Civil Liberties Spread

Civil Liberties Spread

Civil Rights and Civil Liberties: History Spread of Civil Liberties

British colonists brought the concepts of limited government and individual freedom to the New World. The early laws of Virginia, Massachusetts, and other colonies reflected interest in the reform of criminal procedure that was emerging in Great Britain. A notable event in the history of civil liberties was the successful defense (1735) in New York by the Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton of the printer John Peter Zenger, who had been charged with seditious libel for criticisms of the colonial government in his publication the New York Weekly Journal. Hamilton established the principle that the government may not punish truthful publications of matters of public concern. See The Trial of John Peter Zenger.

The events leading to the American and French revolutions inspired writings that laid the foundations for modern ideas of civil liberties by such authors as the French philosophers Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau, the British reformer John Wilkes and the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the Anglo-American writer Thomas Paine, and the American statesmen Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France and the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States formally established libertarian principles as a foundation of modern democracy.

Although civil liberties are often considered an integral part of democratic government, the principles of limited government and personal freedom were developed in England at a time when political power was held by an aristocratic upper class. Similarly, in the American colonies, many founding fathers did not favor democracy in the modern sense. Indeed, the framers of the U.S. Constitution provided a method of electing the nation’s president that avoids a direct popular vote. Conversely, history offers numerous examples of countries in which political power is formally vested in representative assemblies, but enforcement of law is arbitrary or despotic, and minorities have few safeguards against the tyranny of majorities. (1)

In this Section about Civil Rights and Civil Liberties: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties History, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Early Development and Civil Liberties Spread. For an ovevriw of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the U.S., read here.For an ovevriw of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in Canada, read here.


Notes and References

  1. Encarta Online Encyclopedia

See Also



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