Before the coming of European colonial powers to the shores of North America and the founding of the United States, hundreds of American Indian cultures thrived here. Religious beliefs, worldviews, cosmologies, and environmental surroundings shaped the structure of their governments, institutions, economies, and material culture. The European and then the dominant white American society viewed Indians as the "Other": warlike barriers to expansion or "noble savages." What to do with Indians became a national dilemma that boiled down to two options: assimilate or perish.
As settlement occurred, the rights of American Indians, women, and each wave of immigrants such as the Scots-Irish were routinely violated within the boundaries of the present United States, especially with respect to personal liberty, voting, educational opportunities, property ownership, and religious affiliation. During this period, however, such rights were subject not only to the laws of the mother country but also to the laws and judicial interpretations of the several colonies, some of which took a more liberal approach than did others. There was no national government to define or ensure civil rights, much less a national consensus about what those rights were.
Below are a few stories of civil rights prior to the Declaration of Independence and subsequent formation of the government of the United States of America.