Illinois: First State to Ratify 13th Amendment

 If you saw the movie Lincoln, you learned that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, banning slavery in the United States, was approved by the House of Representatives on Jan. 31, 1865. 

But the movie doesn’t tell us what happened the next day. On Feb. 1, Illinois became the first state to ratify the amendment. In Springfield, it was a matter of local pride. Here’s what happened, according to the website HarpWeek
Immediately after the U.S. House passed the Thirteenth Amendment on January 31, 1865, Senator Lyman Trumbull telegraphed Governor Richard J. Oglesby of Illinois urging him to ensure that President Lincoln’s home state was the first to ratify the historic proposal.  The next day at noon, Governor Oglesby forwarded the news to the state legislature, along with his directive that the Thirteenth Amendment “is just, it is humane” and should be approved “now.”  By 4:30 that afternoon, February 1, large majorities in both state chambers had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. 

Illinois was in such a hurry to be first that it began to take action before Lincoln had even signed the amendment, on Feb. 1. The president was appreciative, reading Illinois’s proclamation aloud that very night.

Governor Richard J. Oglesby telegraphed the news to Lincoln at 7:25 that evening, informing him: “[T]he Legislature has by a large majority ratified the amendment to the Constitution. All suppose you had signed the Joint resolution of Congress. Great enthusiasm” (Oglesby to Lincoln, February 1, 1865, AL Papers at the Library of Congress). Five minutes later, Ward H. Lamon, the president’s old law partner, and Edward L. Baker, editor of the Illinois State Journal, relayed the same news. The amendment had passed, they exclaimed triumphantly, “with a great hurrah” (Lamon and Baker to Lincoln, February 1, 1865, AL Papers at the Library of Congress).

Addressing a Washington, D.C. crowd celebrating the historic event, Lincoln offered congratulations on the nation’s great moral victory, but noted that there was still work to be done, state by state. Illinois, he informed them, had already done its part. Maryland was about half through, Lincoln added, but he felt proud that Illinois was “a little ahead” (contemporary newspaper accounts of Lincoln’s speech, Basler 8:255).
Rhode Island ratified the amendment the next day, followed the day after that by Michigan, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. It was ratified on Dec. 6, when Georgia’s Reconstruction legislature gave its approval. Mississippi didn’t get around to approving the amendment until 1995.
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