The Constitutional Amendment Your Never Knew About

While I was verifying facts for my series of posts about the US Constitution, I ran across an interesting tidbit I never knew. (Actually, I run across things I don’t know all the time, just not all of them are interesting.)

The Bill of Rights (the 1st ten amendments)
source: Wikimedia Commons
There are a handful of amendments to the Constitution sitting in limbo, having been passed by Congress but never ratified by enough states to go into effect. Some of these, such as the 1861 amendment guaranteeing the states will not interfere with slavery are not an issue since the 13th amendment outlawed slavery. However, there are others that have no superseding laws to make them moot nor any expiration dates. Technically, if the states chose to ratify these, they would become part of the Constitution.

One of the most interesting of these is the Titles of Nobility Amendment proposed in 1810.

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.

This amendment illustrates just how sensitive Americans were to inadvertently importing the British system of nobility to the United States, as there was already a clause in the Constitution forbidding the US from granting titles of nobility:

U.S. Army General Colin Powell,
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
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 1, Section 9, Clause 8

The amendment takes the clause and extends its reach to everyday citizens, going so far as to revoke their citizenship. However, you’ll notice one common phrase – without the consent of Congress.  As usual, they gave themselves an out in both cases.

I don’t know too many Americans with titles. Actually, the only one I can think of is Sir Colin Powell who was granted honorary knighthood after the Gulf War. I’m not sure knighthood counts as being “nobility” but it is a title. I’m guessing Congress let that one slide.


No comments:

Post a Comment