Legalized Oppression: A Global History of Evil Laws

LEGALIZED OPPRESSION: A GLOBAL HISTORY OF EVIL LAWS

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Throughout history, numerous societies have enacted what can be considered "evil laws”. Legislation that codified discrimination, oppression, and injustice against marginalized groups.

ANTI-MISCEGENATION LAWS

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Anti-miscegenation laws, which banned interracial marriage and sometimes interracial sex, were historically enforced in various parts of the world, including the United States, Nazi Germany, and apartheid South Africa.

These laws persisted in many US states until 1967, Nazi Germany extended its ban to include "Gypsies, Negroes or their bastard offspring" in 1935, and in colonial-era India, the British government issued a "Concubine Circular" in 1909 officially denouncing officials who kept native mistresses.

FUGITIVE SLAVE ACTS

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The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a controversial law that required all escaped slaves to be returned to their enslavers and forced officials and citizens of free states to cooperate in capturing fugitives, leading to increased tensions between the North and South prior to the Civil War.

The law incentivized the capture of fugitive slaves by paying commissioners $10 if they ruled in favor of the slaveholder and only $5 if they ruled in favor of the alleged fugitive, essentially creating a financial motivation for officials to send Black people into slavery.

THE BLACK CODES

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After the Civil War, Southern states enacted "Black Codes" to restrict the freedom of newly emancipated African Americans and essentially force them back into unpaid labor.

It allowed Black children to be forcibly apprenticed to their former enslavers, vagrancy laws that could result in arrested Black people being "hired out" to the highest bidder, and restrictions on Black people's right to bear arms justified by claims of imminent insurrection.

NUREMBERG LAWS

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The Nuremberg Laws, enacted in Nazi Germany in 1935, stripped Jews of their citizenship and prohibited marriages between Jews and Germans, effectively institutionalizing racial discrimination.

Even people with only one Jewish grandparent could be classified as Jewish and face persecution, while the laws also targeted other groups like Roma people and Black individuals, leading to widespread discrimination and eventually contributing to the Holocaust.

JIM CROW LAWS

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Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States from the late 19th to mid-20th century, mandating "separate but equal" status for African Americans in all public facilities.

These laws disenfranchised most black voters through measures like literacy tests and poll taxes, while some states even banned interracial chess games as part of their segregation policies.

THE ENABLING ACT

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The Enabling Act of 1933 in Germany, officially called the "Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich," was a pivotal piece of legislation that effectively established Adolf Hitler's dictatorship.

Passed in a climate of intimidation and violence, with opposition parties already banned or coerced, the Act allowed Hitler's cabinet to enact laws without parliamentary approval for four years, essentially suspending the Weimar Constitution and marking a critical step in the Nazi seizure of power.

INDIAN REMOVAL ACT

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The Indian Removal Act of 1830, signed into law by President Andrew Jackson, forcibly relocated over 60,000 Native Americans from at least 18 tribes to lands west of the Mississippi River, resulting in numerous deaths due to the harsh conditions of the journey.

The Act was justified by some proponents using biblical narratives, while its implementation led to events like the Trail of Tears and has been characterized by modern scholars as an early example of state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing or genocide.

APARTHEID LAWS

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Apartheid was a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination that existed in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s, where the white minority government severely restricted the rights and freedoms of the non-white majority through racist laws and brutal enforcement.

It forced relocation of millions of black South Africans to designated "homelands", the prohibition of interracial marriages and relationships, the creation of separate and unequal facilities for different races (including beaches, buses, and benches), and the use of torture and extrajudicial killings by security forces to suppress opposition to the apartheid regime.

WITCHCRAFT ACTS

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The Witchcraft Acts were a series of laws enacted in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and British colonies from 1541 to 1735, establishing penalties for practicing or pretending to practice witchcraft.

The 1562 Act was surprisingly merciful compared to its predecessor, demanding the death penalty only when harm had been caused.

The 1603 Act, enforced by the self-styled "Witch-Finder General" Matthew Hopkins, broadened the scope to include death without benefit of clergy for anyone who invoked evil spirits or communed with familiar spirits.

CHINESE EXCLUSION ACT

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The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first major U.S. law to prohibit immigration based on race, banning Chinese laborers from entering the country for 10 years and making Chinese immigrants permanent aliens ineligible for citizenship.

The law remained in effect until 1943, when it was repealed as China became a U.S. ally in World War II, but even then the annual quota for Chinese immigrants was set at just 105 people per year.

THE SEDITION ACT OF 1918

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The Sedition Act of 1918, an extension of the Espionage Act of 1917, criminalized "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the US government, flag, or armed forces during wartime, with convictions resulting in sentences of 5 to 20 years in prison.

Industrialist William C. Edenborn, a naturalized citizen from Germany, was arrested for allegedly "speaking disloyally" when he belittled the threat of Germany to US security.

ANTI-JEWISH LAWS IN NAZI-OCCUPIED EUROPE

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The Nazi regime in pre-war Germany enacted over 400 laws and decrees between 1933-1939 to systematically exclude Jews from society, stripping them of citizenship, banning them from professions, and restricting their personal and economic freedoms.

Some laws required Jews to adopt the middle names "Israel" for men and "Sara" for women, while another bizarrely banned Jews from keeping carrier pigeons.

THE DECREE FOR THE PROTECTION OF PEOPLE AND STATE

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The Reichstag Fire Decree, issued on February 28, 1933, was a pivotal moment in Nazi Germany's history, as it suspended civil liberties and allowed Hitler to consolidate power under the guise of protecting the nation from communist threats.

The decree effectively established Hitler's dictatorship and remained in force throughout the Nazi era, was technically legal under the Weimar Constitution's Article 48.

RACIAL INTEGRITY ACT

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The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in Virginia enforced racial segregation by prohibiting interracial marriage and classifying all non-whites as "colored," with the bizarre exception of the "Pocahontas Clause" that allowed people with up to 1/16 American Indian ancestry to still be considered white.

This law, pushed by white supremacist Walter Plecker, led to the reclassification of nearly all Virginia Indians as "colored" on official documents and contributed to the involuntary sterilization of thousands of people deemed "unfit”.

This included Carrie Buck, whose case went to the Supreme Court where Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes infamously declared "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

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