Site menu:


March 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-5


A Commentary on the American Constitution


Part 8



Now to an area of more than a little concern to our Founders that we all but ignore today.  It is in this area that I personally believe there is some intrigue to be found.


No state, without the consent of the United States in Congress assembled, shall send any embassy to, or receive any embassy from, or enter into any conference, agreement, alliance or treaty with any king, prince or state; nor shall any person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States, or any of them, accept any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatever from any king, prince or foreign state; nor shall the United States in Congress assembled, or any of them, grant any title of nobility.  (Article VI of the Articles of Confederation).


Though this is outside of the normal construct of this discussion, it is inserted to allow comparison with the instrument currently under discussion, and to demonstrate that our Founders were adamant as well as consistent in their intent.


No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United StatesAnd 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.” (Emphasis added).  (U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9, final clause).


And again in Article I, Section 10, Clause 1, they stated, “No state shall . . . grant any title of nobility.”  These gentlemen were very adamant that NO ONE who worked for the United States government (office of profit) or who held an elective office (office of trust) of that government should hold any office or title whatsoever granted by any foreign entity, any state, or even the new government they themselves had established.  And if they did, well then . . . not much, for there was no sanction in the event of a breach.  It may have been mentioned that these men were adamant, and even all these prohibitions did not satisfy their intent.  So already in 1789, an amendment was submitted, along with those amendments that would soon become our Bill of Rights, which would apply a penalty for an infraction of this prohibition; it did not pass.  And once again in 1810, they introduced and passed the Thirteenth Amendment.  It reads:


If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive, or retain any title of nobility or honor, 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. (Emphasis added).  (Original Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution).


It should be more than apparent by now, that through their eyes, they viewed this offense as serious enough that it should disqualify one from government office or service and result in the loss of citizenship.  Whoa, time out.  You say you’re not familiar with this amendment — you don’t remember studying about this in your high school civics class?  The Thirteenth Amendment you remember abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.  Ahh, now there’s the rub.  It seems it is necessary here to digress from the immediate subject for a short period in the interest of establishing some measure of credibility.  It is entirely possible I am in error, but before you dismiss this altogether as bogus, allow me to go on a little.


The Thirteenth Amendment, as related a few paragraphs earlier, was printed as law in some of the very first official records of the State of Iowa.  This mote of historical interest was gleaned from THE STATUTE LAWS of the TERRITORY OF IOWA, ENACTED AT THE FIRST SESSION OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF SAID TERRITORY, HELD AT BURLINGTON, A.D. 1838-39.  Its title page boldly proclaims, “PUBLISHED BY AUTHORITY,” and that it was printed at the city of “DU BUQUE (sic)” by “RUSSELL & REEVES, PRINTERS” in 1839.  In addition to the laws of the new territory, it contains copies of the Northwest Ordinance, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States.  Inside the cover page, it contains a “CERTIFICATE” that reads as follows:


I, WILLIAM B. CONWAY, Secretary of the Territory of Iowa, having compared the following pages with the “engrossed bills” deposited in my office, do hereby certify, that they contain true and correct copies of the Statute Laws and Joint Resolutions passed at the first session of the Legislative Assembly of said Territory, 1838-39.  In TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto subscribed my name, this 23d day of July, A. D. 1839.  WM. B. CONWAY, Secretary of the Territory.  (Emphasis in the original).


Also found in this official record is the Constitution of the State of Iowa.  In Article I, Section 6, you will find the point made once more: “ . . . the General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.”  It would seem credible that Mr. Conway, having certified and affixed his name to this document, had every reason to believe that the document he signed was true and correct.  This Thirteenth Amendment was published again, at least one more time, in the official documents of the State of Iowa in 1843.  (I, too, was skeptical; so I took it upon myself to make a trip to the State Capitol of Iowa to view these documents with my own eyes.  Though they are fragile and under lock and key, I assure you they do exist.)


Nor is Iowa the only state that published this Thirteenth Amendment.  At least twenty-three other states must have assumed this amendment to be the law of the land and at least indicated as much when they also published this amendment in their official records of documentation.  The first was, apparently, Virginia in the year of 1819.  The last state found to date was Colorado in the year of 1868.  So for a period just shy of fifty years, many states continued to believe this to be the law of the land.  If this amendment was not ratified, 49 years is a very long time for a mistake of this magnitude to go unrecognized by the administrations of so many states.  Were they all in error?  I must confess not to know one way or the other; but it is extremely interesting, isn’t it?


Well, just what was it that our Founders had so exercised in such high dudgeon?  What was the object of their discontent?  It is well established that it was their intent that no man should be above the law, and in this sense we are all equal.  They were not about to allow an advantage to any individual based on birth, appointment, or affiliation.  (“ . . . of any kind whatever . . . ”).  There was to be no advantage conferred by royal lineage; none conferred by government, either foreign or domestic; and none conferred by association (who you knew).  It has been suggested, with some reason, that the “title of honor” with which they most took umbrage to was “Esquire.”  This was, and still is, a title granted in England, most specifically to Barristers (also known in this country as attorneys, and in the Bible as Scribes).




Click here for pdf copy of this Policy Study


All of our publications are available for sponsorship.  Sponsoring a publication is an excellent way for you to show your support of our efforts to defend liberty and define the proper role of government.  For more information, please contact Public Interest Institute at