The Right Coast

January 31, 2005
January 31: This Day in History
By Gail Heriot

On this day in 1865, before the Civil War was even over, the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery was proposed by Congress. Before the year had closed, it had become law.

The honor of being the first state to ratify went to Abraham Lincoln’s home state of Illinois. The vote was taken just one day after the proposal was made. By the end of the week, 10 more states–Rhode Island, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Missouri, Maine, Kansas and Massachusetts -- had joined in what was probably the fastest work by state legislatures on record.

But not every state was fast. New Jersey, having originally rejected the amendment, changed its mind a year later. Delaware, reversed its refusal to ratify in 1901. And Kentucky finally came around in 1976. The last state was Mississippi, which ratified in 1995. Better late than never, I suppose.