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Maryland Legislature to Consider Rescission of 1860s Pro-Slavery Law

01.16.2014

Frosh: ‘We ought to put Maryland on the right side of history’

ANNAPOLIS — Some Maryland lawmakers say they are seeking to correct a past wrong, and want to repeal a pro-slavery law that remains in effect after more than 150 years.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery in the United States, but the initial proposed 13th Amendment — called the Corwin Amendment — would have done just the opposite.

The Corwin Amendment, named after politician Thomas Corwin of Ohio, would have permanently prevented Congress from overriding state slavery laws.

The Corwin Amendment was approved by Congress in 1861, and was ratified by Maryland the following year. However, the outbreak and outcome of the Civil War prevented it from ever becoming the law of the land.

Maryland and Ohio were the only two states to ratify the amendment through legislative vote. Illinois ratified the amendment by constitutional convention, which was ultimately considered invalid because ratification required state legislative approval. While Ohio rescinded the law in the 1860s, Maryland’s acceptance of the amendment has yet to be overturned.

Shannon Welch, a Chevy Chase native who is now a senior at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Conn., stumbled across the Corwin Amendment during a summer internship at the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, D.C. She said she read about Ohio’s ratification and rescission of the measure and was curious about Maryland’s connection to the amendment. When she discovered that her home state had not rescinded the 152-year old law, she took action.

One of the people she reached out to was her state senator, Brian Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda. Frosh, a Wesleyan University graduate, agreed to initiate the legislation to rescind Maryland’s ratification of the measure.

“I contacted him on a whim,” Welch, 21, said. “I sent an email to multiple state representatives to see why this had never been overturned, and Senator Frosh emailed me back.”

Frosh, who is running for attorney general, said, “We ought to put Maryland on the right side of history.”