Unintended consequences are almost never a good thing -- you picture a new dam being built and accidentally drowning a village upstream. But it's not just well-intentioned plans that go awry. Bad intentions can backfire too, accidentally striking a blow for the good guys. Like ...
The United States of the early 1960s was a racist place, and Virginia was perhaps the racistest. So it's no surprise that, as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barreled down the tracks toward Enactment Station, one Virginia congressman was intent on derailing that son of a bitch by any means necessary. That congressman's name was Howard W. Smith, and we can sum up pretty much everything you need to know about the guy in three words: "apologist for slavery." OK, four: "segregationist."
OK, five: "turtley."
Obviously, an act that promised to end discrimination based on "race, color, religion, or national origin" posed a threat to the sensibilities of a man like Smith on like three or four different levels. So how could he throw a big ol' bigot-wrench in its gears? Simple: by adding one more, tiny word to that list: "sex." Not as in "everyone is entitled to equal amounts of it" but as in "women get equal rights too."
Now, as you can probably guess, Smith didn't give two shits and a ham sandwich about women's rights. This wasn't his way of squeezing one desirable outcome out of a bill that he saw as the downfall of his entire belief system -- it was his way of splitting the vote. He knew that there was a large contingent of members who were all for maintaining a dong-advantaged society, and adding women to the act was a way to make it sound so ridiculous that on-the-fence congressmen would Humpty Dumpty right down to the "no" side of the yard.
United States House of Representatives
If he really wanted division he should have just included something about pizza-topping preference.
When he introduced his smart-ass wording change, Smith was met with a wave of laughter from the House floor. But laughter can be misleading -- Smith either vastly underestimated the level of support behind the Civil Rights Act or completely failed to realize that somewhere around half of the population maybe, you know, wanted women to have equal rights too. The bill passed, and not only did Smith possibly help cement its passage, but a man who was vehemently opposed to granting blacks and minorities equal rights also accidentally helped jumpstart the modern feminist movement. Just think of how embarrassed he must have been when he realized that women also come in all colors.
Way back in 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation was A-OK according to the highest law of the land, thereby proving that human awfulness goes all the way to the tippy top. That single ruling allowed states to maintain segregated schools and other facilities for over six decades, and this widespread prejudice even trickled into sports leagues such as the NFL. Throughout its early history, the NFL was downright progressive. But in the 1930s, racism hit like a ton of bricks, and in 1933 it became a whites-only league by "unofficially" banning minorities from playing.
"You've got great hands. Have you considered trying out ... as a ticket usher?"
Fast-forward to 1946. The NFL had been bleachy white for over a decade. Problem was, the best up-and-coming football player (not to mention a better baseball player than Jackie Robinson), Kenny Washington, was a bit too pigmentally gifted for the comfort of the racist institution that pro football had become. When a bid to make Washington the first professional baseball player failed due to Washington's refusal to pretend to be Puerto Rican rather than black (no shit), Washington turned to his second-choice sport.
Bears coach George Halas tried to snap him up by convincing the league to integrate, but it was a no-go. In the end, it would take a decades-old Supreme Court decision to finally integrate the NFL. You may have heard of it: Plessy v. Ferguson, the very case that had made segregation completely legal to begin with.
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Basically the courtroom version of this.
See, that court case came up with the concept of "separate but equal" public facilities, meaning you could build a whites-only school as long as you also built an all-black one. Well, the Cleveland Rams, who were preparing to relocate to Los Angeles, wanted to sign Kenny Washington. Since the L.A. Coliseum was supported by public funds, they merely had to ask when the all-black stadium would be built. The answer of course was never, so the NFL couldn't claim any legal protection for its segregation. That meant when the Rams signed Washington and broke the league's color barrier, there was nothing the other owners could do to stop it. Not unless they could convince the government to fund a "separate but equal" NFL.
So, the Rams happily added Washington to their roster, and he became the NFL equivalent of Jackie Robinson, except with none of the pesky historical recognition.
As late as 2003, 14 U.S. states still considered certain sexing techniques so unthinkably debauched that they were outright illegal. And of all the sodomy statutes on the books, Texas' "homosexual conduct law" was perhaps the most creepily specific -- it stated that anal sex was just dandy between men and women, but not those of the same sex, oddly making the level of freedom enjoyed by a Texan's butthole dependent upon its owner's gender. Though the law wasn't much enforced by 1998, it technically criminalized a significant portion of the state's gay men.
That was the year some Houston cops took an anonymous call about a black man "going crazy with a gun" and sped to the scene to justice the shit out of the situation. When they arrived, they found that the whole gun story was a crock of horse shit stirred up by a jealous former lover -- however, there was some banging of an entirely different variety going down.
Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"Was it a gang thing?"
"No, just the two of them."
The official story is that Deputy Joseph Quinn, the lead officer on the scene, waded into the apartment through a fog of incense and '70s funk to catch Tyron Garner and John Lawrence enjoying some vigorous backdoor boning. Even after he pointed his gun and ordered them to stop, Quinn claimed that Garner kept right on a-humping for a full minute, staring him straight in the eye. But two other cops in the apartment didn't see anything of the sort, and another officer said he'd seen oral sex. This suggests that something was amiss with the officers' testimony, because even in the most disturbing of German porn it's pretty goddamn clear which end everything's going into or, Lord help us, coming out of.
Anal shenanigans notwithstanding, Lawrence was still pissed-off enough to find the police in his place that he started drunkenly yelling about Nazis. This didn't sit well with Deputy Quinn, a cop well known for demanding that citizens respect the badge. Or, less charitably, one with a reputation as a hyper-authoritarian, homophobic dickbag. He called the DA, and after getting confirmation that, yes, it was actually a thing he could do, arrested the two men for "deviant sexual acts."
Houston Police Department
Clearly, hardened criminal masterminds.
Lawrence and Garner pleaded not guilty. But given that it took such a rare confluence of stupidities to produce an honest-to-goodness sodomy charge, activists convinced the pair to shut up about their innocence and change their plea to no contest. The case went to the Supreme Court in 2003, where it was decided that red-blooded Americans had the right to insert their tallywhatsits into whichever ballyhoosit they damn well please in the privacy of their own homes. Finally, man-on-man lovin' was officially legal in every state of the Union, and it was thanks in no small part to the police equivalent of that jock in high school whose vocabulary consisted of 98 percent, "Fag!"
"The other 2 percent was, 'Homo!' Gotta have variety."
In the late 1890s, no man had a greater grip on the political balls of New York than Republican Senator Thomas Platt, unaffectionately known as Boss Platt. When Platt needed a new lackey to fill the role of governor after his preferred man went and destroyed his hopes of reelection by treating government funds like his own personal piggy bank, he turned to Teddy Roosevelt. Fresh off of his stint with the Rough Riders, Roosevelt would be a convenient puppet to play out Platt's whims since he had not yet fully developed into the unstoppable juggernaut that he was destined to become.
Young Teddy would like to have a word with that last sentence.
But Governor Goddamn Roosevelt was no man's puppet. He went straight to doing as he damn well pleased (versus doing as Boss Platt damn well pleased), and when it became apparent that the new governor was about to deal a swift kick to the precarious political building blocks that Platt had so carefully stacked into makeshift thrones for him and his Republican pals, they had to get rid of him.
No, we don't mean "get rid of him" as in "kill him." Platt was corrupt, not fucking suicidal.
How would you even kill a mustache like that?
Anyway, in what seemed like a stroke of unquestionable luck for Platt, Republican President William McKinley just so happened to be seeking a new running mate for the 1900 election. Since the vice presidency was widely known as the office where political careers crawled off to die a slow, whimpering death, the post seemed like the A-1 perfect spot to dump a certain problematic moose-rider. Roosevelt wanted nothing to do with the nomination, but at the insistence of Platt, his fellow Republican big-shot Mark Hanna, and tens of thousands of chanters at the Republican Nominating Convention in Philadelphia, he relented. Long story short: McKinley won, and Roosevelt settled in for four years of mind-numbing boredom as the new VP.
Wait, did we say four years? We meant six months. That's how long it was before President McKinley decided to check out the 1901 World's Fair in Buffalo, and rather than stuffing his belly full of delectable funnel cake, he ended up getting it stuffed full of lead courtesy of anarchist-cum-assassin Leon Czolgosz. And just like that, Platt and Hanna's ploy to force Roosevelt into the position of least power had instead pushed him right into the most powerful position of all. Hanna, upon hearing the news, shouted, "Now that damned cowboy is president!" -- a reference to Roosevelt's stint "punching cattle" in the 1880s. And then Roosevelt presumably punched him through a wall like motherfucking RoboCop.
Library of Congress
Then the entire planet came together and elected him Ruler Of The World out of fear.
Ah, New Zealand. Movie Middle-earth. World rugby powerhouse. Australia's Canada. Global pioneer of women's rights? Yep -- New Zealand granted women full voting rights all the way back in 1893, which, for those keeping score at home, means they out-democracied the USA by a handy 27 years.
After years of campaigning, by the 1890s Kiwi suffragettes were finally winning the public debate. No one was less pleased about this than the liquor industry, the proponents of which worried that women would vote for temperance laws and cast an unprofitable buzzkill across the land. Premier Richard Seddon, whom we'll hereafter refer to by his actual nickname, King Dick (because holy shit, KING DICK), was in cahoots with the booze industry and felt like an utter tool because his Liberal Party was responsible for introducing the latest suffrage bill before his rise to power. The bill had already passed the lower house, but that had happened twice before. King Dick and his cronies had always managed to scare off upper house voters with acts of political dickery, such as last-minute amendments.
"All in favor of the 'Stop Acting Like Cocks Act' of ... goddamn it, Dick."
This time, however, the math wasn't working in King Dick's favor: The bill was deadlocked at 19 votes each way. A little too close for comfort -- but it did mean that just one more "no" should be enough to smite that girl-vote foolishness again. So King Dick shot one of his party's new councilors a sneaky telegram ordering him to change his vote. The councilor agreed because, again, KING DICK, and Seddon patted himself on the back, content that a single telegram had secured Kiwi men's right to the drunken bliss that can only be achieved when drinking from cups filled by oppressed womenfolk.
And it might have worked, if word of King Dick's shenanigans hadn't leaked. It pissed off William Reynolds and Edward Stevens, two opposition councilors who had planned to vote against the bill on a technicality. Their objections dropped quicker than a freshman at happy hour, and they jumped sides for the sole purpose of politically embarrassing King Dick as payback for his conniving bastardry. The bill passed and, thanks to a simple act of petty spite, New Zealand became the first modern country to grant equal voting rights to women.
"And look where that got us!" -Ghost Dick
Of course, King Dick tried to claim credit for women's suffrage, on the grounds that his party proposed the bill in the first place. Because, in case we haven't mentioned it, KING DICK.
National Library NZ
"He died like he lived. A cunt."
Evan V. Symon is the Interview Finder Guy at Cracked. If you have an awesome job or experience you would like to share, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more wackjobs, check out 5 Certifiably Insane Politicians People Still Voted For and 5 Blatantly Corrupt Politicians America Reelected Anyways.