In the 21st century, the awareness of an individual’s unalienable Rights is exponentially growing. Earlier, however, the just and fair treatment toward a person was not seen as necessary. Before the 18th century, the African American people in the United States were considered nothing but a workforce. Some battles for visibility and recognition started much earlier, while others are at their height now. LGBT movement is currently undergoing massive changes toward the acceptance of its members. The Declaration of Independence reading “…all men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” changed the views on liberty and rights. In this paper, the origins and goals of abolitionism in the U.S. and the reform movements for LGBT rights and their impact on the United States will be considered.
The movement against the slavery of the African American population in the U.S., began in the 19th century before the Civil War broke out. Before, the White people were considered as the ones who have the right to rule over people of color, dooming the latter to serve. The African American citizens did not have the right to vote, attend the schools on an equal basis with the White people, or be served in a public place. Nowadays, African Americans can freely attend educational institutions, find employment, vote, and be elected in the governmental bodies. However, back in the 19th century, the issue of slavery of the African American population and involuntary servitude was one of the most arguable ones.
Before the Civil War broke out, the movement against enslavement took its place. The unprecedented attacks on slavery were inspired by three powerful ideological forces – evangelical Protestantism, transatlantic Quaker activism, and Enlightenment rationalism (Eltis, 2017). When the idea of “natural laws” infiltrated the American society, justifying people’s determination and severity in the attempts to eradicate tyranny and promote social progress, it became harder for the politicians to justify slavery (Eltis, 2017). Then, before the American Revolution, people expressed the “deeply emotional religious feelings” that could provoke antislavery tendencies. The third powerful source of the antislavery ideology was, as stated before, the Quakers. In the 1670s, George Fox claimed that slave-holding “defied God’s basic precepts” (Eltis, 2017). Since then, the Quakers constantly challenged their slave-holding co-religionists to renounce slavery. In 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln was adopted, emancipating the slaves. Later, in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was enacted, outlawing involuntary servitude.
Along with the discrimination based on color, there has been and still is discrimination based on sexual orientation. The struggle for LGBT rights is believed to begin after the Stonewall riots – a series of violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community. Before, people with a certain sexual orientation faced an anti-gay legal system. In the 1990s, the social conservative politicians imposed a restriction on the service of the LGBT people in the United States Armed Forces. More than that, they adopted the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a heterosexual institution solely. Apart from being not recognized and rejected by the heterosexual population, these people had also to encounter rejection on behalf of the government.
The movement for LGBT rights was aimed to legitimize the rights of people with non-traditional sexual orientation and enhance acceptance on behalf of other people. In the 1980s, some writers, entertainers, and artists acknowledged their homosexuality publicly. Then, the entertainment media started including characters with diverse sexual orientations. In the 1950s, different communities of gays, lesbians, and transgender people were created. Since then, the visibility and acceptance of the LGBT community have shifted significantly. According to Michelson (2018), in the United States, the attitudes shifted from 27% approval of same-sex marriage in 1996 to major support in 2013. At the moment, the marriage of same-sex couples is legitimized in thirty-seven states, while other states recognize them if not approve. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is outlawed in twenty states. The movement for LGBT rights has made progress; still, the current situation leaves much to be desired.
Historically, the struggle for rights, even the alienable ones, has never been easy. Neither it was during the 20th century in the United States. Be it the movement for the discrimination to end, or the LGBT community rights to be legitimized. Having been deprived of fundamental rights to have a seat on public transport or a meal in a café, the African Americans achieved recognition and respect, even though the struggle continues until this day. Gays, lesbians, transgender people have endured legal and social rejection, and now many states legitimized same-sex marriage and its inherent rights. The reading in the Declaration of Independence has made and is making a huge impact on each aspect of American society, offering people an opportunity to live and prosper. With the progress being made, future generations will face a peaceful and respectful world.
- Eltis, D. et al. (2017). Antislavery and Abolitionism in the United States, 1776–1870. In S. Engerman, L. Stanley, S. Drescher, & D. Richardson (Eds.), The Cambridge World History of Slavery (pp. 399-421). Cambridge University Press.
- Michelson, M. R. (2018). The power of visibility: Advances in LGBT rights in the United States and Europe. The Journal of Politics, 81(1), 1-5. doi: 10.1086/700591.