Civil rights struggles in the US have been dominated by racial politics. Although slavery was abolished and freed slaves were given the right to vote in 1865, southern states used laws and vigilantism to maintain black Americans as a non-voting lower caste often subject to totalitarian rules of conduct. The federal government, while aware of the situation, had limited jurisdiction over these matters and feared the political effects of provoking the South. A breakthrough came when president Harry S. Truman integrated the armed forces by executive order in 1948. This action prompted a broad movement throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to enforce the civil rights of black Americans.
Other civil rights trends in the US include the increasingly liberal interpretation of the Bill of Rights, the protection of laborers from abuse by employers, and the ongoing development of the rights of homosexuals. The abortion controversy in the US has been described as a civil rights issue, although each side claims to protect the rights of a different group.
In Northern Ireland the Civil Rights Movement developed in the 1960s among nationalists in Northern Ireland who demanded an end to Unionist discrimination, in the form of the gerrymandering of local electoral districts to ensure the victory of unionist candidates in areas with nationalist majorities, and in discrimination in the awarding of local authority housing. Tentative steps to address these issues by Terence O'Neill was met with vehement opposition from extremist Protestants, most notably Ian Paisley. Frustration at the lack of reform and the heavy-handed tactics of the RUC and the British army pushed many Catholics towards the IRA. Failure to tackle these issues led to the dissolution of the Northern Ireland government and to the political violence which has plagued Northern Ireland since. One of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement was future Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, another, Austin Currie, a candidate for President of Ireland in 1990. Hume's co-Nobel Lauraute, David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in the 1990s and 2000s, called the Northern Ireland of the 1960s a "cold house for Catholics".
Civilrights are distinguished from "human rights" or "natural rights"—civil rights are rights that are bestowed by nations on those within their territorial boundaries, while natural or human rights are rights that many scholars claim ought to belong to all people.
In the United States, for example, laws protecting civilrights appear in the Constitution, in the amendments to the Constitution (particularly the 13th and 14th Amendments), in federal statutes, in state constitutions and statutes and even in the ordinances of counties and cities.
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