1977: Jimmy Carter Pardons Draft Dodgers On Day One (But Reinstates Registration)

By | January 18, 2020

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President-elect Jimmy Carter talks with President Gerald Ford in the Blue Room of the White House before heading to Capitol Hill for Carter's inauguration January 20, 1977. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

Draft-dodging was a hot issue during the Vietnam War; but what happens when the war is over? Is it ok for a president -- say, Jimmy Carter -- to pardon those who avoided serving in a war that the country had come to regret?

The U.S. military is made up of men and women who volunteer to serve the country in times of both peace and war, but until 1973 young men between the ages of 18 and 25 were a part of the draft, a lottery system that determined who served in the military and who stayed home. Most notably this system was in effect during the Vietnam War. The only way to avoid the fight was to evade the draft in one way or another. Some people fled to Canada, others went overseas, and some did their best to hide in plain sight in America. Whatever the case, they were considered criminals. When Jimmy Carter was elected President he pardoned everyone who escaped the draft, but he also created mandatory registration in case of another draft. Carter was trying to make everyone happy, and while he succeeding in some ways, he was managed to create an issue that we still argue about today.

The pardon effected thousands of people

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source: history

It’s not easy to say exactly how many people resisted the draft, but it’s believed that around 500,000 young Americans avoided the draft by leaving the country in the 1960s and early ‘70s. Most of these people went to Canada, where they were protected as immigrants while about 10 perfect of escapees went to various places overseas where government agencies weren’t asking a lot of questions. Overnight these resistors became fugitives who could never return to their home country. They bid their families adieu, and accepted the fate that they couldn’t even travel through the United States without risk of arrest.