The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project is a university-chartered research center associated with the Department of History of The George Washington University

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The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

1776 CE

The U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaims "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."

1780 CE

An "Act for the General Abolition of Slavery" passes the Pennsylvania Assembly. It is the first of such legislation passed in America.

1783 CE

The Massachusetts Supreme Court outlaws slavery in the state, citing the state's constitution that "all men are born free and equal."

1786 CE


Thomas Jefferson

The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson passes the Virginia House of Burgesses. The statute provides the basis for the separation of church and state and promotes the freedom of the individual to practice any religion.

1787 CE


Scene at the signing of
the U.S. Constitution

The delegates of the Constitutional Convention adopt the United States Constitution. Nine states ratify the Constitution the following year.

1789 CE


French Declaration of
the Rights of Man

French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is adopted, stating that "men are born and remain free and equal in rights." The Declaration also states that "every man is presumed innocent until he is proven guilty" and asserts that the law "is an expression of the general will." Unlike the U.S. Bill of Rights it is intended to be universal.

1791 CE

Olympe do Gouges writes the Declaration of the Rights of Women and urges women to "join in all activities of men" and thus assert their equality with men.


U.S. Bill of Rights
from the National Archives

The U.S. Bill of Rights is ratified. The first 10 amendments to the Constitution provide immunities for the individual to protect against tyranny. Among the rights are the notions of freedom of speech and of the press, as well as the right to a fair trial.

1792 CE

Mary Wollstonecraft writes the Vindication of the Rights of Women.

1798 CE

The Alien and Sedition Acts in the United States limit the freedoms of speech and of the press and constrict the rights of the foreign born.

1807 CE

The U.S. Congress outlaws the importation of African slaves into the United States. Nevertheless, some 250,000 slaves are imported illegally between 1808 and 1860.

1814-1815 CE

The Congress of Vienna is held by the states that defeated Napoleon (Austria, Great Britain, Russia, France, and Prussia). International concern for human rights is demonstrated for the first time in modern history. Freedom of religion is proclaimed, civil and political rights discussed, and the slave trade is condemned.

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