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A Thirteenth Amendment Worth Pining For?

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Message John Sanchez Jr.
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We have been treated to two postings in the past week by Melinda Pillsbury-Foster in regard to the "missing Thirteenth Amendment" to the Constitution of the United States with its proscription of titles of nobility. The feature of this exercise in wishful thinking that really gets Libertarian juices flowing is the prospect that if it were somehow to come true for them, it would disqualify any lawyer belonging to a bar association from holding office due to revocation of their citizenship.

It is provided in Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution that no person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States shall accept any present, emolument, office or title of any kind whatsoever, from any king, prince or foreign state without the consent of Congress. It is postulated that the founders felt that the measure needed a prescribed penalty to give it teeth. Never mind that there are no other prescribed penalties mentioned anywhere in the Constitution or its Amendments except as Congress provides "by appropriate legislation" and that Congress could simply have passed appropriate legislation to give Article I, Section 9 the desired teeth.

However, as in any good Libertarian yarn, an international conspiracy of banking interests and monarchies undertook to destroy the United States using attorneys who belonged to the bar as their agents. You see, those attorneys had received the title of "Esquire" in the process of becoming members of the bar, and therefore ran afoul of Article I, Section 9. So, in 1810, the Congress approved an amendment to the Constitution that would provide the desired penalty of a revocation of those lawyers' citizenship, thereby preventing their eligibility to hold office.

It seems that twelve of the required thirteen states ratified the amendment before the War of 1812 intervened to destroy essential government records and take the wind out of the sails of ratification. The thirteenth state that is thought by proponents to have ratified in or around 1819 is said to be Virginia. This conclusion is drawn from an order by the Legislature of Virginia to a printer to publish an edition of laws that included a copy of the Constitution replete with the missing thirteenth amendment. No records of the Virginia legislature ratifying this amendment have been unearthed, but the printing order went ahead for whatever reason. The misapprehension spread through several other print editions, evidently seeing the Virginia example and adopting it without question.

In 1829, the New York Revised Statutes cited an 1818 message from the president of the United States saying that only twelve of the required thirteen states had ratified the proposed amendment, therefore the amendment had not been adopted.

The Civil War came along to contribute to the fog surrounding this measure by destroying records of the State of Virginia, and the current amendment, which forbids involuntary servitude, replaced the first thirteenth amendment.

Proponents of the anti-nobility amendment note that no time limit was provided for ratification, and hold out hope that the modern Virginia legislature, or the legislature of one of the other states of the 1810 Union will yet ratify. Failing that, which seems all but certain, they hold that those many mistaken printings of the Constitution including the disputed amendment as prima facie evidence of ratification.

On July 15, 2005, in Campion v. Towns, the U.S. District Court in Arizona confirmed that "although some people claim that state publication of the erroneous Thirteenth Amendment makes it valid, Article V of the Constitution does not so provide."

It seems that we will have to content ourselves with the Thirteenth Amendment that is acknowledged by the Congress. The chances of this archaic construct being ratified in the twenty-first century are vanishingly small, Of course, if we redact the court's ruling from this yarn, we have most of the script for the next "National Treasure" movie. Hey, who gets to pitch it?

For a better explanation than I can give, try these:

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I am a lifelong resident of the Chicago suburbs, with a several year hiatus to serve in the Navy when my Vietnam era draft notice turned up. I had been told that guys with last names like mine were among the preferred cannon fodder in the Army, so (more...)
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