , Washington, D.C., to J. L. Burgess, Huntsville, Alabama, 14 April 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 4: Peete, B. B., D. C. Peete, J. F. Peete, James Owens, and Willie Williams, Madison, Alabama, to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 25 January 1916. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 30, Folder 8, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 5: Bankhead, Hon. John H., Washington, D.C., to B. B. Peete, D. C. Peete, J. F. Peete, James Owens, and Willie Williams, Madison, Alabama, 28 January 1916. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 30, Folder 8, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 6: Statham, R. A., Lehigh, Alabama, to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 10 January 1916. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 30, Folder 8, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 7: Bankhead, Hon. John H., Washington, D.C., to R. A. Statham, Lehigh, Alabama, 14 January 1916. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 30, Folder 8, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 8: Barnes, Mr. & Mrs. C. J., Birmingham, Alabama, to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 3 January 1916. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 30, Folder 8, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 9: Bankhead, Hon. John H., Washington D.C., to Mr. & Mrs. C. J. Barnes, Birmingham, Alabama, 6 January 1916. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 30, Folder 8, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 10: Elliott, Mrs. I. W., Talladega, Alabama, to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 10 January 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.
  • Document 11: Wallace, Mrs. Neil R. to

     

    Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., [1917]. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 7, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 12: Thompson, Juney, Siluria, Alabama, to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 9 May 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 13: Bankhead, Hon. John H. , Washington, D.C., to Juney Thompson, Siluria, Alabama, 14 May 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 14: May, Sheriff John A., Dothan, Alabama, to Hon. John H. Bankhead, Washington, D.C., 23 April 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 15: Bankhead, Hon. John H., Washington, D.C., to Sheriff John A. May, Dothan, Alabama, 27 April 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 16: "Petition Against Sending Our Young Men to War in Europe," 10 May 1917. John H. Bankhead Papers, LPR 49, Container 31, Folder 6, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.