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Civil Rights Movement: What are civil rights?

Many people think that the Civil Rights movement started with Martin Luther King, Jr. What are Civil Rights? How, in fact, have African Americans and other minorities been fighting for Civil Rights even before the Civil War started?

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Interesting questions! Let's take a closer look through discussion and examples. I also provided extra information at the end this response (excerpt) for further expansion.


1. What are Civil Rights?

Civil rights are rights that a nation's inhabitants enjoy by law. The term is broader than "political rights," which refer only to rights devolving from the franchise and are held usually only by a citizen, and unlike "natural rights," civil rights have a legal as well as a philosophical basis. In the United States civil rights are usually thought of in terms of the specific rights guaranteed in the Constitution: freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press, and the rights to due process of law and to equal protection under the law

2. How, in fact, have African Americans and other minorities been fighting for Civil Rights even before the Civil War started?

The Civil War was a very important part of the Civil Rights Movement. However, African Americans and other minorities been fighting for Civil Rights even before the Civil War started, over such things as women and African Americans fighting for equality and a fight for voting rights.


African American were fighting for abolition well before the Civil War. Also, there were many arguments over slavery before the Civil War. The men who wrote the U.S. Constitution disagreed over whether slavery should be legal because some strongly believed slavery was wrong while others couldn't imagine life without slaves. After the founding fathers made the difficult decision to leave it to each state as to whether slavery would be legal in the state, they continued to argue about how to count slaves when deciding the number of Representatives each state would have in Congress. Leaders continued to debate over slavery every time a new state joined the United States and had to decide whether to allow slavery in that state. Every compromise that was made over slavery left both sides, abolitionists and pro-slavery leaders, uneasy and unsure of the future. Likewise, African Americans wanted to be free.

a. Three-Fifths Compromise: The number of people counted in each state was important because it decided how many representatives each state had in Congress. The Southern states refused to sign the United States Constitution with the Northern states because they wanted the slaves to be counted for the purpose of voting and taxes. The only way to get the Southern states to sign the Constitution was to make some compromises between the North and South. Northerners were concerned that if the South was allowed to count each slave as one person, they would have many more representatives in Congress than the North. By counting the slaves as "three-fifths" of a person, the South did not have quite as many representatives. This made it almost fair with the North and their representatives. The Three Fifths Compromise (Three Fifths Clause) was about how every slave was to be counted as only three fifths of a white or freed black person for the purpose of voting or taxes. This was only one of the many compromises the South had with the North when the Constitution was being written.

b. Missouri Compromise: The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was another argument over slavery before the Civil War. Allowing each state and territory to decide whether to allow slavery or not caused many problems. The Missouri Compromise was designed to maintain the number of free and slave states. In 1818, the Territory of Missouri applied for admission to the Union. At the time, slavery was legal in the Territory of Missouri. About 10,000 slaves lived in this Territory and most people expected that Missouri would become a slave state. When the bill to admit Missouri to the Union was introduced to Congress, eleven states were slave states and eleven states were free states. Missouri would break that tie and could destroy the balance of free and slave states (even though that balance had already temporarily been upset a number of times.) Luckily, that same year, Maine applied for admission to the Union. Congressmen from slave states and free states agreed to vote to admit Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state without upsetting the balance between free and slave states.

c. Compromise of 1850 : The Compromise of 1850 happened just 10 years before the Civil War. The Compromise of 1850 was a series of acts passed to help determine if the territory the United States received from the Mexican War should be free or have slavery. This compromise helped to delay the Civil War about 10 years. The Compromise of 1850 had several parts to it. To please the free states, California entered the Union as a free state. The Compromise gave $10 million to the slave state of Texas to abandon its claims to territory which would later become New Mexico and give up other claims. It also set up a stricter federal law for the return of runaway slaves to please the South, and to please the North, the slave trade was stopped in the District of Columbia.

d. Dred Scott Decision: The Dred Scott Decision was another argument between the North and the South. Dred Scott was a slave who sued to get his freedom after being moved by his owner to a free state. He lost his ...

Solution Summary

This solution is a discussion about the Civil Rights Movement, including the influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as African Americans and other minorities prior to the Civil War. Civil rights are also defined. This solution is 3000+ words.