Titles of Nobility amendment

From Academic Kids

The Titles of Nobility Amendment (TONA) was, and remains, a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution. It was introduced during the 2nd Session of the 11th Congress in 1810 by Senator Philip Reed of Maryland—and has not taken effect because it has not yet been ratified by enough state legislatures. As quoted on page 613, Volume II, Statutes At Large, covering the 6th Congress through the 12th Congress, the proposed amendment reads:

"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."

The TONA—if ever ratified—would modify the following provision which appears in Article I, Section 9, of the original 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."

Proposal of the TONA by Congress

The United States Senate approved the measure by a vote of 19 to 5 on April 27, 1810 (20 Annals of Congress 670-672). It was then adopted by the House of Representatives with a vote of 87 to 3 on May 1, 1810 (20 Annals of Congress 2050-2051).

Reaction to the TONA in the State Legislatures

This still-pending proposed amendment is known to have been ratified by the legislatures of the following 12 states: Maryland in 1810, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont all in 1811, as well as by Massachusetts on February 27, 1812 and by New Hampshire on December 9, 1812.

It is believed that the TONA was specifically rejected by lawmakers in Connecticut on May 13, 1813; by those in New York on March 12, 1812; and by those in Rhode Island on September 15, 1814. In the specific case of South Carolina, it was reported that while its Senate voted to ratify the TONA on November 28, 1811, the state's House of Representatives did not approve the proposal.

As to Virginia's legislators, no records survive of any action having been taken relative to officially ratifying, or rejecting, the TONA.

Today, with 50 states in the Union, it would take the approvals of lawmakers in a minimum of 38 states to achieve ratification.

Long-standing Misimpressions

The misimpression prevailed for decades that the TONA had in fact become part of the federal Constitution—indeed many printings of the Constitution during the 1800s erroneously include it as being the 13th Amendment. Perhaps this misconception could be traced to the mistaken belief that both chambers of South Carolina's legislature had acted favorably upon the TONA when, evidently, only one body had done so. Or possibly, it can be attributed to the misapprehension that Virginia lawmakers had adopted the TONA, despite the lack of documentation that either chamber of Virginia's legislature ever even so much as considered the TONA.

That is not where the misunderstandings end. There is a further mistaken belief that the TONA was just one state's adoption shy of being incorporated into the federal Constitution.

When the TONA was offered by Congress to the state legislatures on May 1, 1810, the approval of 13 of them would indeed have been required. However, with the addition of Louisiana into the Union on April 30, 1812, that theshold increased to 14 state approvals. Louisiana's statehood commenced after the Massachusetts ratification of the TONA, but prior to the New Hampshire ratification of it. Then, when Indiana was admitted on December 11, 1816, the bar was raised up to 15 approvals need to ratify the TONA. And although the admission of Mississippi on December 10, 1817, did not increase the numerical requirement, the entry of Illinois on December 3, 1818, did elevate that minimum to 16 state adoptions necessary for the TONA to be incorporated into America's highest legal document.

At this point, it should be noted that the actual 13th Amendment was ratified in December of 1865 and abolished slavery uniformly throughout the United States.

Still Pending & Why Proposed

Keeping in mind that Congress did not specify a deadline by which the states must act upon the TONA, technically it remains to this day subject to approval by America's state lawmakers.

There is speculation that the TONA was proposed by Congress in response to the 1803 marriage of Napoleon Bonaparte's younger brother, Jerome, and Betsy Patterson of Baltimore who gave birth to a boy for whom she wanted aristrocratic recognition from France. Another theory is that she 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 TONA. It should be pointed out, however, that the marriage had been annulled in 1805—well before the TONA's proposal by the 11th Congress.

The TONA's Impact—if ever Ratified

It is relatively uncommon for American citizens to receive titles of nobility from foreign countries, so the TONA's impact would be limited. But, if implemented today, the TONA's possible effect could include:

  • Since the amendment would apply to a United States citizen who "received" an honor, whether or not he or she actually accepted that honor, any nation might use the amendment as a ploy to deprive a United States citizen of his or her citizenship.
  • Absent Congressional consent, pensions to which naturalized citizens are entitled from their original countries could only be accepted, even if earned, at the cost of their American citizenship.
  • Absent Congressional consent, natural-born United States citizens of dual nationality could be restricted in accepting pensions from their other nationality.
  • Absent Congressional consent, honorary titles could not be offered or accepted and would have to be disclaimed prior to becoming a U.S. citizen. Knighthoods from Britain have been received by Ronald Reagan GCB, George Herbert Walker Bush GCB, Caspar Weinberger, Rudy Giuliani KBE, William Henry Gates III KBE, and many others.
  • Absent Congressional consent, if considered honors, gallantry awards from foreign powers could not be accepted. International medal awards are fairly common. For example, on July 24, 2002, Australian SAS commander in Afghanistan Lieutenant-Colonel Rowan Tink was awarded a U.S. Bronze Star.


Some people claim that the TONA actually was properly ratified and that it has been suppressed as part of a vast conspiracy orchestrated by attorneys who do not wish to forfeit their American citizenship when they use the title "Esquire" after their last name (see below).

There is a school of thought that Virginia lawmakers adopted the TONA sometime before the invasion of the eastern portion of the United States by British troops during the War of 1812 and that—as a consequence of the sacking, pillaging, and burning of state government records in Virginia, as well as of many federal government records in Washington, D.C., by the British—there was a loss of the documentation which would attest to a valid ratification of the TONA by Virginia's legislators.

The assertion that the TONA actually was validly ratified has never been upheld by any court in the United States.

Furthermore, supporters maintain that—if ratified—the TONA would have impacts above and beyond those listed above. Among the TONA's claimed additional effects would be:

  1. When someone in the United States becomes a lawyer, he or she often uses the title of "Esquire" (or an abbreviation thereof) to signify his or her status, much as doctors attach "M.D." to their names. Supporters of the TONA claim that this constitutes "a British title of gentry" because the state bar associations in the United States were franchises of the British International Bar Association. Therefore, so the argument goes, any lawyer in the United States who uses the title "Esquire" is British gentry, and would—under a validly-ratified TONA—forsake his or her American citizenship.
  2. The word "honour" in the phrase "title of nobility or honour" should not be interpreted as "title of honour" in the traditional sense, but rather as "obtaining or having an advantage or privilege over another," which includes, among other things, the immunity to lawsuits which is held by various government officials. Theoretically then—were TONA to ever be ratified—there is a school of thought that judges could be sued for the legal decisions that they make, and that legislators could be sued for the laws that they pass.

However, there is much disagreement as to the accuracy of these fanciful theories.

Domestic Titles of Nobility

The TONA does not say anything about domestic titles of nobility—only those which might be issued by foreign powers. Even if it might be seriously contended that attorneys and others hold special "honours" or privileges by virtue of their positions, the language of this proposed amendment probably would not apply if such titles were to be issued by federal or state executive branches or by federal or state judicial branches. (Congress, and most state legislatures, are otherwise precluded from issuing domestic titles of nobility directly.)

External links

  • Pro-TONA page (http://www.federalobserver.com/archive.php?aid=3842) arguing that lawyers hold a title of nobility
  • Anti-TONA page (http://www.thirdamendment.com/missing.html), arguing that TONA was never made a part of the constitution, and that lawyers don't hold any titles of nobility

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