On December 6, 1865, America officially abolished slavery with the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, some people, known as Thirteeners, believe that this was actually the 14th Amendment. The real 13th Amendment, they argue, has been erroneously removed from existence. What is the Lost Titles of Nobility Amendment?
The Titles of Nobility Amendment?
In 1983, David Dodge and Tom Dunn were searching through public records in Maine. They came across an 1825 copy of the U.S. Constitution. To their surprise, it contained a strange 13th Amendment, which is now referred to as the Titles of Nobility Amendment. For the next few years, Dodge and Dunn searched archives across the United States. They recovered 18 documents printed between 1822 and 1860 that also included this previously unknown amendment. And slowly, a bizarre story began to unfold.
In the early 1800s, American citizens were extremely concerned about foreign involvement in their newly formed government. For example, the marriage of Jerome Bonaparte (Napoleon’s younger brother) and Betsy Patterson caused some controversy when they gave birth to a baby boy. Although Patterson was an American, she wanted her child to have a title from France. She may have even wanted a title for herself, reflected in the fact that texts at the time referred to her as the “Duchess of Baltimore.”
The idea of its citizens holding allegiance to another country didn’t sit well with the young American government. And the idea of such a person holding a U.S. political office was unthinkable. Thus, the Titles of Nobility Amendment was created in order to modify the following section of the Constitution:
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” ~ Article I, Section 9
The amendment, shown below, would’ve extended the law to all citizens. Furthermore, it would’ve increased the law’s domain, making it illegal for a citizen to receive any sort of honor or title from a foreign country without the consent of Congress.
“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.” ~ Titles of Nobility Amendment
Was the Titles of Nobility Amendment ever Ratified?
In order for a U.S. amendment to become law, it must receive support from two-thirds of the members of each house of Congress or be approved by a convention called by two-thirds of all states. Afterward, it must be ratified by either three-fourths of the states or by three-fourths of the convention. So, how did the Titles of Nobility Amendment do?
Pretty well, it turns out. The amendment passed both houses of Congress by large margins. Then it was presented to the states. At the time, there were 17 states so 13 votes were needed for ratification. But by that time, America was engrossed in the War of 1812 and the amendment was forgotten. When the issue was raised again by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1818, he discovered that twelve separate states had voted for ratification, three had rejected it, and one had taken no action. The sole remaining state, Virginia, apparently never replied. So, how did it end up in all those copies of the Constitution? Is it possible that Virginia did ratify the bill and this oversight was corrected?
Dodge thought so. His research led him to a rather significant discovery. On March 12, 1819, Virginia’s legislature published its own official edition of the Constitution and amendments. That edition contained the mysterious Titles of Nobility Amendment.
“Knowing they were the last state necessary to ratify the Amendment, the Virginians had every right [to] announce their own and the nation’s ratification of the Amendment by publishing it on a special edition of the Constitution, and so they did.” ~ David Dodge
The Lost Titles of Nobility Amendment?
Wow. So, if Dodge is correct, how could the United States, in effect, lose an amendment? According to a 2010 Newsweek article on the subject, it’s not so hard to believe.
“If you find it hard to believe that an amendment to the Constitution could have been in effect for four decades and then mysteriously excised and forgotten, well, the times were different. There was no single reference copy of the Constitution to which scribes with quill pens ceremoniously added amendments as they were ratified.”
Of course, Dodge’s evidence is fairly circumstantial. And Jol A. Silversmith, who has written extensively on the subject, argues that by 1819, 13 votes wouldn’t have been enough since other states had joined the Union. A quick check shows that America had 21 states as of March 12, 1819, which means that 16 votes would’ve been required for ratification.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
David Dodge and other proponents of the Titles of Nobility Amendment believe that a greater conspiracy is at work. They think that the amendment was deliberately excised due to the fact that it would’ve made it illegal for lawyers to hold political office since the British Bar refers to American lawyers as “Esquire.” Silversmith and others consider this crazy due to the fact that Esquire carries no special privileges and is not inheritable, among other things.
Interestingly enough, the Titles of Nobility Amendment is still technically pending since its time for ratification was never limited by the 1810 Congress. In order to pass, it would require another 26 votes although I imagine that state legislatures that had already voted on the amendment would demand a revote. In total, 38 votes would be needed in order for the bill to become law.
You may scoff at the idea of modern society passing a law that’s been in limo for over two hundred years. But there is precedence. After all, how do you think the 27th Amendment was passed?
Thanks for the article. Only one remark:
There is no need for a revote. A ratification is self-enacting. That means, if a state ratifies a amendment this ratification remains valid. Even a rescissions could be ineffectively.
So the 12 ratification remain valid. Let’s restart the process 🙂
Thanks for the clarification…glad you enjoyed the article!