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Maryland Legislators Repeal Pro-Slavery Law — 150 Years Later

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Before they adjourned for the year this week, legislators in the Maryland General Assembly officially rescinded a vote their predecessors had taken in the year 1862.

Right as southern states were seceding from the Union precipitating the Civil War, and right as Abraham Lincoln was making his way to Washington, D.C. for his first inauguration in 1861 — avoiding an assassination attempt in Baltimore along the way — Congress passed the Corwin Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"It was an attempt by the Republicans to keep the Union together. And what it did was Congress could not pass a law abolishing slavery or override any state law that allowed slavery," explains Montgomery County state senator Brian Frosh.

The Corwin Amendment never became a constitutional amendment because three-fourths of state legislatures across the country would have had to approve it. Only Ohio, Illinois, and Maryland did. Ohio rescinded its support before the Civil War was over, while Illinois' approving vote was later ruled illegal. As for Maryland, it did nothing.

"Maryland is the only state in the Union that is still on record as having ratified this pro-slavery constitutional amendment," says Frosh.

Not anymore though. On the final day of this year's session, lawmakers approved a resolution sponsored by Frosh that officially rescinds the 1862 approval by the General Assembly.

"While it doesn't actually change the law, it does put Maryland on the right side of history. So I think it's an important statement for us to make. It can't be done any other way," he says.

As for why it took so long, Frosh thinks generations of lawmakers in Annapolis just probably forgot about that particular vote.

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