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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Libraries and the Legislature

Today in downtown Jackson, the Mississippi Legislature is in full swing. At the Mississippi Library Commission, one of our tasks is to monitor the legislative session for bills that could affect the Library Commission or other public libraries in the state. It is important that we remind those in political offices how important libraries are to the people of Mississippi. When I first started working here, I was amazed at how much the lawmakers of our state can influence what happens to our libraries.

I also wondered about the history of the legislature. I’ve never been a history buff, but after spending so much time studying the actions of our lawmakers, I wanted to know more.

Turns out, the history of the Mississippi Legislature is full of twists and turns. According to Mississippi’s Old Capitol: a Biography of a Building by John Ray Skates, the legislature has been convening for over 200 years. In the early 1800’s the session met in Natchez. After much political debate, the legislature moved to Washington. A yellow fever outbreak caused the members to move again, and from 1817-1820, they returned to Natchez.

As the state grew, new settlers wanted the seat of government moved from Natchez to a place that was closer to the new frontiers. Skates writes that in 1822, legislators met in Columbia to discuss the city of Jackson for the new seat of government. Lawmakers met in an “old and dilapidated” building in Jackson from 1822-1839 (49). In January of 1839, the legislature held its first session in the Old Capitol building.

That same year, lawmakers became the first in the country to grant property rights to married women (Skates, 52). Unfortunately, that “property” was a slave.

The motives behind the passage of this act are varied. Skates writes that one member of the legislature voted for the act because he wanted to marry a wealthy widow. He was in large amounts of debt, and wanted to protect her property from his debt. Another legislator was supposedly in financial difficulty, and wanted to keep his wife’s property from being turned over to debt collectors. Senator Hadley introduced this bill, and Skates mentions that his wife operated a boarding house in Jackson. Skates writes that many legislators “…took their meals with Mrs. Hadley, and, the story goes, she put any lawmakers who opposed the bill on short rations” (53).

During the Civil War, legislators no longer met in Jackson. They moved meetings to Columbus until 1865 when they returned to the Old Capitol in Jackson. The Old Capitol was in poor condition after the War, and in 1904 the members met at the newly built Capitol, where they still meet today.

For information on the Mississippi State Legislature, go to Here, you can read about the members of the House and Senate, learn how a bill becomes law, read introduced bills, and find out the status of bills.

For information about Mississippi’s laws relating to libraries, check out this link: .

Have a question about the Mississippi Legislature (or anything else!)? Just ask! We would be happy to help you!

Skates, John R. Mississippi's Old Capitol: Biography of a Building. Jackson: Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1990.

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