Conscription is a form of forced service. Most classically, people think of it in terms of forced military service, sometimes referred to as a draft. It can also take the form of forced labor for the government, as it infamously did in Russia and China during parts of the 20th century. The practice is rather controversial, as some people feel that it abridges the rights of citizens, and it reduces freedom of choice to participate in activities like wars.
The modern form of conscription emerged in the French Revolution, when the government used its power to press able bodied men into military service. After the French Revolution, numerous countries adopted the practice to some level or another, and some forms are a common feature in many governments. In many countries, the practice is limited to periods of need, although some countries require all of their citizens to serve in the military as youths.
Someone who has been conscripted is known as a conscript, an inductee, or a selectee, in a reference to the American Selective Service Board, which handles conscription for the United States when a draft is put in place. As a general rule, conscripts are allowed to opt out if they have religious or personal ethical beliefs against warfare. People who wish to avoid conscription because of their beliefs are known as conscientious objectors; depending on the government, they may be offered a chance to serve in a non-military capacity or they may be excused from serving altogether.
The practice of military conscription is designed to allow countries to quickly raise armies to meet emergent threats. Many countries prefer to rely on a volunteer army as much as possible, both because forcing people to serve is expensive and time consuming, and because volunteer soldiers tend to be more enthusiastic about their duties. However, there are periods of time when manpower shortages in the military force a country to use conscription if it wishes to continue participating in a conflict.
Conscription has historically been marked by serious corruption. In the American Civil War, for example, conscripts could buy their way out of serving with a fee, and people in a number of occupations were exempt. Some people have historically criticized the practice, arguing that people with money and political power can avoid it, while low-income individuals are unable to. In the Civil War, some people said that “poor boys are fighting a rich man's war,” a reference to the unpopular practice of conscription and the politics behind the war.