Mississippi Didn’t Officially Outlaw Slavery Until 1995

Today I found out Mississippi didn’t officially outlaw slavery until 1995.

While the Thirteenth Amendment was set into law, thus outlawing slavery anywhere in the United States, on December 6, 1865 when it secured the needed 27 of 36 states’ approval (3/4), it wasn’t until 130 years later on March 16, 1995 that Mississippi finally got around to ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment.  As you might expect, this made Mississippi the last state to ratify it, with the previous state of the initial 36 being Kentucky in 1976 and before that Delaware in 1901.  All three of those states, along with New Jersey, initially rejected the amendment in 1865, though just 9 months after rejecting it, New Jersey changed their mind and ratified it.  The others took a little longer.

The Thirteenth Amendment specifically states:

 Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Interestingly, The Thirteenth Amendment almost stated the exact opposite of what it ended up saying.  A few years before the amendment to abolish slavery was proposed as the Thirteenth Amendment, The Corwin Amendment was proposed in 1861 and would have been the Thirteenth Amendment, had 3/4 of the states ratified it.  This proposed amendment would have forbid Congress from passing any laws that restricted or abolished slavery.  Further, it would have made it illegal for any anti-slavery amendment to be made to the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, it stated:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.

This Corwin Amendment managed to make it passed the House and the Senate in March of 1861 and was signed by President Buchanan thereafter.  Ohio, Maryland, and Illinois ratified it. Although, once the American Civil War started, the Corwin Amendment lost any momentum it had, because it had largely been proposed to forestall the chance of a Civil War.  Once the war started, Ohio rescinded their ratification.

The Corwin Amendment was passed without an expiration, so it’s still on the table today for states to ratify, if they so choose.  The most recent attempt to do so was in Texas in 1963, with a resolution to ratify it put forth by Republican Henry Stollenwerck from Dallas.  This failed to generate any momentum for the Corwin Amendment, though, and the resolution wasn’t considered by the state legislature.

If you’re curious, there are some exceptions to that “involuntary servitude” bit in the Thirteenth Amendment beyond as a “form of punishment”.  For instance, the Supreme Court ruled in 1918 that the military draft does not constitute “involuntary servitude”, even if the people drafted do not want to join the military.  This seems to fly in the face of the generally accepted legal definition of involuntary servitude which includes, “a person held by actual force, threats of force, or threats of legal coercion in a condition of slavery – compulsory service or labor against his or her will.”

This case was brought before the Supreme Court after the passing of the Conscription Act of 1917.  After this Act was passed, military tribunals tried various people who refused to bear arms, wear uniforms, etc. when drafted.  More shockingly, a board was put together to try consciousness objectors.  The only people at this time who were allowed to be conscientious objectors were Amish, Quakers, and members of the Church of the Brethren. If the board decided they weren’t sincere enough, they were sentenced.  These were no light sentences either, 17 people were sentenced to death, 142 were given life sentences in prison, and 345 were sentenced to penal labor camps for varying time periods.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Conscription Act of 1917, citing Article I. Section 9, of the Constitution which gives Congress the power to “declare war… to raise and support armies… to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.”  Of course, this says nothing about the government being able to force people to join the military, only that they have the authority to build and support the armies.  But, none-the-less, they upheld it anyways, further citing Vattel’s,  The Law of Nations:

It may not be doubted that the very conception of a just government and its duty to the citizen includes the reciprocal obligation of the citizen to render military service in case of need, and the right to compel it. … To do more than state the proposition is absolutely unnecessary in view of the practical illustration afforded by the almost universal legislation to that effect now in force.

Bonus Facts:

