On this dayMar 16, 1995

After Failing in 1865 to Ratify the 13th Amendment, Mississippi Finally Ratifies It 130 Years After its Adoption

Library of Congress

After failing for 130 years to ratify the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery except as punishment for crime, the state of Mississippi finally ratified the Thirteenth Amendment on March 16, 1995.

Soon after the Confederacy's defeat in the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment was designed to abolish slavery nationwide. The text of the amendment reads, "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."

After Congress passed the amendment on January 31, 1865, three-fourths of the states (27 of 36) needed to ratify it before it could become part of the Constitution. Mississippi's economy was built on slavery and the state had the largest enslaved population in the country at the start of the Civil War. On December 5, 1865, the state legislature voted against ratification, becoming one of several Southern states that refused to endorse the Thirteenth Amendment. Ultimately, the amendment received enough votes from other states so that it was ratified the following day despite Mississippi’s opposition to the end of enslavement.

Almost 130 years later, in 1994, a clerk in the Texas Legislature named Gregory Watson discovered that Mississippi still had not ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. He notified each of the Black members of the Mississippi legislature and sent them a draft of a resolution that Mississippi could adopt in order to rectify the situation. On March 16th of the next year, the Mississippi legislature reached a largely symbolic vote to unanimously ratify the abolition of slavery in the U.S.—becoming the last of the eligible states to do so.

After the vote, however, Mississippi state officials failed to send the necessary documentation to the federal register, so the ratification was not formally filed as required. Nearly 20 years later, in late 2012, two Mississippi residents discovered that the ratification was not yet official and notified the Secretary of State. Several weeks later, the required paperwork was filed, and Mississippi's ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment was legally recorded on February 7, 2013.

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