DAVID ROSMAN: Formal titles could have been unconstitutional

Wednesday, August 3, 2011 | 6:18 p.m. CDT

Put out an APB! The 13th Amendment is missing!

With all the happenings concerning the debt limit debacle, the war in Afghanistan and whatever the Columbia City Council is doing this week to disrupt our lives, it appears that some people are worried about the missing 13th Amendment.


Related Media

No, not the one we have come to know and love, the one that makes it unconstitutional to own slaves. I know where that one is. I read it. I’ve seen the original.

The missing 13th Amendment, the Titles of Nobility (and Honour) Amendment, was brought to my attention by one of my readers, Edward Poian, an adjunct professor of political philosophy at Mercy College in New York.

I hesitate calling him “doctor” or “professor” for fear of possibly violating the missing amendment to the Constitution, which would have made it illegal to use titles such as "Esquire" after a name.

The matter began as a joint resolution passed by Congress in 1810 and sent to the various states for ratification. The proposed amendment read:

“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.”

That would mean that parents training their children to say “Ma’am and “Sir” could violate the Constitution, that every speaker who begins a presentation with “Ladies and Gentlemen” could be breaking the law. Oh, the poor ring master of Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

I found the original source of the Missing 13th Amendment argument at, a well-known “patriotic/anti-government” website. Some 20 sites that I visited appear to refer back to this single article as their proof, reprinting it verbatim.

The argument is that the proposed amendment, at the time of introduction, needed only 12 states for ratification. In fact, 12 state legislatures did ratify it.

However, there is dispute. The ratification bar was raised with the admission into the union of four new states after 1810. Under that standard, the amendment would have needed 16 states for ratification, not 12. The evidence against proper ratification abounds.

Poian’s argument is that Article V of “the Constitution does not specify that newly entered states must ratify an amendment which was proposed prior to the state joining the Union.”

He is right on this point. Article V does not address this issue at all.  It simply states that a proposal becomes an amendment "when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States."

In fact, both sides use the same point in their positions about the number of states needed for ratification this issue.

In 2005, the "titles of nobility amendment" was used as a defense against paying taxes in Campion v. Towns before a U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

I procured a copy of the court decision, and the only mention of the amendment is that it was never ratified, and therefore is not part of the Constitution and unable to be used as a defense. The complainant did not appeal.

There is good news for the conspiracy junkies. Unlike the Equal Rights Amendment, the original filing of the amendment did not put a time limit on ratification needed to be complete, so technically, this is still an open amendment. However, it is now subject to ratification by 38 states. 

A valid amendment would be bad news in Columbia. Medical professionals and full-time faculty at MU and Columbia and Stephens colleges could no longer ask  people to call them “doctor.”

At any rate, this is great stuff to lighten our otherwise bleak and overheated days.                                                                                          

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at and New York Journal of

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Michael Williams August 3, 2011 | 9:32 p.m.

Well, I sure hope this was tongue-in-cheek for the ma'am/sir part, and the doctor part.

I'm fairly confident the amendment referred to "Duke", "Duchess", King, Queen, Sir (in a knighthood sense), etc.

But I could be wrong in which case this was just well-disguised humor.

(Report Comment)
Ro Sila August 4, 2011 | 8:25 a.m.

Best of all, this would save us from being daily liars as we would no longer address members of Congress as "the honorable..." or judges as "your honor." Erasing "my honorable colleague" from our interactions will also raise our truthfulness factor.

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen August 4, 2011 | 9:11 a.m.

My gut thinks that peerage titles are different from educationally-earned titles.

And if doctors get to be called Doctor by merit of education, then I should be called Master.

***evil grin***

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 4, 2011 | 9:33 a.m.

Well, Greg, I've never much cared what they call me - as long as they call me when food has been placed on the table.

There actually is an old saying that says, "You can't eat a fancy title."

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.