Human Rights: Towards a Universal Values System! The 19th and 20th Centuries

I am continuing a series of blogs on human rights that I began in December: “Towards Human Rights.” The purpose of this blog series is to make the case for the implementation and acceptance of human rights as a global values system. It is based on my Human Rights: Towards a Universal Values System?

“…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” …Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

 Towards Human Rights as a Global Values System, part 25

 By Dr. Denise R. Ames

A History and Philosophy of Human Rights, The 19th and 20th Centuries                                                                                                                                                                                            Many social and political movements spearheaded the drive for human rights in the 19th and 20th centuries. In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison, an American abolitionist against

24.4 Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

slavery, urged newspaper readers to join him in “the great cause of human rights.” It looks as though the term human rights probably came into use between Thomas Paine’s book The Rights of Man and Garrison’s newspaper article. In 1849, Henry David Thoreau wrote about human rights in his essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, which influenced later human rights and civil rights thinkers.

Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. The U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Davis, appointed by President Abraham Lincoln, wrote in 1867 that “in the protection of the law, human rights are secured; withdraw that protection and they are at the mercy of wicked rulers or the clamor of an excited people.”

The concept of human rights expanded in the 19th and 20th centuries. In Western Europe and North America, labor unions brought about laws granting workers the right to

25.1 Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

strike, establishing minimum work conditions and stopping or regulating child labor. Abolitionists fought hard and succeeded in abolishing slavery and the slave trade. For instance, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery in the rebel states in 1862, and Brazil abolished slavery in 1889. The women’s rights movement struggled for many years to gain the right to vote (suffrage) for women. Success in gaining women’s suffrage came about at different dates in the 20th century, although New Zealand was the first nation to grant women the right to vote in 1893.

The U.S. passed the 19th amendment to its constitution which made it legal for women to vote in 1920, even though the territory of Wyoming granted suffrage to women years earlier in 1869. The newly created modern nation of Turkey granted women voting

1.2 Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

rights in 1926. France, a center of Enlightenment thinking in the 18th century, only granted women voting rights in 1944, although the government abolished slavery in 1794. The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Voting Rights for Women, as stated in Article 21, passed into international law in 1948.

About the Author:

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.

1.5 bookPlease email or visit for more information.

For more information about the topic of human rights see Dr. Ames’ book Human Rights: Towards a Global Values System, $17.95, 225 pgs. Also available on Amazon.



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