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Tim Blagg

Mississippi gets in line

13th Amendment ratification long overdue

The other day, the state of Mississippi finally got around to a very old and quite overdue piece of business.

It officially ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution — you know, the one that made slavery illegal.

Turns out that when Congress and the states changed our founding document to make the ownership of another human being against the law, Mississippi, and a few other states, refused to agree.

That was OK, because as long as 27 of the 36 states then in the union had ratified the new amendment, it became the law of the land.

That was really important at the time, because President Abraham Lincoln, in a struggle portrayed in the recent movie “Lincoln” felt his Emancipation Proclamation, which had only affected Union states, would be discounted as a desperate wartime measure and be discarded after the war was over.

He was right, and it really took another amendment, the 14th, to close the gaps and make sure that ALL Americans were entitled to equal treatment. Unfortunately, it took another century before those rights were actually enforced ... the Civil Rights Act of 1964 slammed the door on Jim Crow laws in the South.

Meanwhile, while all this was going on, Mississippi — generally considered to be one of the worst states in the country by almost every measure — was blithely sailing along ignoring the rest of us.

Then, in 1995, the shame finally sank in and the Legislature voted to ratify the amendment. But, due to “bookkeeping errors” that fact was never officially communicated to Washington. The National Archives and the Federal Register had no record of it.

So, as far as the federal government was concerned, the “Magnolia State” was still a hold out.

Luckily (I guess) after watching the movie, a state resident named Dr. Ranjan Batra discovered the error and notified everybody, and the error was rectified ... on my birthday.

So Mississippi is finally in tune with the rest of us.

Now, if they could only do something about those reading scores ...

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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