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For all the bemoaning your grandparents do about the end of the "good old days," you'd assume that the world has pretty much gone to shit over the course of a single generation. Well, you can rest assured that many of the "modern" problems we deal with today were around in Grandpa's time, too -- he just didn't notice because he was too busy doing the Charleston while shooting Nazis and banging his poodle-skirted girlfriend. We don't have a ... super firm grip on timelines around these parts.

America Had Something Like the Patriot Act in 1871

Library of Congress

9/11 was one of the most significant events in modern American history. When Americans suddenly realized how vulnerable they were to terrorism, the government rolled out some controversial new legislation designed to make everyone feel a little safer, even if they might have to let go of some personal freedoms along the way, like the right to communicate with other human beings privately, or the right not to have their genitals fondled in an airport by a GED candidate in a short-sleeve button-up.

Jeff Topping/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"If your genitals have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide."

But It's Been Happening Since ...

Before Americans were afraid of al-Qaida, they were afraid of some guys known as the Ku Klux Klan, who were a bit paler, but otherwise shared the same general questionable fashion sense and love of hate-filled murder. The government responded with the Enforcement Act of 1871, aka the KKK Act, a piece of legislation giving them powers to investigate and prosecute any suspects of cross-burning, race-related murders, and general dickitry. And as the Patriot Act's granddaddy, the 1871 act did the best it could to make its descendants proud: Suspending habeas corpus? You got it. Sending out the Army to support arrest and prosecution? No problem at all. Trying civilians in military courts? Yeah, baby! Entering foreign lands to kidnap terrorists? Sure, why not? Spy drones and wireless taps? Almost certainly!

(We warned you we weren't great with timelines.)

National Archives 
Cracked Fact: No one in those days could use email without fear of being monitored.

The KKK Act worked, and over the years it enabled the government to dismantle the most threatening and hardcore parts of the old-timey Klan, which you will not hear us defending, no matter how shady and frightening the measures to combat them may have been. It's hard to muster up sympathy for folks who justify murder by the amount of melanin their victims possessed.

1500s Germany Had Three-Strikes Laws

Library of Congress

The USA puts more people in prison annually than any other country in the world. That's partially because of three-strikes laws, where habitual offenders can find themselves doing a minimum jail term of 25 years for being convicted of three or more crimes, regardless of severity, such as stealing a pair of socks or a slice of pepperoni pizza. And God have mercy on your soul if you steal pizza socks.

The Sock Drawer
You should be locked up. You're a danger to yourself and others.

But It's Been Happening Since ...

Unfortunately, it appears that no one bothered to open a history book before signing off on this law. If they had, they would have discovered that humanity had already given it a shot, and it turned out as poorly as you'd expect. We're referring to the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina, a criminal code used in 16th century Germany that aimed to stamp out career criminals by imposing a three strikes-esque law. Repeat offenders would receive progressively harsher punishments for every crime they were found guilty of. As punishment for their first crime, the criminal would be publicly flogged; for their second crime, they would be banished; and for their third, they'd be executed by hanging. For theft of Italian flatbread-themed garters? Disembowelment, then re-embowelment. You don't even want to know.

Volga2012/iStock/Getty Images
Then they'd be hanged. With the pizza garters.

It was practically impossible for a criminal who had been convicted twice to avoid the gallows. After being humiliated by a public flogging and stripped of friends and family (thanks to the banishment), it was commonplace for them to return to their old lifestyle of crime because they simply had no other options. That probably sounds all too tragically familiar to any modern-day underprivileged American youth with the slightest bit of street cred.

And since we've seen every episode of The Wire like four times, we'll go ahead and assume we know everything about their struggle.

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Chester A. Arthur Was the Subject of the First "Birther" Movement

Joseph Ferdinand Keppler

As far as presidential controversies go, one of the silliest was the allegation, chiefly spouted by Fox News and Tea Party protesters, that Barack Obama was secretly born in Kenya rather than Hawaii, and therefore ineligible to hold office. Apparently something about his physical appearance suggests to people that he can't possibly be American, although we're not sure what that is.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
His Panama-born opponent, meanwhile, had that certain American air about him.

But It's Been Happening Since ...

When Chester A. Arthur, who claimed to have been born in the exotic land of Vermont, became vice president under James Garfield, his disgruntled opponents in the Republican Party hatched a theory that he was actually born a few miles to the north of where he claimed, across the border amid the wild jungles of dark and savage Canada.

Arthur graduated to full president when Garfield was assassinated, which only made the conspiracy theorists scream louder. They hired a lawyer named Arthur Hinman (a traitor to all Arthur-kind) to investigate these claims. Surprisingly, a lawyer managed to find something that agreed with his clients' ridiculous claims. We know. What are the odds?

amit erez/iStock/Getty Images
Proving that this and all other conspiracy theories are 100 percent true.

According to Hinman, Arthur stole the identity of a dead sibling who had been born in Vermont, while he himself was actually born in Quebec. Oh man, not even the "American" part of Canada?

