How Civil Liberties and Rights Evolved Over Time


The tremendous evolution of civil liberties and rights in American society occurred mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries (Kollman 5). While this does not mean that the American people are contented with the current state of affairs, they acknowledge that the strength of modern-day America is due to the rigorous protests and court battles that sought greater civil liberties and rights for all Americans. Numerous legal contentions culminating into the Supreme Court rulings energized by civil rights spirit sought greater African-American participation for the common good of all (Powledge 5). Human rights activists such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jnr., William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Booker Washington, and Rosa Parks envisioned a nation devoid of segregation along racial lines and sought to champion the course of humanity in ways that shaped the trajectory of the American society that they expected.

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These protests, according to Walker (34), culminated in civil unrests pitting the Black minority against the White-dominated community in street protests and court contentions. The promulgation of the 1787 Philadelphia Convention was not received in good faith since a section of the American population felt that it fell short of the constitutional threshold by failing to address many contentious issues such as civil liberties (Powledge 15). Having failed tremendously in addressing these concerns at the height of a raging conflict, the Antifederalists argued that in a legal sense, it was a prologue to tyranny. President James Madison saw this threat in the offing and decided to assent to the bill of rights to contain these political pressures. Civil liberties and rights movements sought to reclaim the status of the African-American population and guarantee the greater common good of all.

The Fourth Amendment and the difficulties inherent in its applications

While the Bill of Rights projects had clear documentation of the civil liberties, they, nonetheless, were discharged preferentially under practicable law (Kollman 15). The efficacy of Madison’s assent only came into law years later, given that its protection was limited, as most contentions were between bureaucracies, and so, it attracted fewer concerns from individuals (Schwartz 25). The promulgation of the Fourth Amendment extended protection to former slaves, thus giving an aperture to the nationalization paradigm shift for greater civil rights and liberties. The Fourth Amendment was a big success in shaping the trajectory of these movements bearing a force to reckon and stating in part that all persons are entitled to equal civil liberties and rights (Walker 72).

The Fourth Amendment further noted that the bureaucracies have no right whatsoever to refute these rights unless in cases where the due process of the law is clear and tenable. Within the premises of the Fourth Amendment, the civil rights watch advanced their quest to petition the Supreme Court in seeking more excellent protection, thus expanding the scope and practicability of the Bill of Rights in all proceedings. Within these processes, Schwartz (34) opines that the civil rights watch sought various moderate clauses to appeal to the broader nationalistic concerns to expand a range of protections under the Bill of Rights itself. While the Bill of Rights was precise and explicit in its documentation, it seemed flawed in its efficacy in expediting the fundamental principles, especially in particular judicature proceedings presided over by biased juries.

The Bill of Rights and the difficulties inherent in its applications

Over the years, the interpretation of the Bill of Rights rested squarely with the Supreme Court and mainly sought to protect the narrow, vested interests of the Federal Government (Schwartz 45). At the time of issuing the Bill of Rights, Walker (54) observes that the founding fathers of the nation had a bold idea of securing the interest of all Americans without any disregard whatsoever, but the conservatives of yore hijacked the process and derailed it down, leading to protests and court battles. At the birth of the new nation, the Sedition Act of 1798 was a significant impediment to numerous freedoms that made it outright proscribed to criticize the state even in moral overtones (Kollman 65).

According to Powledge (145), many people fell prey to the Act in their inclination to accuse the government of the atrocities of the time. Too often, the Federalists took advantage of this Act to suppress the Republican dissenters of President John Adam’s government. With the gains made under the civil rights movement, such laws are criminal, unconstitutional, and callous. In those days, the Bill of Rights was at the prerogative of the ruling elite; it did not necessarily protect the citizenry from state-prone exploitations (Powledge 37). At the same time, the constitution of the United States proclaimed the fundamental principles of the Bill of Rights, its interpretation and enforcement varied, and in most cases seeking to deepen the tragedy of the black community.

American civil rights movement and the complications experienced in an attempt to defend civil liberties and rights

This popular civil uprising sought to intercept racial segregation laws in much of the incorporated Southern American states. Intensified during the last half of the 1950s and in the late 1960s, the movement was primarily a struggle by African-Americans against White dominion. As Schwartz (75) notes, it sought for equal civil rights and freedoms, especially stressing equal opportunities in education, employment, accommodation, as well as the right to vote and freedoms from economic want and racial discrimination. This popular uprising was predominantly nonviolent civil disobedience and mainly sought to reclaim the rights of African-Americans as provided for under the 14th and 15th Amendments.

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The administration of Jim Crow witnessed the corrosion of these fundamental freedoms, thus altering the relationships between blacks and whites drastically. Fondly referred to as the Second Reconstruction, this movement had a nationalistic duty that sought to restructure the Judiciary in its role as the guardian of fundamental liberties and freedoms (Walker 52). Martin Luther King Jnr. and his ilk did not only seek to secure the greater common good for the Blacks, but also for the marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities, women, and children. Notably, Jim Crow’s laws introduced Black Codes that segregated the American population along racial lines in all their undertakings. Some of the complications experienced in an attempt to defend civil liberties and rights were arbitrary arrests, segregation in public facilities, the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, denial of the right to a fair hearing, as well as the murder of convicts by lynching.

The gains made by the civil liberties and rights movement

The success of the Montgomery bus boycott that ended up in the arrest of many people, including Rosa Parks, in 1955 changed the course of the civil rights movement into incensed mass action. According to Powledge (45), this incident sent a bold statement to the White Supremacy that Blacks had resolved to fight on and restore their dignity. In addition, during this incident that Martin Luther King Jr.’s eloquence and mobilization abilities were spotted as the indispensable leader with great inspiration and enormous following. Armed with this weapon, civil rights activists preached the potency of nonviolent resistance to reach out to Americans of all climes in their quest for a united, prosperous society. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. sparked off riots in Capital Washington, D.C. and other cities in America as a nation rise to greatness with renewed energy to make his dream come true (Walker 165). The historical experiences realized throughout the civil rights movement shaped the trajectory of American society in a unique way. However, meaningful gains like federal enforcement to recognize the right to vote and freedoms from economic want and racial discrimination were empowering tools that continue to be the pride of modern-day United States’ society (Kollman 69). With the American Dream comes a new passage in the life of Americans. Markedly, out of it, the American people assume legal and political equality regardless of color, race, religion, and political creed.


The hunt for civil liberties and rights has been a household theme throughout the history of the United States of America. Realizing the American Dream has been long in coming. It details an extensive chronology of events happening before the beginning of time, through the reconstruction period, and coming over to modern-day American politics. These struggles have been strenuous though they have been with much success anyway. Tremendous gains have been made, making the present to bridge the gap between the past and the future. The American society will forever be indebted to those who put their lives against all odds to reclaim the much sought after inalienable rights guaranteed under the American Constitution. While civil liberties and rights movements began centuries ago, the tide of change and triumph continues to mount on various outstanding civil-rights concerns.

Works Cited

Kollman, Ken. The American Political System. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

Powledge, Fred. Free at Last?: The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made It. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991. Print.

Schwartz, Bernard. The Great Rights of Mankind: A History of the American Bill of Rights. New York: Oxford UP, 1977. Print.

Walker, Samuel. In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU. New York: Oxford UP, 1990. Print.

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