To be honest, I wasn’t sure whether to post this directly on the Legal Bytes blog as a news item or list it under Useless But Compelling Facts. But the news won out.
So now it is official and perhaps an illustration of how life can imitate art – in this case the motion picture “Lincoln”, directed by Steven Spielberg. You can now add to the list of things for which the film, a brilliant characterization of Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to formally abolish involuntary servitude for all time, can take credit: the correction of an oversight for 18 years and perhaps the confirmation of an act that was 130 years in the making in the state of Mississippi.
As our story begins, Dr. Ranjan Batra, an associate professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, decided to do some fact-checking after viewing the movie. Curiously, it seems, he discovered that Mississippi had not legally effected the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States – the Amendment that abolished slavery in the United States.
Now in case you are wondering how this could be, a little legal procedural history is in order. In December 1865, three-fourths of the U.S. states ratified the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution – a number sufficient to make the Amendment officially part of the Constitution. At the time, a number of states did oppose the Amendment – Mississippi among them. In the ensuing years after the Civil War ended, all of the remaining states eventually did vote to ratify the Amendment. Indeed, the Mississippi legislature voted to ratify the Amendment in 1995! But in order to make it official, the state was required to notify the U.S. Archivist of the passage of the resolution – and through some oversight, Mississippi never did so.
Well, Dr. Batra spoke to a colleague, Ken Sullivan, who in turn contacted Delbert Hosemann, the Mississippi Secretary of State. Secretary of State Hosemann, recognizing the oversight, sent a copy of the 1995 Mississippi resolution to the Office of the Federal Register January 30, 2013. According to published reports, on February 7, 2013, just more than a month ago, the Federal Register wrote to the state of Mississippi confirming that “with this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
Now isn’t that better than an Academy Award?