|The future of Civil Rights
Civil rights, according to The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia they are defined as
“Rights that a nation’s inhabitants enjoy by law” (par. 1). The civil rights that we enjoy
today are much the same as the ones of times past, but it was a long evolutionary
process that brings us to our current ideals and interpretations of our rights. The idea
is the same around the world, but different interpretations and cultural beliefs have
shaped the evolutionary process in different directions. In the United States people
have fought wars and staged protests all in the name of civil rights and changing
ideas. In a country like Mexico, they have the same history of wars and protests, but
the end results have taken their country in a different direction. By looking at the
history of the two countries and comparing trends, you can gain insight into who we
are and where we are going in regards to civil rights.
When did civil rights begin in America? In school, we are taught that the early settlers
fled England to avoid criminal and religious persecution. Freedom of religion and
rights to due process and equal protection under the law are a few of the most basic
civil rights still argued today. By choosing to immigrate to the New World, settlers
made a bold stand for these rights; however, among themselves they did not extend
these rights equally. The people where divided into two classes, rich landowners, and
poor workers, and many landowners also owned slaves. The rich were educated and
held all the important government positions and naturally, many important decisions
about rights and privileges were decided to their advantage. Eventually the poor rose
up against the establishment and demanded their rights. The founding fathers, in fear
for their lives decided to draft a constitution, a written law that protects the rights of all
citizens. The thought was that this would satisfy the people while at the same time
allowing the government to remain in control. Historian Charles Beard, at the time,
published “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution,” and in this writing he
pointed out to the public that the Constitution was written by the rich and favored their
best interests (39). Beard ignited a great deal of discussion, but eventually the
Constitution was accepted. Now the people had a written law that guaranteed them
the rights and freedoms they felt were rightfully theirs.
The next big issue of civil rights involved slavery and the status of slaves. To many
slave owners, slaves were not considered human, they were work animals. Slaves
were property that could be bought and sold like any other commodity and therefore
did not have any rights. The U.S. Constitution guaranteed the rights of the citizens,
and slaves were definitely not citizens. Eventually, the issue of civil rights for slaves
helped fuel a civil war between the states and in the end, the anti-slavery faction won.
In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery, and since
then, an on going battle has been waged for the equal protection of African-Americans
under the Constitution.
African-Americans are not the only group to protest for their rights. Women did not
feel they received equal protection under the law and in 1920 the Congress agreed
and passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution allowing women to vote.
The list of disenfranchised groups goes on even today. People with disabilities,
homosexuals, and even the elderly do not feel that they are receiving full protection
under the constitution. Why is this so? If you look at the history stated previously, it is
obvious that public opinion plays a big part in how civil rights are protected. The civil
rights have not changed even from the beginning, but the Legislature’s interpretation
and definition of essential elements has.
Is this the normal evolution of civil rights? Let us look at the country of Mexico. Most
people consider Mexico to be an oppressive country where the citizens have very few
civil rights; this is far from the truth however. In 1917 Mexico adopted their own
Constitution which is very similar to the U.S. Constitution, but in many ways it grants
even more rights to the citizens then the U.S. version. Why do Mexican citizens
appear oppressed if they have all of these civil rights? Well as seen in U.S. history,
sometimes people have to protest and be heard before anyone recognizes them. In
Mexico, they have a distinct division of classes, much like early America, they are
either rich or poor, and the rich control the government and influence policies and law
the same as in our colonial days.
In America, the colonist gained their independence from England in 1776, and we did
not have a Constitution until 1788. Even after the Constitution was signed, African-
Americans were not recognized until 1865, and the struggle for equal representation
continues even today. Mexico’s Constitution by comparison is very young. Mexico
gained independence from Spain in 1810, and was immediately invaded by France.
The Mexicans fought for independence once again and eventually won independence
from France in 1867 (“Historical Background” par. 2). The wealthy Mexicans who
made General Diaz of the Mexican army president now controlled the country
(“Historical Background” par. 6). As in the United States, the poor rallied together,
and protested until their voices were heard, and a revolution began to gain civil rights
for the citizens. In 1910 the Mexican citizens ousted General Diaz and began to build
a representative government, and a Constitution was ratified in 1917 (“The Mexican
Revolution of 1910” par. 3). In America, it took 12 years from the time of
independence, until the Constitution was ratified. Mexico had the current
Constitution in place within 7 years of independence. The U.S. has operated under its
Constitution for over 212 years, while Mexico has only had theirs for less than 84
years. In other words, Mexico is at the same point in the history of its Constitution as
the U.S. was in 1872. By 1872, the U.S. Congress had only recently passed three
Civil Rights Acts, 1866, 1870, and 1871. “The first two acts gave blacks the rights to
be treated as citizens in legal actions, particularly to sue and be sued and to own
property” (“Civil Rights Acts” par. 1). “The Civil Rights Act of 1871 made it a crime to
deny any citizen equal protection under the law by means of force, intimidation or
threat”(“Civil Rights Acts” par. 2).
Currently in Mexico, the citizens have elected a new President who is for the people
and civil rights, and legislative reforms are already in progress. The Indians of Mexico
have fought for their rights since the Constitution was first drafted, and finally with the
election of the new president, it appears they may get their rights after all. One of the
first things the new president did after taking office was to call for peace with the
rebels, and he submitted an Indian Rights Bill to Congress (“World News”). To
continue the comparison, African-Americans gained civil rights 89 years after
ratification of the U.S. Constitution, and if the Mexican Congress passes the Indians
Rights Bill, they will have gained recognition 83 years after ratification.
There appears to be a parallel between Mexico’s civil rights and those of the U.S., but
Mexico has a problem that did not exist in early American history, and the problem is
drugs. In Mexico, the drug industry is a major problem, and the problem is mainly do
to the high demand for drugs coming from the United States. The United States also
is the major force pushing Mexico to fight against the drug industry. Mexico’s
response to the drug industry has been to mobilize the military to fight crime. This
creates a state of marshal law, where the citizen’s rights can easily be overlooked.
You combine this with the fact Mexico has large undeveloped areas where people live
simple rural lives and you get a situation where the people are easily taken advantage
of. Many of the rural citizens are also uneducated and are not aware that they have a
Constitution, let alone civil rights.
Mexico also has a corrupt system of law enforcement that reaches from the street
patrolman all the way to city officials, and this too is largely blamed on the drug trade.
The entire system is based on money, and operates on extortion, bribes, and payoffs.
Under this type of local law enforcement, the only civil rights a person has, are the
ones he can pay for. Once again however, the citizens are finally making a stand for
there civil rights, and their hopes are with the new President who promises to clean up
the corruption that has been the rule of thumb for 71 years.
From the comparison of the United States and Mexican civil rights, it is clear that a few
trends exist in the evolution of civil rights. It appears that a natural course of events
take place from the time of independence to the time of a unified government with a
written Constitution. Another trend is that the laws guaranteeing civil rights can be
interpreted differently depending on the beliefs and customs of the period. Last but
not least, for a group of individuals to be recognized and granted civil rights under any
Constitution, they must gain the support of the citizens who already benefit from the
civil rights. The last trend appears to be the most important issue because, as long as
deep held feelings and prejudices exist towards a group of people, that group will
never have a complete guarantee of civil rights. Once the current culture accepts the
group as one of them, then they will soon bask in the full protection of the civil rights
as guaranteed by law.