Ratification in Mississippi
[These laws] might seem rigid and stringent to sickly modern humanitarians.
--Mississippi Committee Report describing the Black Code adopted in 1865
Hopes for presidential Reconstruction may have been dashed--and the seeds that bore the Fourteenth Amendment may have been sown--in Mississippi in the late summer of 1865. The first state convention to meet under President Johnson's restoration program convened in Jackson that August. Its actions were closely studied in the North for clues about the South's attitude toward the Union and the newly freed blacks. "If," said an influential New York paper, "Mississippi moves into her place in the Union with a constitution that will meet the approval of the government, we shall be able to dismiss all further apprehension concerning the action of any other Southern state." 1 The president himself sent a message to the convention, advising the delegates:
I hope that without delay your convention will amend your state constitution abolishing slavery and denying to all future legislatures the power to legislate that there is property in man; also that they will adopt the amendment to the Constitution of the United States abolishing slavery. If you could extend the elective franchise to all persons of color who can read the Constitution of the United States in English, and write their names, and to all persons of color who own real estate valued at not less than $250, and pay taxes thereon, you would completely disarm the adversary and set an example the other states will follow. This you can do with perfect safety, and you thus place the Southern states, in reference to free persons of color, upon the same basis with the free states. 2
Had the Mississippi convention heeded the president's advice, other Southern states might have followed its example; and the Fourteenth Amendment and