The American Government
The protection of civil rights and liberties is bestowed upon the government who enforces their enjoyment through appropriate use of the rule of law.It is this balance between the government as a guarantor of civil rights and liberties and the government as a violator of civil rights and liberties that define whether the citizenry will or will not rise against the political structures to safeguard their inviolable and inalienable natural rights and liberties.The struggle for civil freedom and rights has spanned centuries, sometimes with too much bloodshed.
With each passing decade new statutes are passed to safeguard and counteract the new challenges.
This paper is a succinct analysis of the government and its role in advancing the visions of human rights and liberties as had been proclaimed by the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. The American Government: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights Civil liberties can be defined as those individual rights held and enjoyed over and against the governments. There is no free society that can exist in the absence of civil liberties.
This is the basic distinguishing feature between a free state and a totalitarian where an individual is but a subservient to the state. In such regime, freedom of press, freedom of speech, or the freedom of assembly is non existent and any individual who openly disagrees with the system risks arrest, imprisonment and or execution (Walker 2004). In the context of American culture civil rights is applicable in reference to the Black Americans civil rights struggle which fought for equality for ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, women, gay and lesbian people and other minority groups.
Due to the prominence of the fight for civil rights in the United States of America; civil rights are regarded differently from civil liberties. However, it is only proper that the concept of civil rights is regarded as a subsection of civil liberties. Civil liberties therefore cover the right of every individual to fair treatment from the government. On the other hand civil rights sometimes called social rights specifically cover the right of each and every individual to fair treatment from other citizenry as well as from the local governments.
The beginning of civil liberties and civil rights can be traced to the signing of the Declaration of Independence which stated that “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal. . . ” This was the basic blueprint for future statutes that would prohibit any form of gender and racial discrimination from the public and private sphere. The history of the United States of America is adorned by brave individuals who were able to stand against the authorities of the day and proclaim the Declaration of Independence even when the prices they had to pay for such confrontations was their lives (http://www.
u-s-history. com). Civil Rights and Liberties Colonial Period Influenced by the developments in individual freedoms in England, settlers who migrated to America had with them the desire to fight for reforms that would guarantee them religious freedoms, give them rights to property ownership and most importantly protect them from the oppressive arms of the government. The signing of historical documents like the Magna Carta laid the foundation for the institution of revolutionary ideals in the new world. These men had fled Europe because they could not be permitted to freely pursue their social, economic and religious lives.
It is not therefore surprising that after settling in America, these colonists wrote charters and documents that established the Republic which was explicitly based on liberties. Some of the most important charters that expressed this desire to be liberated and free were the Massachusetts Body of Liberties drafted in 1641, Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges in 1701 and the New York Charter of Liberties of 1683. The intensification of conflicts in England after 1765, made the new colony realize that the systems of government in England was a threat to all liberties and rights that the new colony cherished (Jillson 2007).
This meant that the purposeful stride towards the Declaration of Independence had a jealous motive of preventing the brimming over of tyranny as was witnessed in England into the New colony created with the belief that human rights and liberties was of greater importance. Apart from what was practiced in the English Caste system where women had virtually no choice in life and men had no option but to be locked in their fathers social class, the New world provided an experimental ground for the revolutionary ideals.
Early expressions of such ideals began to be seen as early as 1735 when in Philadelphia, an Attorney called Andrew Hamilton successfully defended an accused; John Peter Zenger, against seditious libel charges. At that time criticism of the colonial government was unheard of. Through this successful suit, Hamilton was able to establish via his New York Weekly Journal that the punishment of truthful publications disseminating matters of public concern constituted an infringement on the inalienable rights of citizens (http://www. u-s-history.
com). During those early years after the formation of the American Republic, the Sedition Act of 1978 criminalized the publication or utterance of anything that was perceived to be false, malicious or scandalous against the government of the day or its officials. It is because of this statute the Federalists imprisoned Republicans during the administration of John Adams. In recent times such laws would be a clear contravention of the constitution. During this time lifestyles between the three colonial regions in the New World varied greatly.
In the North, where only extreme whether prevailed, small family farms were more predominant. Since life was difficult lonely those who could endure the climatic hardships settled. The coming of the Dutch led to the founding of New Amsterdam. This was later on christened as New York. The Society of Friends (Quakers), who were mainly inhabitants of the Mid-Atlantic colonies moved to Pennsylvania and New Jersey where they continued to enjoy the freedom of worship.The Southern Colonies of Maryland, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia became home to wealthy English Settlers.
These settlers imported indentured servants from England to work in their farms. With the increase in the number and size and plantations, slave labor from Africa heightened to meet the labor demand. The Southern colonies had extremely large slave laborers that a society of slaves began to develop. By the writing of the Constitution, slavery as a violation of civil liberties was greatly avoided. By 1800, the number of slaves in the United States had reached a peak of nearly nine hundred thousand individuals which were mainly concentrated in the South.
