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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 13 August, 2020

Mississippi formally abolishes slavery (after forgetting to do it before now)

The state was the last to formally ratify the 13th Amendment in 1995 – but had forgotten to file the proper paperwork.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. The popular film has inspired research which found that Mississippi never officially abolished slavery.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. The popular film has inspired research which found that Mississippi never officially abolished slavery.
Image: AP Photo/DreamWorks and Twentieth Century Fox, David James

THE US STATE of Mississippi has formally abolished slavery – almost 150 years after the constitutional amendment banning it was approved by the US Congress.

A procedural oversight meant the state had never formally adopted the amendment, which outlawed “slavery and involuntary servitude” except as punishment for a criminal offence.

The error came to light after an amateur historian watched the movie ‘Lincoln’, and researched his state’s stance on slavery – ultimately leading him to discover that the amendment was never formally approved in Mississippi.

Amendments to the US Constitution take legal effect once they have been passed by two-thirds of Congress, and ratified by the state legislatures of three quarters of the states – meaning the amendment was legal since it was ratified by 27 of the then-36 states in 1865.

Six other states ratified the amendment within five years – leaving only Delaware, Kentucky and Mississippi to ratify it. Mississippi was the last state legislature to vote on it, finally doing so in 1995.

However, research by neurobiology professor Dr Ranjan Batra – inspired by the Spielberg film which is nominated for 12 Oscars – found that Mississippi had overlooked the crucial step of informing the United States Archivist of its decision.

This meant that the US Government had never formally been told about Mississippi’s decision – and therefore the ratification had not been completed.

Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger newspaper reported that Banta’s observations were passed up the chain of command and ultimately led to the official  deposit of the ratification with the archivist two weeks ago.

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann commented: “It was long overdue.”

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Gavan Reilly

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