5 Famous Modern Events You Won't Believe Happened Before

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.

#5. 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.

#4. 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.

#3. 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.

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