Indeed, the amendment was adopted in December 1865 when three fourths of the states (27 out of 36 at that time) ratified it. Four states, including Mississippi rejected the amendment at that time, but later all of them ratified it. The voting in the Mississippi Senate and House took place in 1995, and the amendment was unanimously ratified. But the state "forgot" to fulfill the bureaucratic requirements and send a copy to the Office of the Federal Register.
The story surfaced last November, when Dr. Ranjan Batra, associate professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, saw Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated "Lincoln", which depicts the political fight against slavery.
He wondered afterward what happened when the states voted on ratification and went on the usconstitution.net website, learning the rest of the story.
To his surprise he saw an asterisk beside Mississippi and a note which read: "Mississippi ratified the amendment in 1995, but because the state never officially notified the US Archivist, the ratification is not official."
Dr. Batra and his colleague Ken Sullivan started a research and found out what paperwork was needed.
On January 30, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann sent the Office of the Federal Register a copy of the 1995 Senate resolution, and on February 7, Charles A. Barth, director of the Federal Register, wrote back that he had received the resolution: "With this action, the State of Mississippi has ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."
Such things are not totally unique. Quite a lot of laws remain either officially unapproved if there is a common perception that they are effectively enforced, or vice versa, some outdated laws remain formally in force even if circumstances no longer require them being enacted.
With constitutional amendments the matter is probably more serious. Some bloggers have already started discussing whether this delay in formally ratifying the 13th amendment reflects the deep-inside racist subconscious of the Mississippi people and establishment. It should be noted that even if back in 1995, the copy of the resolution had been sent to the Federal Register, the state would still have been the last one to ratify the amendment – 130 years after it was adopted nationwide.
Indeed, it is well worth looking into some other events of the past to see whether they have legal ground. One can only wonder how many more amendments will turn out to be non-ratified by a currently unknown number of states. After all, was Christopher Columbus' stumbling over a continent he was never looking for codified in any constitutional laws, and if not, is there any legal ground for the US' existence at all?
But what seems to be encouraging in the whole story is the possibility that certain tendencies of today will for the time being be delayed due to some states' amnesia.
After Barack Obama's famous (rather, infamous) statement on same-sex marriages, some states were stricken with an epidemic of legislative initiatives abolishing marriage as a traditional institution of society. If, for example, 13 states "forget" to join in the move, maybe the country and the world might remain a little bit healthier than they are today?
At least for another 147 years until a new Dr. Batra decides to see an Oscar-nominated film "Obama" depicting a political fight to abolish marriage.
Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies