An associate professor from the University of Mississippi Medical Center has uncovered what is quite possibly the grandaddy of all oversights. Even though the Thirteenth Amendment was adopted 148 years ago, the state of Mississippi never officially ratified the amendment on account of some sloppy paperwork. It’s an oversight that has since been corrected, making it really and truly official: slavery is indeed illegal in that state.
Here's what happened.
After watching the movie Lincoln, Dr. Ranjan Batra, a neurobiologist, visited usconstitution.net to learn more about the Thirteenth and its passing. He discovered that, after Congressional approval, the measure went to the states for ratification. There were several hold-outs, including Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Mississippi. But over the course of the next few months and years, many states went on to ratify the amendment.
And in fact, Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995 — or at least they thought they did.
Batra noticed an asterisk beside the state's name along with a note that read: "Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995, but because the state never officially notified the US Archivist, the ratification is not official."
Not official. Holy crap.
Concerned (to say the least), and after speaking to a colleague, Batra called the National Archives' Office of the Federal Register to give them the bad news. It turns out that the resolution had indeed been passed by the Mississippi Senate and House (unanimously, at that), but for some reason the paperwork was never sent to the Office of the Federal Register.
Batra's revelation got the state scrambling. On February 7, the state finally received word from the Federal Register confirming it had officially ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, prompting senator Hillman Frazier to say, "We finally got it right."
George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.
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