Titles of Nobility Amendment

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The Titles of Nobility Amendment is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution. It was approved by the 11th Congress on May 1, 1810, and submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. Its purpose was to strip United States citizenship from any citizen who accepted a title of nobility from a foreign country. On two occasions between 1812 and 1816 it was within two states of the number needed to become a valid part of the Constitution. As Congress did not set a time limit for its ratification, the amendment is still technically pending before the states. Currently, ratification by an additional 26 states would be necessary for this amendment to be adopted.


If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain, any title of nobility or honour, or shall, without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them[1]


This proposed amendment was intended to amplify both Article I, Section 9 which prohibits the federal government from issuing titles of nobility or honor, and also Section 10.

There is speculation that the Congress proposed the amendment in response to the 1803 marriage of Napoleon Bonaparte's younger brother, Jerome, and Betsy Patterson of Baltimore, Maryland, who gave birth to a boy for whom she wanted aristocratic recognition from France.[2] The child, named Jérôme Napoleon Bonaparte, was not born in the United States, but in Great Britain on July 7, 1805—nevertheless, he would have held U.S. citizenship through his mother. Another theory is that his mother actually desired a title of nobility for herself and, indeed, she is referred to as the "Duchess of Baltimore" in many texts written about the amendment. The marriage had been annulled in 1805—well before the amendment's proposal by the 11th Congress. Nonetheless, Representative Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina is recorded to have said, when voting on the amendment, that "he considered the vote on this question as deciding whether or not we were to have members of the Legion of Honor in this country."[3]

Legislative and ratification history[edit]

The proposed Constitutional amendment, introduced first in the Senate by Democratic–Republican Senator Philip Reed of Maryland,[4] was passed on April 27, 1810, by a vote of 19–5[5] and sent to the House of Representatives for its consideration. It passed there on May 1, 1810, by a vote of 87–3.[6] Having been approved by Congress, the proposed amendment was sent to the state legislatures for ratification and was ratified by the following states:[7]

  1. Maryland — December 25, 1810
  2. Kentucky — January 31, 1811
  3. Ohio — January 31, 1811
  4. Delaware — February 2, 1811
  5. Pennsylvania — February 6, 1811
  6. New Jersey — February 13, 1811
  7. Vermont — October 24, 1811
  8. Tennessee — November 21, 1811
  9. North Carolina — December 23, 1811
  10. Georgia — December 31, 1811
  11. Massachusetts — February 27, 1812
  12. New Hampshire — December 9, 1812

The amendment was rejected by New York (March 12, 1812), Connecticut (May 13, 1813), and Rhode Island (September 15, 1814). No other state legislature has completed ratification action on it.

When the proposed amendment was submitted to the states, ratification by 13 states was required for it to become part of the Constitution; 11 had done so by early 1812. However, with the addition of Louisiana into the Union that year (April 30, 1812), the ratification threshold rose to 14. Thus, when New Hampshire ratified it in December 1812, the Titles of Nobility Amendment again came within 2 states of being ratified. No additional states ratified this amendment and when Indiana and Mississippi were established as states (December 11, 1816 and December 10, 1817 respectively) the threshold rose again to 15. Today, with 50 states in the Union, it has climbed to 38 and ratification by 26 additional states would be necessary in order to incorporate the proposed Title of Nobility Amendment into the Constitution.[2]

On February 27, 1818, President James Monroe communicated to Congress the record shown above. He and Congress were both satisfied that the required number of ratifications had not been reached. A law, passed April 20, 1818, placed official responsibility for overseeing the amendment process into the hands of the Secretary of State, where it remained until 1950.[7]


It has been claimed that the Titles of Nobility Amendment did become part of the U.S. Constitution. It was erroneously referred to as the Thirteenth Amendment in some early 19th century printings of the Constitution.[2][8] Between 1819–1867 the statutory law code of Virginia included it as well.[9] The term "Thirteenthers" has sometimes been used in recent years to refer to those who mistakenly believe this amendment was ratified in the 1810s, as well as for those who today wish to see this amendment ratified and made operational.[4]

