U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaims that “all men are created equal” and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Massachusetts becomes the first state to outlaw slavery. The Massachusetts State Supreme Court relies upon the state’s bill of rights to in its judgment.
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom declares that religion cannot be established or explicitly supported by the government, and that all people have the right to freedom of belief.
The U.S. Constitution is written and ratified by nine states in the following year.
The first ten amendments to the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights, are ratified.
The Slave Trade Act (adopted in 1807) makes the import and export of slaves illegal in the United States. However, the domestic slave trade continues.
Women’s rights activists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and others meet in Seneca Falls, New York, to draft a “bill of rights,” outlining the social, civil, and political rights of women.
Start of the American Civil War.
President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation.
On April 7, 1865 Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Civil War.
In December, Congress passes the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States.
Congress passes the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits limitation of citizenship rights and affirms the principles of due process and equal protection of the law.
Congress passes the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibits the use or race, color or previous status as a slave to limit voting rights.
President Woodrow Wilson introduces his Fourteen Points.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is established.
The Leagues of Nations holds it first meeting.
Congress ratifies the Nineteenth Amendment, which grants women the right to vote
Congress approves The Indian Citizenship Act, which admits all Native Americans born in the United States into full United States citizenship.
The United States is signatory to the Geneva Conference which passes the Slavery Convention.
The Slavery Convention is entered into force for the United States.
Congress begins approving measures of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” designed to help the United States recover from the Great Depression.
Congress passes the Indian Reorganization Act, which restores tribal ownership of reservation lands.
The United States officially joins the International Labor Organization.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt makes his “Four Freedoms” speech, where he declares freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear as the birthright of every man and woman.
President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill draft the Atlantic Charter, which becomes a foundational document for both the Allies war-time goals and the charter of the United Nations.
The United Nations (UN) is established. The United States becomes signatory to its Charter.
The UN General Assembly adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The United States is signatory to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Convention becomes effective in 1951, although the U.S. Senate did not ratify the treaty until 1988.
The United States is signatory to the Inter-American Convention on the Granting of Political Rights to Women. The U.S. Senate ratifies in 1976.
The United States is signatory to the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
The United States is signatory to four Geneva Conventions (known as Geneva I, II, III, and IV), which address providing medical aid to armed forces, the treatment of POWs, and the protection of civilians during wartime.
U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivers an address titled: “The Chance for Peace,” where he highlights how war robs a nation of resources that otherwise could be used to advance human rights.
In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court rules that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.
The United States adopts the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
The Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (Geneva I); the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick, and Shipwrecked Members of armed Forces at Sea (Geneva II); the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Geneva III); and the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Geneva IV) are ratified by the United States.
The ILO introduces the Convention Concerning the Abolition of Forced Labor. The U.S. ratifies it in 1991.
Congress approves the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which sought to protect the voting rights for African-Americans and create a commission to review voting grievances.
The United States signs the Convention on the Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Voting Rights Act authorizes the United States government to appoint examiners to register voters where local officials have made African-American registration difficult.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are adopted and opened for signature.
The United States ratifies the updated Protocol on the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.
President Gerald Ford signs the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).
The United States becomes signatory to the American Convention on Human Rights.
The Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs is created within the United States Department of State. Its first reports on human rights are issued that year.
President Jimmy Carter’s Inaugural Address establishes advancing human rights as an important part of his Administration’s goals.
The United States is signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Senate ratifies the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages.
The United States signs the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Congress passes the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986: which imposes economic sanctions on South Africa in protest against the government’s apartheid policy.
The Senate ratifies the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is signed into law, establishing “a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.”
President George H.W. Bush resubmits the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention to the Senate for ratification. The Senate ratifies the Convention on September 25.
The Senate ratifies the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The United States becomes party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
First Lady Hillary Clinton leads the United States delegation to the World Conference on Women in Beijing, China where she declares, “Women’s rights are human rights.”
President William J. Clinton submits the Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour to the Senate for ratification. The Senate ratifies the Convention on August 5, 1999.
The United States leads the UN to adopt the Palermo Protocol, which includes a section that denounces trafficking in persons.
Domestically, the U.S. Congress passes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The United States becomes party to the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives groundbreaking speech on Internet Freedom.