To solve the increasing populations of slave trade, the Three-Fifths Compromise was legislated. Because of this statute slavery blossomed for the next 20 years without any hassle whatsoever. Congress came in 1808 to end, slavery and slave trade but the illegal importation was to continue in the Southern States. The Industrial Revolution In the context of civil rights and liberties, the era of industrial revolution acted as an incentive to the formation of organizational entities to fight for the rights of the oppressed laborers.
Labor problems began between 1861-1880 with the entry of newly educated women and farmer’s sons into the industrial workplace. As was characteristic with the industrial revolution; overcrowding, sweatshops, poor working conditions, child labor, extremely long hours of work were prevalent in the industrializing Northern States. In quest of better working condition and terms, labor unions sprung. By 1869, the Order of the Knights of Labor was created to increase the negotiation powers of workers through the unionization of all American workers.
The period spanning between the 1870s to the 1900s witnessed violent protests against the ills of industrialization. Unions fought for labor law changes, collective bargaining rights, maximum hours in a day’s work and finally minimum wage laws. Even though, there were a variety of unions at this time they did not cater for the rights of blacks due to the occupations occupied by blacks. Moreover, the extent of racial discrimination in these labor unions was so high that even blacks that constituted these unions were unable to improve the working conditions of their brothers in occupations not covered by the labor unions.
The formation of National Negro Business League which was then headed by Booker T. Washington encouraged blacks to accept the presence of segregation between them and other races while working towards starting their own business enterprises where they could frequent. Some labor leaders such as Eugene V. Debs, Terrence V. Powdery, Marry Harris Jones and Samuel Gompers even fought for equal level of civil rights that was accorded to the wealthy union leaders such as Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan.
It is this initial insistence on equal rights for all that led to the rising of powerful unions like the Congress of Industrial Organization and consequently the pressure to Congress to pass the labor reform laws like the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act with the main objective of eliminating the labor conditions that were detrimental to maintaining minimum living standards crucial for the health, efficiency and the overall well being of the workers. This was the call touted by President F. D. Roosevelt as one of the most important, far reaching and far sighted labor law reforms.
It is this Act that created the maximum weekly hours or work as well as the minimum hourly wage by 1945. as years trudged on, some labor leaders engaged in gross abuse of power hence bridling effort to further increase the workers benefits (http://www. u-s-history. com). Ideas and Movements during the Civil War unto Modern Times It should be understood that the cause towards the full enjoyment of the civil rights and civil liberties trudged on decade unto decade albeit at a much more slower pace even though the Declaration of Independence had specifically spelled out these desires.
However, the issue of slavery and whether one state would tolerate the practice of the same in border neighbors created a heated struggle thrusting the civil rights movement into the mainstream of American theater. During the civil war the issue of slavery created a disparity between the Southern and Northern States and with this struggle a new fight for the protection of the rights and liberties of the minorities began. Prior to the Civil War a majority of those living in the Southern regions could not afford the labor services of a slave.
For this reason they migrated out of the Southern region in search for better opportunities for themselves. Likewise, owners of large plantations also knew that the provision of cheap slave labor would soon dry out, but instead of moving out or changing the nature of their business enterprises; they struggled to promote the existence of slavery. Moreover, the plantation owners believed that slavery was justifiable because it was only through slavery that the economies of the North and the South could be maintained.
Since slavery also guaranteed the lifestyle that was led in the South, Southerners generally held no negative view concerning the impacts of slavery on the well being of workers. This was an opposing view to that held by the Northerners who were mainly traders and small farmers. According to them slavery was supposed to be confined to the Southern States arguing that its spread to other territories was undesirable. They were also of the opinion that its existence in the Southern States should also be abolished.
Disregarding the economic consequence of the abolition of slavery, they posited that if that was the case then is it. According to them slavery was immoral and it should be dome away with. Their persistent call through very prominent leaders, created the fuel of secession. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 freed slaves, it was only through the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution that slavery was abolished throughout America. The 14th Amendment ensured that freed slaves became entitled to equal protection by the Federal Law.
The ratification of the 15th Amendment ensured that all Americans enjoyed the rights to vote irrespective of gender or race. By 1920, the ratification of the 19th Amendment extended voting rights to women. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation explicitly removed all forms of discrimination, the black population was still subject to discrimination in almost all centers of the economy. They could not even be allowed to play in the National Association of Baseball Players despite their self evident talents. Black players were subjected to murder attempts, bomb threats and hate mails.
However, as the century turned, the 19th century presented great opportunities for black integration into the American society and the solving of women’s rights issues. The dawn of the 20th century promised great expansions in civil rights and civil liberties. These expansions were to be the yardsticks upon which a new nation would be formed. The transformation in the 20th century was so rapid and tremendous that powerful civil right activists took the mantle from their forefathers to steer the fight for equal rights and liberties to a new level. Such Leaders included Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and Rosa Parks.
