I read recently - to my surprise - that Mississippi ratified the 13th Amendment to abolish involuntary servitude and slavery in 2013. In fact, there was a move to ratify it in 1995, but the paperwork was not finalised. But that still raises the question why so late?

The amendment was passed by the Senate in 1864, by the House in the following year and then ratified by the required number of states in December of that year. This is well over a century ago.

3 Answers 3


There were effectively 3 reasons why a state might want to ratify the 13th Ammendment. Roughly in order of how quickly it would motivate them to take action:

  1. Its residents agreed with it and wanted it to become law.
  2. The state was a former member of the Confederacy, and wanted its own full voting rights restored.
  3. It had passed anyway, but the state wanted to not look racist.

If your state simply thought it was the Right Thing To Dotm, then it would have passed it regardless of any other political considerations, and probably quite quickly. As for the rest...

In the wake of the Civil War, there was a huge political fracas on what the process would be for the former rebel states to demonstrate their fitness to rejoin the Union with full voting rights. Andrew Johnson, a southern Democrat who'd been selected VP as a unity gesture, ended up POTUS after Lincoln's assassination. He took a very "moderate" view that national ratification of the 13th Amendment was all that was required. As administration of the defeated states was largely a military matter, as Commander in Chief he had all the authority he required to make this a fact. This is the situation that induced Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia to push the 13th over the edge to taking effect in 1865. Once that had happened, no further ratifications were required to put it into effect, so no further Confederate states did so for years (aside from Florida, who probably had theirs in process at the time). However, this wasn't enough for Congress, who refused to readmit these states until more tangible measures were taken.

Texas was also possibly motivated by readmission, in that they were not readmitted to the Union until 1870, about a month after they ratified the 13th.

Note also that this is a simplification. States under military occupation aren't exactly known for producing free and fair elections, and there were definitely shenanigans going on with these ratifications. OTOH, most of these states were allowing black men to vote for the first time, which arguably made their elections much freer by modern standards than they had been previously, even with the Federal troops.

This leaves the states of Delaware, Kentucky, and Mississippi. This first two were slave states that remained loyal (and thus didn't need readmission). Mississippi had resisted to the point where it became clear passing the 13th wouldn't help them rejoin. They were readmitted to the Union in 1870 along with the other remaining three states, Virginia, Texas, and Georgia.

This means the only remaining motivation for a state to ratifying after 1870 would be a desire to not look racist. Mississippi was always the state with the highest proportion of black residents (D.C. aside, they still are), and throughout the Jim Crow era enforced white supremacy via both legal measures and terrorism. During this era they certainly weren't going to be interested in taking measures to reaffirm the rights of black residents. Looking racist was in fact the point.

So it wasn't really until the modern era when Mississippi had sufficient motivation to ratify it.


This is really four separate questions, or at least four separate parts.

1) Why didn't Mississippi ratify the 13th amendment when it was first proposed?

This one is pretty simple: Not every state legislature liked the amendment, and four out of the 36 states at the time rejected it (New Jersey, Delaware, Kentucky, and Mississippi). Of those four, NJ ratified it the next year, DE in 1901, KY in 1976 (as part of ratifying three amendments during the bicentennial celebrations), and MS in 1995.

This article states that it was rejected because "at the time state lawmakers were upset that they had not been compensated for the value of freed slaves."

2) Why didn't Mississippi ratify the 13th amendment between the 1860s and 1995?

Since enough states did pass it to make it official, it was still binding on the states that rejected it, so all four of the later ratifications were purely symbolic. I don't have a good answer for why they didn't get around to it, but this quora post from a resident suggests:

I say it’s because those in the almost-completely-white state legislature in up till 1995 were like almost all the other whites I’d ever known in Mississippi: mostly good-hearted, well-meaning people who really did care about the blacks they met or knew, but couldn’t recognize the very real part that racism played in their lives, the very real factor that racism played - and continues to play - in their decisions, in the legislation they supported and passed into law.

That seems like a rational reason to me - it didn't make any difference, and no one in the legislature saw a reason to care either way (and/or actively would have opposed it).

3) Why did Mississippi ratify the 13th amendment in 1995?

These two short articles from 1995 mention the state Senate and House voting for the amendment. The first one says:

Democratic state Sen. Hillman Frazier, who brought the inaction to the attention of lawmakers this year, said the Legislature has a responsibility to address it.

“It’s never a waste of time to correct a wrong,” he said.

But Republican state Sen. Mike Gunn called the vote silly.

4) Why did Mississippi not finalize it until 2013?

The ABC news article above gives the sequence of events that led to the finalization - basically, the film "Lincoln" inspired Dr. Ranjan Batra to look into the 13th Amendment, where he discovered that Mississippi had never official ratified it. After contacting the Secretary of State's office, the SoS filed the appropriate documentation. One article I saw while researching this (which I forgot to save) asked the 1995 SoS about it, and his answer was along the lines of "Ouch - What a thing for me to screw up."


The short answer has to be that it wasn't ratified at the time because they didn't agree with it, but once it reached the required number of states it was no longer a live issue and could be left in place as a piece of symbolic racism.

  • 2
    I really love this answer. Its 100% correct, but the pedant in me can't help but point out its only a single sentence, and there's a post notice intended for use on single-sentence answers. Hopefully its just a placeholder while the author composes the "long answer" portion of the answer?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 12:15
  • 2
    Please add a source to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 12:23
  • 1
    It's hard to add a source for something that didn't happen. Discussion of the 1995 event is available e.g. archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/flatview?cuecard=3057
    – pjc50
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 12:45

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