Titles of Nobility: The Lost 13th Amendment

October 9th, 2012

Tinfoil Tuesday

Shortly after America’s founding, the English and French government and banking establishments were the subject of many conspiracy theories. Americans of the day often viewed the First Bank of the United States as a proxy for British banking interests. Additionally, some have claimed that the derivative nature of the American Bar Association and legal system constitutes submission to the British courts after which they were modeled. With wealthy US citizens still vying for opportunities to marry into European titles, the 1810 Congress sent a proposed constitutional amendment to the states which would strip citizenship from anyone who attained a title of nobility from a foreign head of state.

The conspiracy theory surrounding this concerns whether or not it was ratified. Since it appeared in a few ancient copies of the Constitution, many believe that it was ratified, but later obscured by shadowy interests. Others believe that it fell one state short of ratification at the time.

“Esquire” as a Title of Nobility for Lawyers

In America’s run up to the War of 1812, many viewed attorneys with the “Esquire” title as being subjects of the British crown. A certain faction believed that US land and treasure were being secretly transferred overseas through esoteric financial and legal maneuvering.

While adopting common law of British origin into the American system was certainly necessary, some Americans wanted a completely new court system where an individual did not have to achieve a specific title in order to be recognized by the court. Since the War of 1812 essentially stole the oxygen from the room on this issue, that too became a conspiracy theory of sorts. In fact, there are those who believe that, when the British burnt Washington DC in 1814, the titles of nobility amendment, and all constitutions featuring it, were purposefully destroyed. The fact that the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, included text which absolves England of any responsibility for burnt or otherwise destroyed legal documents is often cited by people who believe that theory.

Betsy Patterson, the Duchess of Baltimore

Another political issue may have factored into this debate at the time. Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger brother Jerome married and had a child with US citizen Betsy Patterson, who wanted a European title for her son. Since Americans were often engaged in open hostilities with various European countries during that period in history, deep suspicions sometimes fell on Americans with European connections.

While her specific case was not still an active issue by the time the amendment was offered, it may have contributed to a general public mood of suspicion towards Americans with foreign loyalties. Betsy Patterson’s marriage ended in 1805, so the furor surrounding that issue had died down a bit before the amendment was submitted.

12 of the then-necessary 13 states are on the record as having ratified the titles of nobility language. Certain researchers claim that, since it appears in some older constitutions as the 13th amendment, another state must have passed it as well. However, this claim has yet to be conclusively proven.

Congress set no guidelines whatsoever as to how quickly this amendment must be passed, so, in theory, states could ratify it today. However, the number of states has increased, so it would take far more than one more state’s consent for the amendment to become law. Though some believe the amendment was already ratified and covered up via a conspiracy, it’s also possible that the confusing nature of the constitutional process combined with the limited communication tools available at the time led some states to assume that it would be passed too early, thus producing constitutions that included it erroneously. Was there a thirteenth amendment which was ratified in the early 19th century and then lost? Is the current thirteenth amendment really supposed to be the fourteenth amendment and so on? With such limited records available after the fire of Washington DC in 1814, it’s hard to tell.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.