It is only through years of bloodshed and civil arrest that tremendous gains were achieved. Civil Liberties and Rights in the Modern Era. The purpose of the government as a political governance structure is to secure civil rights and liberties. This power is limited to the powers expressed by the citizenry who delegate such powers to the government. The citizenry is by nature more superior to the government and they cannot cede the governments power. This ultimately means that government’s power is extremely low and incomparable to the inviolable rights that individuals possess.
This is the concept behind the possession of natural rights which are pre-existing in each and every individual. Since each and every individual possesses pre-existing natural rights, their expression as civil rights in a society must be in congruence with the principle of equality. Americans by nature of their existence are members of a political society governed by a political governance structure. Through elections, the protection of civil rights and liberties is bestowed upon the government who enforces the enjoyment of these rights and liberties through appropriate use of the rule of law.
Since the government enjoys the monopoly over the use of coercion or physical force in advancing the virtues and values of the society, the protection of the same ultimately rests with the government. It is this balance between the government as a guarantor of civil rights and liberties and the government as a violator of civil rights and liberties that define whether the citizenry will or will not rise against the political structures to safeguard their natural rights. The vision of natural rights and liberties found its expression in the Declaration of Independence and all the other founding documents (Bolick 1996).
Since the United States of America is a Federalist system of government, it is not static in operation. The Constitution which lies at the bedrock of the nation itself is flexible as to allow the Congress, the Supreme Court and the President the chance to institute amendments that are in congruence with the issues of modern society. Initially, the proposed Federalist Constitution ignored the protection of the common citizenry. Since this was a direct affront on the existence of a free and democratic nation, the first Congress quickly made a proposal of twelve amendments.
These were then transmitted to the States for comprehensive ratification. By the end of 1971, ten states had ratified the amendments and these amendments became known as the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment granted the freedom of religion which specifically prevented the Congress from creating state sponsored religions thus prohibiting Americans from exercising their freedom to worship. Additionally, these amendments also granted equal freedoms of speech, press and assembly (Pate & Napoli 2007).
As citizens, who are by their existence members of the political society called a nation, they held some rights, duties and responsibilities. Since the government draws its existence from the people and the Constitution it has the responsibility of protecting the fundamental rights and liberties under the common law. During the ratification of the Constitution, delegates relied on the promise of the Congress to protect the rights and liberties of individuals in the face of a government intent on abusing these inalienable rights and liberties (Strausser 2004).
Despite the belief that the Constitution effectively provided for almost everything in the amendments that were to constitute the Bill of Rights, congressional delegates went on and ratified the amendments that form the basis of civil rights and civil liberties. These two are definitively distinguishable but their distinctions are not usually clear cut and a variety of issues affect both hence their erroneous exchangeability.
The Second Amendment guaranteed the liberty to store and bear arms as a form of state militia who could be relied upon for security reasons should a state of emergency arise. Currently, this amendment is exhibited by the presence of the National Guard. The 1700s was ripe with troops being stationed in American homes. To safeguard the citizenry from any future hosting of troops in homes without personal consent, the Congress passed the Third Amendment which prohibited the stationing of troops in personal homes.
The protection of those accused of criminal acts was enshrined under the Fourth Amendment, Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment. The Fourth specifically protects against unwarranted searches by the government. A warrant of search can only be issued by the court to the law enforcement agencies if they satisfy the conditions for the warrant. If a search was done without the courts recognition of a probable cause, then evidences gathered from the search can not constitute prosecutor evidence in the Courts (Strausser 2004).
In this post modern era, the preservation of civil rights and liberties remains an important instrument for maintaining our democratic health, particularly under the current threats of national security and patriotism. The government as the main instrument of change must never lose these essential rights as these are democratic tenets that hold American as the greatest nation in the world. Every single citizen has the right to equal legal treatment. All people regardless of the fact that they may not be American citizens have the right to all essential civil rights and civil liberties.
America through its government holds the power of ensuring that all nations in the world progress towards an apex of a free and democratic society. In fulfilling this promise, the government may pursue policies aimed at granting all world citizens the rights to fairness and justice based on the presumption of innocence. Rights to freedom and privacy from searches and seizures in the absence of warrants, freedom of speech, assembly and discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, race, national origin, political beliefs or gender.
Since the tragic September 11 attacks, America created a new statute; The Patriots Act, which has been instrumental in fundamentally violating civil rights and liberties of citizens and non citizens alike. That is the reason why, the government and the general citizenry and called upon to engage in worthwhile introspection and stand up with enough courage to uphold age old values of liberty, democracy and universal justice in the face of modern challenges. References Bolick, Clint. (1996).
The Affirmative Action Fraud: Can We Restore the American Civil Rights Vision? Cato Institute, p. 27-28 History of Civil Rights in America. http://www. u-s-history. com/pages/h2871. html Jillson, Cal. (2007). American Government: Political Change and Institutional Development. Routledge Press. Pate, S. & Napoli, T. (2004). CSET: Social Science: Social Science. John Wiley and Sons. Strausser, J. (2004). Painless American Government. Barron’s Educational Series Walker, S. (2004). Civil Liberties in America: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO.