Titles of Nobility Amendment

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The Titles of Nobility Amendment (TONA) was proposed as an amendment to the United States Constitution by the 11th Congress in 1810. The amendment would strip United States citizenship from any citizen who accepted a title of nobility from a foreign country.

TONA was ratified by 12 state legislatures, and on two occasions between 1812 and 1816 was within two states of the required three-quarters, though it never reached that threshold and thus is not part of the Constitution. Because Congress did not impose a time limit for ratification, TONA technically could still become part of the Constitution if it were ratified by an additional 26 states.


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][2]

Proposal and rationale[edit]

The United States Senate approved the measure by a vote of 19–5 on April 26, 1810.[3] It was then adopted by the United States House of Representatives with a vote of 87–3 on May 1, 1810.[4] After the Congress passed it, the amendment was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification.

The proposed amendment was intended to expand upon Article I, Section 9 and Section 10 of the Constitution, which prohibits the states and the federal government from issuing titles of nobility or honor.

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.[5] 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."[6]

Reaction in the state legislatures[edit]

This amendment was ratified by 12 state legislatures:[5]

  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)[5]
  11. Massachusetts (February 27, 1812)
  12. New Hampshire (December 9, 1812)

The amendment was rejected by three state legislatures:

  1. New York (March 12, 1812)
  2. Connecticut (May 13, 1813)
  3. Rhode Island (September 15, 1814)

South Carolina's Senate voted to ratify the amendment on November 28, 1811, but its House of Representatives rejected the amendment three years later on December 21, 1814. Although Virginia has long maintained that there are no surviving records indicating any action having been taken relative to officially ratifying or rejecting the amendment, state legislative records indicate that the Virginia House of Delegates approved the amendment on February 2, 1811,[7] but the Virginia Senate rejected the amendment on February 14, 1811.[8] Most likely, records of Virginia's ratification or Virginia may have not existed or, if existed, been lost or destroyed during the War of 1812 (along with some other legal records).[9][10] Also, the War may have delayed the voting process on the amendment.

Per Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433 (1939), the amendment is technically still subject to being approved by the nation's state lawmakers, as no deadline for ratification was specified when Congress proposed the amendment for the consideration of the states. As there are now 50 states, the legislatures of at least 26 more states (38 in total) would have to ratify the amendment in order for it to become part of the Constitution.


It has been claimed that the TONA became part of the U.S. Constitution—indeed many printings of the Constitution during the 19th century erroneously included it as a Thirteenth Amendment.[5][11] Perhaps this misunderstanding could be traced to the mistaken belief that both legislative houses of South Carolina and/or Virginia had acted favorably upon the TONA when, in each case, apparently only one of the houses did so.[5] In general, 19th century procedures for communicating and recording the ratifications of constitutional amendments were haphazard, and some pre-Civil War printings of the Constitution included the amendment out of uncertainty.[5][12] Many other 19th century printings omit it, especially after the Civil War.[5][12]

There is a further misapprehension that the TONA was, at some stage in the ratification process, just one state's adoption shy of being incorporated into the United States Constitution.[5]

When the Congress submitted TONA to the state legislatures on May 1, 1810, the approval of 13 of them would indeed have been required. Massachusetts ratified TONA on February 27, 1812, thereby bringing the total to 11. However, with the addition of Louisiana into the Union on April 30, 1812, the threshold increased to 14 states. New Hampshire's subsequent ratification brought the amendment again within two states of ratification. However, the threshold was raised by the admission of further states in subsequent years, while no further states have ratified the amendment.[5] In 1819–67, Virginia published TONA as the "13th" amendment by the state legislature.[9] Some argued it as authentic and accurate to prove the state's ratification, but the website Discerning History called an inclusion as part of the Constitution "a clerical mistake" by the state legislature.[9]

The term "Thirteenthers" is sometimes used to refer to those who mistakenly believe this amendment was ratified or to those who would like to see ratification of this proposed amendment.[13][14]

Not until 1865 was a proposed Thirteenth Amendment adopted. That amendment abolished slavery throughout the United States.[15]


The assertion that TONA was validly ratified 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 TONA was indeed ratified, judges have brushed those claims aside. In Campion v. Towns, No.CV-04-1516PHX-ROS, *2 n.1 (D. Ariz. 2005), a tax protester raised TONA as one of his defenses to a charge of tax evasion.[16] 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 TONA 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 TONA 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As quoted on page 613, Volume II, Statutes At Large, covering the 6th Congress through the 12th Congress.
  2. ^ "Constitutional Amendments Not Ratified". United States House of Representatives. Retrieved 2007-09-30. 
  3. ^ 20 Annals of Congress 670–672
  4. ^ 20 Annals of Congress 2050–2051
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jol A. Silversmith (April 1999), "The "Missing Thirteenth Amendment": Constitutional Nonsense and Titles of Nobility", Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal 8: 577 
  6. ^ 21 "Annals of Congress" 2050
  7. ^ Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia 91 (Richmond, Samuel Pleasants, 1810 [1811])
  8. ^ Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia 83 (Richmond, Thomas Ritchie, 1810 [1811])
  9. ^ a b c "The Lost 13th Amendment". Discerning History. April 15, 2013. Retrieved February 22, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Titles of Nobility: The Lost 13th Amendment". Silver Circle Underground. October 9, 2012. Retrieved February 22, 2014. 
  11. ^ Hart, Gideon M. (2010). "The 'Original' Thirteenth Amendment: The Misunderstood Titles of Nobility Amendment". Marquette Law Review 94 (311). SSRN 1788908. 
  12. ^ a b "The "Missing" 13th Amendment, an odd Constitution story". The Daily Kos. 
  13. ^ Why Some Republicans Want to ‘Restore’ the 13th Amendment, Newsweek, July 27 2010
  14. ^ Iowa Republicans ponder changes to anti-slave amendment, National Post, July 29 2010
  15. ^ "Thirteenth Amendment - Slavery and Involuntary Servitude". FindLaw. Retrieved April 18, 2012. 
  16. ^ Campion v. Towns, No.CV-04-1516PHX-ROS, *2 n.1 (D. Ariz. 2005).