This Month in Legal History

January 7, 1789 - First Presidential Electors Chosen

States begin to choose electors, by vote of the people or through legislative appointment, in the first use of the Electoral College system, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. George Washington will win the first presidential election and will be sworn into office on April 30, 1789.

January 26, 1837 - Michigan Becomes 26th State

Michigan is admitted as the 26th state in the Union. Michigan joins the U.S. after resolution of a contentious boundary dispute between the state of Ohio and the Michigan Territory, over claim to an area known as the "Toledo Strip." A bill signed by President Andrew Jackson proposes a settlement of the dispute, the terms of which are eventually accepted by representatives of Michigan in December of 1836, and the last hurdle toward Michigan's statehood is cleared.

January 31, 1865 - Slavery Ban Amendment Passes Congress

Congress passes the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which proposes to abolish the institution of slavery in the U.S. The amendment provides that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." The necessary number of states will ratify the amendment by December 6, 1865.

January 1, 1892 - Ellis Island Begins Accepting Immigrants

Ellis Island, situated in New York Harbor near the Statute of Liberty, begins accepting immigrants into the United States. From 1892 until its official closure as a port of entry in 1954, over 22 million people will enter the U.S. through Ellis Island.

January 16, 1919 - Eighteenth Amendment Ratified, Authorizing Prohibition

The Eighteenth Amendment is ratified, mandating nationwide prohibition of the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors in the U.S. within one year. In 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment will become the only amendment to be repealed, when the Twenty-First Amendment -- specifically invalidating the Eighteenth Amendment and leaving regulation of alcohol largely to the individual states -- is ratified.

January 3, 1959 - Alaska Gains Statehood

President Eisenhower signs an official declaration admitting Alaska into the Union as the 49th state. The Alaska State Constitution, which was adopted and ratified in 1956, also takes effect on this date. At over 580,000 square miles, Alaska is the largest state in the U.S.