Chester never bothered to refute the allegations that he was a baby corpse-thieving invader from the north, so we are forced to assume that is the unmitigated truth. Those Canadians are such a notoriously shifty lot.

The Energy Crisis Started in Medieval Times

George Bouverie Goddard

While you sit there avoiding work by stocking up on emergency dick jokes, governments are planning wars over the meager amount of oil we have left. We've known for years now that there's an energy crisis going on, and if we don't start seriously investing in alternate energy sources pretty soon, our awesomely vulgar cars and cheap porn-enabling electricity will be a thing of the past.

MarcelC/iStock/Getty Images
Sure, there's plenty of moon oil, but transport just isn't practical.

But It's Been Happening Since ...

Ironically, the discovery of coal and oil saved us from an energy crisis that started back in the medieval era. We are referring, of course, to the wood shortages. It makes sense if you think about it: Of course there were wood shortages! It's not like trees just grow on ... oh.

Back in the Middle Ages, wood was as important to people as oil is to us now. In a world without electricity and piped gas, burning wood was the main energy source for heating houses and cooking. And just as we use oil to create plastic and build pretty much everything, wood was the stuff that made awesomely vulgar ships and cheap porn (hey, there were some pretty graphic wood cuts back in the day) possible.

Photick/Matthieu Spohn/Photick/Getty Images
Splintery wooden dildos were standard.

Deforestation had become a huge issue by the 1500s. In England alone, the price of wood tripled, and their forests were reduced to only 10 percent of the country's area in the following century. Apply that to the whole of Europe and you've got a whole continent bracing for a winter deadlier than on Game of Thrones.

Although it seems like a pretty boring reason for such a grand adventure, wood procurement (tee hee) was one of the main motivators for the exploration of the new world. The North American Atlantic coast, the Caribbean, and Brazil proved to be excellent sources for much needed timber, and in many cases the natives were reasonably happy to be rid of those pesky trees in exchange for weapons, tools, and whatever the 16th century equivalent of an iPhone was. Whale oil, coal mines, and the Industrial Revolution finally put a stop to (some of) the forest genocide, and that's the only reason we even know what a tree is today.

Ingram Publishing/Ingram Publishing/Getty Images
Keeping the Ents from ever having to declare war on us.

So if there's a lesson we can take from history, let it be that we'll find a crazy new resource, like shark cartilage or something, just in time to avert a total disaster, and everything is going to be fine. Until we deplete the shark cartilage; then it's time to panic.

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The PRISM of the American Civil War

McClure's Magazine

In 2013, we discovered that, under the auspices of a program known as PRISM, the NSA was spying on the telephone and Internet communications of millions of people around the world. This revelation came out thanks to the actions of whistleblower Edward Snowden, a man who would later be nominated for Time's Person of the Year, as well as Cracked's own prestigious Famous Figure Most Likely to Be Down for a Pick-Up D&D Game award.

Alan Rusbridger/The Guardian
He'll nail you with his Gauntlets of Transparency.

But It's Been Happening Since ...

The American Civil War. One Edwin M. Stanton (suspicious time-traveling alias of Edward Snowden? You decide.) was elected to the illustrious post of Secretary of War. As you'd expect from someone who willingly applies for a position with that job title, he turned out to be the supervillain amalgamation of Mark Zuckerberg and Josef Stalin.

His first act was to write a letter to President Lincoln asking for unrestricted access to the country's telegraph lines for the purpose of gathering information about the war. Incredibly, Lincoln agreed with this proposal, and soon every telegraph line in the United States found itself routed through Stanton's offices. As silent partner in this vital piece of infrastructure, Stanton was able to read everything sent via telegram, be it military, diplomatic, or domestic. If your great-grandparents ever used the network to sext, you can be damn sure that Stanton tapped one out to it.

Cardiff Council Flat Holm Project
Telegrams charged per word, which was why Great-Grampa Pete always finished quickly.

Sure, some of the information he gathered was relevant to his job, but he didn't stop at just observing. Since he controlled the fastest flow of information, Stanton was also able to censor any and all journalism correspondence that he didn't want going public. When reporters started to rightfully complain, he had several detained on charges of spying -- which is something we're apparently still doing today. Eventually, the higher-ups realized what they'd done and hauled Stanton in front of a judiciary committee, where he was flogged and hanged like a dirty pizza-sock thief. Oh wait, no, he was urged to show "greater restraint" on the matter of "telegraphic censorship." Careful you don't cut yourself on the keen sword of justice there, America.

For more from Adam, you can follow him on Twitter or check out his website. Ruy Platt's website isn't fun, so he usually hangs out on Twitter. Go there to say hi and pay him a beer.

Related Reading: Nothing in today's age is original. Night vision? Nope. Sitting under the A/C in your undies? the Persians were doing that shit way before us (maybe not the undies part). Hell, even LOLcats predate the Internet.

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