The Titles of Nobility Amendment

I was surprised to learn recently that hardly anything certain is known about the constitutional amendment proposed by Congress in 1810 that could, in theory, still be ratified by the states. The proposal 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.

I was curious about this proposed amendment because of the litigation filed against the President claiming that he is violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Since this text also refers to emoluments, I thought that the debate on this would be instructive. But there is hardly any recorded  debate on this (either in the Annals of Congress or in newspapers).

Furthermore, I was taken aback by the conspiracy theory that is out there that this amendment really was ratified and that this fact was covered-up because the proposal would have somehow made lawyers ineligible to serve in office or be citizens.  (Don’t ask me to explain how that follows from the text.)  You can search for yourself, and find people who think that this was the “real” 13th amendment.  (Wacky litigants have even argued this in court.)

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3 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    Saw some reference of people thinking the “esquire” label or something was a sort of ” title of nobility or honour” here and that would apply to lawyers. As to original understanding, it seems like the key here was expansion of existing barriers. So, the words already were around, but the point was expanding their reach. The reasons for this would be interesting to examine. Also, Afroyim v. Rusk covered the amendment a bit (both majority/dissent). There are a few articles on the matter for those interested.

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    The reasoning behind lawyers having titles of nobility, is that they have titles, and those titles get them special privileges that others can be punished for attempting to exercise. (Primarily the ability to argue on somebody else’s behalf in court, but there are a few others.) Basically anybody who is given a special privilege or immunity not possessed by the general population can be argued to have been given a title of nobility, or the functional equivalent of such.

    The titles of of nobility clause has basically been interpreted out of existence, so far as US granted titles are concerned. Short of Congress explicitly declaring something to be a “title of nobility”, the courts won’t acknowledge it as such.

    Not everybody is happy with that.

  3. Joe says:

    ” titles of of nobility clause has basically been interpreted out of existence”

    By Brett’s light, the term was never really there, since in 1789 as well as today classes of individuals had certain privileges that others did not have. But, that wasn’t the understanding — the concern was not those with medical training specifically has special license to practice medicine or whatever. It is a specific grant of “nobility” like a noble of old. Or a special “honor” that ANYONE by merit alone could not obtain, like some special order only the favored few might get.

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