  • Around 64,700 total Amish, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren members claimed conscientious objector status during WWI.  Of those, 21,000 were inducted into the military anyways (out of 30,000 who passed their physicals).  Once in the military, about 16,000 of those conscientious objectors decided to fight.  The remaining 4,000 continued to refuse to bear arms.
  • The Thirteenth Amendment took two tries to be approved by both the House and the Senate, the second try of which Lincoln had to take a more active role to get it passed.  In the first try, in 1864, the Senate passed the amendment, but the House did not.  Lincoln then added the amendment as part of the base Republican Party platform in the elections.  This resulted in Republican support swelling amongst voters.  He then asked Congress to re-consider, stating, “Of course the abstract question is not changed, but an intervening election shows, almost certainly, that the next Congress will pass the measure if this does not. Hence there is only a question of time as to when the proposed amendment will go to the States for their action. And as it is to so go, at all events, may we not agree that the sooner the better?… It is the voice of the people now, for the first time, heard upon the question. In a great national crisis, like ours, unanimity of action among those seeking a common end is very desirable — almost indispensable. And yet no approach to such unanimity is attainable, unless some deference shall be paid to the will of the majority, simply because it is the will of the majority.”  Reading between the lines, if the Democrats at the time who refused to support the Thirteenth Amendment wouldn’t pass it now, he was telling them the voters would soon replace them with Republicans who would. So in the interest of keeping their jobs, they should reconsider, regardless of their own personal feelings over the matter. 🙂
  • The Emancipation Proclamation was a master stroke by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.  At the time, the British were actively supporting the South, even though slavery had been more or less outlawed throughout the British Empire since the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, excepting with the East India Trading Company territories and certain other “apprentice” stipulations for slaves over the age of six, which were subsequently removed in 1838.  They’d also outlawed slave trading further back in 1807.  By Lincoln using his war powers to free slaves in ten states, via the Emancipation Proclamation (freeing 3.1 of the 4 million slaves in the U.S., though only 20,000-50,000 immediately who lived in areas controlled by the Union), he made emancipation of slaves the explicit point of the war.  As such, the British and the French, among other European powers, could no longer aid the South, or it would seem as if they were supporting slavery.  This also eased tensions between several European powers and the Union, such as Britain.  It further had the effect of numerous slaves attempting to escape to Northern lines where they’d instantly be free, undermining the South’s labor forces. Finally, it helped make the Civil War explicitly a “race war”, which helped pave the way for the Thirteenth Amendment.  The full text of the Emancipation Proclamation can be read here: Transcript of the Emancipation Proclamation
  • The first state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment was Illinois on February 1, 1865.  Within a week, 10 other states, Rhode Island, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Missouri, Maine, Kansas, and Massachusetts, also ratified it.
  • Another potential exception to the Thirteenth Amendment, though this can be argued because public school is somewhat voluntary after a certain point, was ruled by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Immediato v. Rye Neck School District.  In the Rye Neck School District, it was required that students perform 40 hours of community service in order to graduate High School, even though this has nothing to do with academics.  Daniel Immediato and his parents argued that this “imposes involuntary servitude upon Daniel, in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment;  infringes on Daniel’s parents’ Fourteenth Amendment right to direct his upbringing and education; infringes on Daniel’s personal liberty, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; and violates Daniel’s right to privacy, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.” (The latter point being because after performing their hours of community service, students were then required to write a report and present to the school on how the community service benefited them).  The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that this does not violate the Thirteenth Amendment and dismissed the other points as well.
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  • You might want to check your facts as stated. I believe the first try with the thirteenth amendment by Mr. Lincoln was in 1864 not 1964, that would have been Mr. Kennedy except for a little trip to Dallas.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Theadore Stone: A pox on me for a clumsy lout. My fingers are always trying to type 19XX when I mean something else. 🙂

  • There is no such word as ‘anyways’. It is an adverb and therefore cannot have a plural form.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Peter: “There is no such word as ‘anyways’…” “Anyways” has been around since around the 13th century (and if you whip out your trusty Webster’s dictionary, you’ll find “anyways” there). Regardless, there is such a word because I typed it and not a single person was confused about what I was saying. The sequence of letters then successfully conveyed an idea universally understood by those who are literate. So even had it not previously been a word, it would successfully now have become so, with an understandable definition and all. Now, coming up with a word out of thin air would have meant it wasn’t in the dictionary, but the dictionary is always behind the times on the current state of total words in a language. If a new word and definition paring become popular enough, then it will, of course, appear in the dictionary and Grammar Nazis the world over must pick new words to lament about. In this case, you will find “anyways” in the dictionary already.

      To be clear, I do very much appreciate when people take the time to point out potential grammar mistakes I have made, especially when done politely as you have done. (Most of the time it is not done politely.) I’m not in any way immune to typos and for the most part I like to get rid of them in my writing when pointed out, particularly when they introduce ambiguity. Sometimes I even learn something I didn’t already know, grammatically speaking, though with years of doing this and thousands of articles read by millions of people, that ship has mostly sailed. More often than not, particularly when getting away from some of my early articles which are frequently typo riddled, it is more often a case of a conflict of my grammatical philosophy vs. the rigidly taught principles in educational institutions the world over.

