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WITT: Looking back at the 13th Amendment

Dec. 6 will mark the 155th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery.

(As a footnote, the next day, Dec. 7, will mark the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.)

At the time that the amendment was presented there were 36 states in the Union, including the 13 states that had seceded but whose secession was not recognized by the federal government. Ratification of the Amendment required the signing-on of 27 states.

All 27 states ratified before the end of 1865. Six of those ratified after the date of Lincoln’s assassination, April 14.

The House of Representatives approved the amendment on Jan. 31, 1865, and it was ratified by Illinois the following day.

The last required state to ratify was Georgia, and it is likely that pressure from the federal government under Reconstruction and President Andrew Johnson was instrumental in securing ratification of the southern states.

Four of the 13 states of the Confederacy were not part of the 27 needed for ratification, and those four only ratified later, one later in 1865 and one in 1870.

Kentucky and Mississippi did not ratify the amendment until 1976 and 1995, respectively. And in the case of Mississippi, the ratification was not even certified until 2013 because of a reporting error which was not discovered until 18 years later.

New Jersey and Delaware, two states of the original 36 that did not ratify initially, did so in 1866 and 1901, respectively. There seems to be an anomaly that two northern states declined to ratify.

Amendments submitted to the states today require ratification of 36 states, two-thirds of 50.

Twenty of the 27 ratifying states did so before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, and four of those 20 — Louisiana, Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri — were states of the Confederacy.

More research might reveal why four Confederate states — states that did not even consider themselves a part of the Union — would formally ratify an amendment to the Constitution that they no longer felt obliged to uphold.

Perhaps they were prescient enough to see the “writing on the wall” about the outcome of the war.

New states that were subsequently added to the U.S. were not required to ratify the 13th Amendment, or indeed any of the previous amendments, because, upon entering the Union, they were subject to all the amendments thus far made a part of the Constitution.

Amendments 23 through 27 were ratified after the 50th state was added to the Union.

In February 1865, the Kentucky legislature voted to reject the 13th Amendment by a 56-18 vote in the House and a 23-10 vote in the Senate. Probably a good thing that the makeup of the legislature changed somewhat over 111 years.

Of course, the ratification and certification of the 13th Amendment did not usher in huge changes for those who had been enslaved as their rights were continually abrogated through Reconstruction and well into the 20th century and, to a lesser extent, it continues today.

Thanks to ForwardKy.com for much of the information contained herein.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.