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primary_sources.PNGPreserving American Freedom: The Evolution of American Liberties in Fifty Documents from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Civil Liberties



Little Rock Nine Silver Dollar (issued 2008)
Little Rock Nine Silver Dollar (issued 2008)

Civil Liberties are "Rights or freedoms given to the people by the First Amendment to the Constitution, by common law, or legislation, allowing the individual to be free to speak, think, assemble, organize, worship, or petition without government (or even private) interference or restraints." -The Free Legal Dictionary, by Farlex
  • Examples:
    • Freedom of speech
    • Right to a fair trial
game_icon.svg.pngFor perspectives on civil liberties, see the Blog of Rights from the American Civil Liberties Union.


Civil Rights

Click here for the US.II.9 standard on post-Civil War struggles by women and African Americans for civil rights.

Click here for the US.II.25 standard on the origins, goals, and key events of the civil rights movement.

Civil Rights are "Personal liberties that belong to an individual, owing to his or her status as a citizen or resident of a particular country or community." -The Free Legal Dictionary, by Farlex
  • Examples:
    • Right to equal education
    • Right to equal employment

What's the Difference?
Civil liberties are basic rights that are guaranteed through the Constitution or through interpretation by the courts. Civil rights are more focused on the right to equal treatment, no matter of race, gender, disability or other characteristics. However, both are intended to stop government infringement on rights.

Civil Rights/Liberties Legislation

  • In the Constitution:
    • Habeas Corpus
      • Article I, section 9 of the Constitution
        The Bill of Rights
        The Bill of Rights
      • Requires that a person under arrest be brought into court or before a judge
      • Ensures anyone who is wrongfully imprisoned will be released
    • Privileges and Immunities
      • Article IV, section 2 of the Constitution
      • Privileges are legal rights granted to every citizen of the United States
        • Sell or own land, draft a will
      • Immunities are protections in the law to prevent people or government from hindering rights
        • Freedom of religion, no searches without a warrant
    • Bill of Rights
      • The first 10 Amendments to the Constitution
      • 1. Freedom of speech, religion, press, petition, assembly
      • 2. The right to bear arms
      • 3. No quartering of soldiers
      • 4. Freedom from unreasonable searches
      • 5. Right to due process of the law, freedom to self-incrimination, and double jeopardy
      • 6. Right to a fair trial
      • 7. Right to trial by jury
      • 8. No excessive bail or cruel punishments
      • 9. Protects other rights of the people
      • 10. States' rights
primary_sources.PNGClick here to read the Bill of Rights

rotating gif.gifGo to United States History I.9 and United States Government 3.11 for more material on the Bill of Rights.

  • Civil Rights Act of 1866
    A Water Fountain for African Americans, North Carolina, 1938
    A Water Fountain for African Americans, North Carolina, 1938
    • Granted citizenship and rights that white men had to all men in the United States, no matter of race or precious conditions of servitude
    • President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill, but his veto was overturned by a 2/3 majority in the Senate and House
    • primary_sources.PNGClick here to read the act
  • Thirteenth Amendment
    • Made slavery and other forms of involuntary servitude illegal
    • Also gave Congress the right to create laws to enforce this
    • Based on the Civil Rights Act of 1866
  • Fourteenth Amendment
    • All people born in the United States are citizens and can not be denied any rights
    • Based on the Civil Rights Act of 1866
  • Fifteenth Amendment
    • Illegal to deny voting rights to citizens of the US based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude
  • Jim Crow Laws/Black Codes
    • Laws passed from 1876 to 1965
    • Designed to prevent African Americans from voting, traveling, interracial marriage, etc
      Portrait of Dred Scott
      Portrait of Dred Scott
    • Infringed on Civil right/liberties

Judicial Interpretation

  • Barron v. Baltimore: 1833
    • John Barron said that Baltimore ruined his wharf by dumping sand and dirt from road construction around the docks
    • The wharf became too shallow for ships
    • Barron claimed this violated the 5th Amendment by taking his private property without compensation
    • He was given $4,500 in damages by the city, which was later reversed
    • Appeal made it to the Supreme Court
    • Court decided that the Bill of Rights applied to the federal government, not state governments
    • Case was dismissed because Court had no jurisdiction in Maryland
    • Allowed for each state to have varying levels of freedom
    • Click here for more info
  • Dred Scott v. Sandford: 1857
    • Dr. John Emerson purchased Dred Scott as his slave in 1833
    • Moved to Wisconsin, where slavery was illegal, for 4 years
    • Emerson was away frequently, so Scott worked for other people
    • Scott got married and had children
    • The Scott and Emerson families moved to Louisiana then St. Louis
    • Dr. Emerson died and left Scott to his wife, Eliza Irene Sanford
    • The Scott family offered to buy Dred's freedom, but Sanford refused
    • Scott sued for freedom, claiming that they lived in a place where slavery was illegal
    • Sanford gave control over the court case to her brother, John Sanford
    • State court declared him free, but Sanford repealed the case
    • In the appeal, he was deemed a slave
      Plessy_marker.jpg
      A Sign Placed on the Site of Plessy's arrest
    • Scott then filed another lawsuit against Sanford for physical abuse
    • It was then determined that Scott could not sue because he was a slave and not a citizen
    • A clerical error made the case known as Sandford instead of Sanford
    • Overturned by the 14th Amendment
    • Click here for more info
  • Plessy v. Ferguson: 1896
    • Homer Plessy was jailed for sitting in a white car of a train
    • Plessy was light skinned but considered black
    • Plessy sat in the white car and declared himself black knowing he would be arrested
      • He was part of a civil rights organization protesting the Separate Cart Act, which required separate carts for race
    • In court, Plessy argued that this Act violated the 13th and 14th Amendments
    • Supreme Court declared that "separate but equal" facilities are legal
    • Click here for more info

The image to the right is of the Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas where Linda Brown was sent to school, even though the white elementary school was closer.
  • Brown v. Board of Education: 1954
    • Racially segregated schools were common
    • Separate but equal was legal because of Plessy v. Fergusonexternal image 640px-Monoe_School_Brown_v._Board_of_Education_IMG_5326.JPG
    • NAACP filed lawsuits against school boards to allow black students to attend white schools
    • Brown v. Board was filed by an African American father whose daughter was not allowed in white schools in Topeka, Kansas
    • Brown's argument was that racial segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution
    • Black and white schools were not equal and never would be
    • The district court dismissed the case, upholding Plessy v. Ferguson
    • Brown appealed to the Supreme Court
    • Supreme Court ruled that segregation violated Civil Rights and was unconstitutional
    • Click here for more info

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for a timeline of Supreme Court cases on Civil Rights to present day.




Segregation Before Brown v. Board
Segregation Before Brown v. Board

lessonplan.jpg
  • Click here for a lesson plan on Constitutional Interpretation and Civil Rights
    • Click here for unit lesson plans on the desegregation of schools