When Rights Go Wrong

A detailed timeline of moments when America forgot its beginnings

By Joshua Ward, Rebecca Romano, Neal Chakrabarti, Nina Esposito-Faraone, and Ethan Curtin.

The Reconstruction Era

Jim Crow Laws and Black Codes

An example of the discrimination present during these times.
  • Jim Crow Laws: laws passed in the south meant to segregate and take rights from black, effectuating them to be perceived as inferior to whites. {Continued until 1865},

Black Codes: Laws passed to give blacks less freedom and lower wages {after the civil war 1865-1866, removed by Civil Rights Act of 1866}

Military Reconstruction Act

The American South after the Civil War, showing how it became divided into five military districts to facilitate reconstruction.

Passed on March 2, 1867, the Military Reconstruction Act involved the government sending troops into the southern states to oversee their compliance with Reconstruction, removing the states' ability to make some decisions on their own. This ended in 1877 when the Great Compromise removed all federal troops from the South.

Manifest Destiny
Indian Removal Act and The Trail of Tears

The Indian Removal Act, passed on May 30, 1830, involved The United States government forcing Native Americans out of their ancestral homeland and moved them west of the Mississippi river. The government took away the right to live where they want and to own land. In 1839, thousands of Cherokee Native Americans were forcefully marched from their tribal homelands in the Deep South all the way to Oklahoma. Many died from starvation, disease, and the cold, and many never saw their homes again, taken from them without having any say in the matter.  This heart-breaking event, that even saddened the American soldiers, became known as the Trail of Tears

Dawes Act

An advertisement for Native American land for sale after the passing of the Dawes Act.

The Dawes Act, passed on February 8, 1887, allowed The President of the US to survey Native American tribal land and divide it as he pleased. Their religious rights were taken away, the lands they settled into have spiritual energy for each tribe were removed from their possession, essentially stripping them of their rights and everything for which they stood.


An image that perfectly captures the nature of monopolies

A monopoly was a company that dominated a certain area of a particular industry, often times resulting in smaller business being pushed out and eventually disappearing. This meant that the rights of all these small business owners to have a fair share of the economy were being almost completely ignored.

Sweatshops & Child Labor

Two evils of equal severity.

Children working in a sewing sweatshop.

Child labor was relatively common during the era of industrialization, but was never a very positive thing. Children worked in awful conditions and were easily injured or taken ill. Worse still were the sweatshops, areas of certain factories that were poorly ventilated and cleaned. Thankfully, however, child labor was banned by the US government in 1938.

Men, women, and children worked in sweatshops, but none were safe from the multitude of diseases that plagued these dank, awful environments, including the infamous tuberculosis.  

The Steerage

The filthy inside of a massive immigrant ship.

The steerage was the below deck area of large boats that carried immigrants. It was extremely crowded, filthy, and smelly, with little light and only one toilet (a large bucket) per several hundred to a thousand people. The upper class immigrants lived in heaven compared to this, and the steerage passengers couldn’t quite reach their level of prosperity or freedom.

Chinese Exclusion Act

Chinese Exclusion Act, passed on May 6, 1882, was a law that stopped most Chinese immigration to US, especially laborers. Those allowed in or who were already in were mostly teachers and other important workers, but they faced a rigorous screening process, severe discrimination, and had a lot of trouble obtaining citizenship. They were faced with the same imbalance of rights that the African-Americans were facing at the same time. The act was lifted in 1943.

The Spanish-American War and US Imperialism
The Reconcentration Camps

The less than poor conditions of the Cuban reconcentration camps.

During the War for Cuban Independence, Spain suddenly decided to force out all the Cuban rebels by imprisoning thousands of innocent Cuban civilians into poorly housed, diseased, and filthy reconcentration camps starting in 1895. Many died in these camps, and they became one of the reasons the US declared war Spain, as a large part of the American population related the Cubans’ struggle with Spain with the Americans’ struggle with Britain during the War for American Independence.

The Platte Amendment

A Cuban cartoon showing the negative public opinion of the Platte Amendment, showing a personification of Cuba being branded by the US.

The Platte Amendment, passed on March 2, 1903, stated that the US could now buy and lease land for naval bases on Cuban soil. This directly contradicted the previous Teller Amendment, in which the promised it would leave Cuba to its own devices after the US defeated Spain in the war. However, once that occurred in 1898 the US broke its promise. A similar situation occurred in the Philippines, where the United States tried to take control of the islands after liberating them from Spain, resulting in another brief war with the Philippines. This goes to show just how greedy the US became, and how little regard it had for the rights of the native inhabitants of liberated territories.

World War I
The Selective Service Act

A recruitment poster from 1917.

The Selective Service Act, passed May 18, 1917, ordered that boys 18 and older were be drafted into the military to serve in WWI. This is a lack of rights because boys were forced to fight for their country regardless of their moral or ethical beliefs.

The Sedition Act

The Sedition Act, passed May 16, 1918, prohibited the degrading or criticizing of the government during WWI. Placing limitations on speech is immoral and goes against the First Amendment.

The 1920s
The Palmer Raids

Palmer Raids were a series of government organized raids from November 1919-January 1920 that arrested several thousand suspected radicals across the nation. This was an example of lack of rights because almost all the arrests were made without warrants and almost entirely based upon the people’s ethnicity ( especially immigrants ) and their socio-political beliefs ( socialism, communism, anarchism, etc. )

The Ku Klux Klan

A KKK march.

Ku Klux Klan are a group of white Protestant extremists who came back into the spotlight after lynching a Jewish man convicted of killing a little girl. They sought to drive out the Catholics, Blacks, Jews, and any other groups of people they saw as “ Un-American “. This is possibly one of the most infamous examples of a lack of rights, as the KKK set its sights on completely stamping out the right for peoples they discriminated against to practice their beliefs and traditions, which is outright ridiculous and downright immoral. Rather distressingly, the KKK still operate today, but they have never regained their original strength and have since broken up into several smaller groups across the country, whose numbers today are slowly declining.


Rebecca Romano, Neal Chakrabarti, Nina Esposito-Faraone, Ethan Curtin, and Joshua Ward.  Tackk made by Joshua Ward.

Comment Stream