There was a question in a discussion group I’m on regarding the readmission of former confederate states during Reconstruction. This is something easily confused. There’s apparently some interest in it thanks to Mississippi’s recent completion of its ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Some folks have asked if ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment was required, and if so, how was it that Mississippi was readmitted?
First of all, we’re NOT talking about readmission to the Union. The confederate states had never left the Union, therefore they never had to be readmitted to the Union. The readmission refers to readmission to representation in Congress. If you read the readmission legislation, it specifies the state in question being readmitted to representation in Congress. As an example, here is the law readmitting Mississippi to representation.
Back to the question at hand. Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment was not required for readmission. The First Reconstruction Act specifies:
– That when the people of any one of said rebel States shall have formed a constitution of government in conformity with the Constitution of the United States in all respects, framed by a convention of delegates elected by the male citizens of said State, twenty-one years old and upward, of whatever race, color, or previous condition, who have been resident in said State for one year previous to the day of such election, except such as may be disfranchised for participation in the rebellion or for felony at common law, and when such constitution shall provide that the elective franchise shall be enjoyed by all such persons as have the qualifications herein stated for electors of delegates, and when such constitution shall be ratified by a majority of the persons voting on the question of ratification who are qualified as electors for delegates, and when such constitution shall have been submitted to Congress for examination and approval, and Congress shall have approved the same,
– and when said State, by a vote of its legislature elected under said constitution, shall have adopted the amendment to the Constitution of the United States, proposed by the Thirty-ninth Congress, and known as article fourteen, and when such article shall have become a part of the Constitution of the United States,
– said State shall be declared entitled to representation in Congress, and senators and representatives shall be admitted therefrom on their taking the oath prescribed by law, and then and thereafter the preceding sections of this act shall be inoperative in said State:
– Provided, That no person excluded from the privilege of holding office by said proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States, shall be eligible to election as a member of the convention to frame a constitution for any of said rebel States, nor shall any such person vote for members of such convention.
So by the First Reconstruction Act, in order to be readmitted to representation, a state had to frame a new constitution that is approved by Congress, and the state had to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Second Reconstruction Act provided some additional guidance for the constitutional convention as well as providing for elections by ballots.
The Third Reconstruction Act provided that members of registration boards cannot be excluded based on race or color.
The Fourth Reconstruction Act provided that anyone registered may vote.
Nothing in the Reconstruction Acts mandated that a state had to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, and such ratification was not required for a state to be readmitted to representation in Congress.