      To me, language is all about conveying ideas and thoughts, preferably in a clear manner. Getting back to the topic at hand, is writing “anyway” instead of “anyways” any more clear? (Not to mention things like “afterwards”, “sometimes”, “always”, “downstairs”, etc.) Is there any confusion at all introduced by adding an “s” to adverbs? In a similar vein, if I were to say “laters” instead of “later” or “backwards” instead of “backward” or any number of similar modifications, does this disrupt comprehension in any way? Certainly sometimes it can introduced awkward sounding words doing this, but once one is used to reading such an “awkward” modification, it tends to cease to be awkward unless it’s completely outlandish.

      So if clarity is not sacrificed, I see no reason that some arbitrary rule like “adverbs cannot have plural form” should be rigidly adhered to. One similar such rule that makes no sense is the now antiquated “you can’t split infinitives” rule. In fact, to wildly split infinitives is completely possible. The reasoning behind this rule is simply that you can’t split infinitives in Latin. Hence, even though it was completely possible in English, and sometimes even makes ideas clearer to do so, it was for a long time considered poor grammar as Latin was considered the language of academics and if you can’t do something in Latin, you shouldn’t do it in English. Thankfully, few today consider this “split infinitive” rule valid.

      In this case, “anyways” is a word and clearly understood, even if many a grammarian would prefer “anyway” be used. But in extreme cases, often entire words must be made up to convey an appropriate idea, which is how language grows and evolves. (On this site, I myself have so far invented 3 words, which despite tens of thousands of views on those specific posts that contain the words, not 1 person has seemed to notice. Why? Because it’s clear what I meant by them given the context so it gave no one pause- these were cases where I simply couldn’t find a word that meant what I was trying to say, so I made one up that was perfectly clear in the context.)

      Sticking to overly rigid rules in writing is a great hindrance much of the time, with little benefit. Certainly there are settings where it’s appropriate to do so, such as in a resume or the like. But in this particular setting (my website), it isn’t necessary. The point here is to be clear. If I achieve that- I don’t care whether I have run on sentences- odd grammatical manifestations- lack of correct punctuation- random use of dashes where a comma or semi-colon would have been more appropriate- or anything of the sort. 😉

      You might be interested in this, which says it in a significantly more eloquent way than I ever could.

  • Oh snap! Buuuurn

    • I absolutely LOVE the flow of your writing and your wonderful sense of humor! Oh, and the actual content I find remarkable also!

  • I love to see that you take the time to respond to your fans. Thank you for your service to truth!

  • According to my little ACLU blue book, “The CONSTITUTION of the United States of America” it is Section 8 of Article 1, not section 9 of Article 1 wish gives The Congress The Power to declare War….

  • I learned the so called “Rules of Grammer” in school, & imeditly chose to ignore most of them. Most people find it hard to grasp what I am saying when I verbally express an idea, but as my writing is so much more eloquently stated & tends to flow rather than jump around they usually grasp the meaning right away. I was told by my highschool Modern Lit. teacher that I convied the meaning & depth of books, their authors, and their writing style in a better manner than anyone she had in her class before. I would like to think that she would find you a treasure, as your articles always capture my intrest & convey your meaning concisly & clearly. Thank you so much for the wonderful articles Daven. My teacher also said I was the worst speller she had ever seen & for me to keep a spelling dictonary handy. Please excuse my spelling mistakes.

  • This article was about the law of slavery and Mississippi just getting around to ratifying it and yet the comments were on grammar… so sad. Anyways…the article was interesting and informative. Thank you.

  • A correction is necessary for this post. Mississippi did not make the 1995 ratification “official” until 2013, 148 years after three-fourths of the stares backed it in December 1865. A copy of the 1995 Resolution was sent by the Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann to the Office of the Federal Register on January 30, 2013, and was finally officially ratified on February 7, 2013.

    The movie, “Lincoln,” played a big part in the discovery of this egregious oversight by Mississippi legislators. It’s no wonder people were treated unjustly for so long. I think the justice system should re-visit every prison sentence prior to 2013 and more exposure to this historical travesty should be revealed and revisited until everyone is aware of it.

  • The article is very informative. An easy read. Not once did I lose interest while reading it. Shit happens in America. You made a few errors. So what. Every time a thorough bred is running a race a jackass is bound to jump in. Let the naysayers write an article and see how that works out for them.