The assertion that the Titles of Nobility Amendment has been ratified by the required number of states has never been upheld by any court in the United States. In the few instances in which courts have been confronted with the assertion that was, those claims have been dismissed. In Campion v. Towns, No.CV-04-1516PHX-ROS, *2 n.1 (D. Ariz. 2005), a tax protester raised it in his defenses against a charge of tax evasion.[10] The court replied that it would "correct any misunderstanding Plaintiff has concerning the text of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution":

In his Complaint, Plaintiff includes a certified copy of the Thirteenth Amendment from the Colorado State Archives which was published in 1861. As included in that compilation, the Thirteenth Amendment would strip an individual of United States citizenship if they accept any title of nobility or honor. However, this is not the Thirteenth Amendment. The correct Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery. Although some people claim that state publication of the erroneous Thirteenth Amendment makes it valid, Article V of the Constitution does not so provide.

In another case, Sibley v. Culliver, 243 F. Supp. 2d 1278, 1283 (M.D. Ala. 2003), aff'd 377 F.3d 1196 (11th Cir. 2004), a federal appellate court found that the defendant's invocation of this amendment worked to his detriment. The court took note of documents produced by the defendant, a convicted murderer who submitted documents in support of his appeal claiming that it rendered his conviction invalid:

These documents allege in great detail a complex conspiracy by an illegal monopoly, the American Bar Association, which resulted in a take-over of the judicial systems of this country, both federal and state, by the ABA and its related entities, including the Alabama State Bar Association and Alabama's Unified Court System. It is then alleged that the ABA-controlled system is illegal and in violation of what is referred to as the "missing Thirteenth Amendment," to the United States Constitution, which stated that any person who accepts a title of nobility forfeits his United States citizenship and which Amendment was ratified but subsequently hidden or excised from the law. Since lawyers and judges accept the titles "Esquire"/"The Honorable," it is argued, they are not citizens and the entire judicial system is illegal. Furthermore, these documents contend that the charge of conviction in this case, capital murder of a police officer acting in the line of duty, is unconstitutional because it bestows upon police officers special rights or a special designation of the worth of life in contravention of the "missing Thirteenth Amendment." The documents then explain that these are reasons that Sibley and his wife refused appointed counsel on appeal and refused to pursue matters any further in the court system and that only Congress can give them relief.

The Sibley court dismissed the appeal, concluding in part that the defendant was simply not seeking relief through the courts.

On February 1, 1865, 38th Congress passed and sent to the states for ratification a proposed amendment that would become the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery.[11][12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, Centennial Edition, Interim Edition: Analysis of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to June 26, 2013". Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 2013. p. 49. Retrieved May 11, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Jol A. Silversmith (April 1999), "The "Missing Thirteenth Amendment": Constitutional Nonsense and Titles of Nobility", Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal 8: 577 
  3. ^ 21 "Annals of Congress" 2050
  4. ^ a b Adler, Jerry (2010-07-26). "The Move to 'Restore' the 13th Amendment". Newsweek. 
  5. ^ 20 Annals of Congress 670–672
  6. ^ 20 Annals of Congress 2050–2051
  7. ^ a b James J. Kilpatrick, ed. (1961). The Constitution of the United States and Amendments Thereto. Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government. p. 65. 
  8. ^ Hart, Gideon M. (2010). "The 'Original' Thirteenth Amendment: The Misunderstood Titles of Nobility Amendment". Marquette Law Review 94 (311). SSRN 1788908. 
  9. ^ "The Lost 13th Amendment". Discerning History. April 15, 2013. Retrieved February 22, 2014. 
  10. ^ Campion v. Towns, No.CV-04-1516PHX-ROS, *2 n.1 (D. Ariz. 2005).
  11. ^ "Joint Resolution Submitting 13th Amendment to the States; signed by Abraham Lincoln and Congress". The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress: Series 3. General Correspondence. 1837-1897. Library of Congress. 
  12. ^ "Thirteenth Amendment - Slavery and Involuntary Servitude". FindLaw. Retrieved April 18, 2012.