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The Titles of Nobility Amendment (TONA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution dating from 1810. It was submitted to the state legislatures during the 2nd Session of the 11th Congress via a resolution offered by U.S. Senator Philip Reed of Marylandmarker. It has not been ratified by three-fourths of the states and so has never become part of the Constitution.


Proposal and rationale

The United States Senate approved the measure by a vote of 19-5 on April 27, 1810. It was then adopted by the United States House of Representatives with a vote of 87-3 on May 1, 1810. After its passage in the Congress, the amendment was presented to the state legislatures for ratification as prescribed by Article V of the Constitution.

If adopted, the amendment would expand upon Article I, Section 9 and Section 10 of the Constitution, which prohibit the states and the federal government from issuing titles of nobility or honour.

There is speculation that the amendment was proposed by the Congress in response to the 1803 marriage of Napoleon Bonaparte's younger brother, Jerome, and Betsy Patterson of Baltimoremarker, Marylandmarker who gave birth to a boy for whom she wanted aristocratic recognition from France. The child, named Jérôme Napoleon Bonaparte, was not born in the United States, but in Great Britain on July 7, 1805—nevertheless, he would have held U.S. citizenship through his mother. Another theory is that his mother actually desired a title of nobility for herself and, indeed, she is referred to as the "Duchess of Baltimore" in many texts written about the amendment. The marriage had been annulled in 1805—well before the amendment's proposal by the 11th Congress. Nonetheless, Representative Nathaniel Macon of North Carolinamarker is recorded to have said, when voting on the amendment that "he considered the vote on this question as deciding whether or not we were to have members of the Legion of Honor in this country."

Reaction in the state legislatures

This amendment was ratified by the following 12 state legislatures:
  1. Marylandmarker (December 25, 1810)
  2. Kentuckymarker (January 31, 1811)
  3. Ohiomarker (January 31, 1811)
  4. Delawaremarker (February 2, 1811)
  5. Pennsylvaniamarker (February 6, 1811)
  6. New Jerseymarker (February 13, 1811)
  7. Vermontmarker (October 24, 1811)
  8. Tennesseemarker (November 21, 1811)
  9. Georgiamarker (November 22, 1811)
  10. North Carolinamarker (December 23, 1811)
  11. Massachusettsmarker (February 27, 1812)
  12. New Hampshiremarker (December 9, 1812)

The amendment was rejected by the following three state legislatures:
  1. New Yorkmarker (March 12, 1812)
  2. Connecticutmarker (May 13, 1813)
  3. Rhode Islandmarker (September 15, 1814)

In the case of South Carolinamarker, while its Senate voted to ratify the amendment on November 28, 1811, the state's House of Representatives rejected the amendment on December 21, 1814. As to Virginiamarker's legislators, although it long has been maintained that no records survived of any action having been taken relative to officially ratifying, or rejecting, the amendment, state legislative records indicate that the Virginia House of Delegates approved the amendment on February 2, 1811, but the Virginia Senate rejected the amendment on February 14, 1811.

Per Coleman v. Miller, , the amendment is technically still subject to being approved by the nation's state lawmakers, as no deadline for ratification was specified when Congress proposed the amendment for the consideration of the states. Thus, as there are now 50 states, the legislatures of at least 26 more states would have to ratify the amendment in order for it to become part of the Constitution.

Long-standing misimpression

The misconception prevailed for decades that the TONA had in fact become part of the U.S. Constitution—indeed many printings of the Constitution during the 19th century erroneously referred to it as being the Thirteenth Amendment. Perhaps this misunderstanding could be traced to the mistaken belief that both chambers of South Carolina's legislature had acted favorably upon the TONA when, evidently, only one body had done so. Possibly, it can be attributed to the misapprehension that Virginia lawmakers had adopted the TONA, despite the long-standing belief that there was a lack of documentation that either chamber of Virginia's legislature ever even so much as considered the TONA.

There is a further mistaken belief that the TONA was, at all stages, just one state's adoption shy of being incorporated into the federal Constitution.

When the TONA was offered by the Congress to the state legislatures on May 1, 1810, the approval of 13 of them would indeed have been required. However, with the addition of Louisianamarker into the Union on April 30, 1812, that threshold increased to 14 state approvals. Louisiana's statehood commenced after the Massachusetts ratification of the TONA, but prior to the New Hampshire ratification of it. Then, when Indianamarker was admitted on December 11, 1816, the bar was raised up to 15 approvals needed to ratify the TONA. Although the admission of Mississippimarker on December 10, 1817, did not increase the numerical requirement, the entry of Illinoismarker on December 3, 1818, did elevate that minimum to 16 state adoptions necessary for the TONA to be incorporated into the Constitution.

The actual Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in December of 1865 and abolished slavery uniformly throughout the United States.


The assertion that the amendment was validly ratified has never been upheld by any court in the United States. In the few instances in which courts have been confronted with the assertion that the amendment was indeed ratified, judges have brushed those claims aside. In Campion v. Towns, No.CV-04-1516PHX-ROS, *2 n.1 (D. Ariz. 2005), a tax protester raised the amendment as one of his defenses to a charge of tax evasion. The court replied that it would "correct any misunderstanding Plaintiff has concerning the text of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution":

In another case, Sibley v. Culliver, 243 F. Supp. 2d 1278, 1283 (M.D. Ala. 2003), aff'd 377 F.3d 1196 (11th Cir. 2004), a federal court in Alabama found that the defendant's invocation of the amendment worked to his detriment. The court took note of documents produced by the defendant, a convicted murderer who submitted documents in support of his appeal claiming that the amendment rendered his conviction invalid: The Sibley court dismissed the appeal, concluding in part that the defendant was simply not seeking relief through the courts.

See also


  1. 20 Annals of Congress 670-672
  2. 20 Annals of Congress 2050-2051
  3. 21 "Annals of Congress" 2050
  4. Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia 91 (Richmond, Samuel Pleasants, 1810 [1811])
  5. Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia 83 (Richmond, Thomas Ritchie, 1810 [1811])
  6. Campion v. Towns, No.CV-04-1516PHX-ROS, *2 n.1 (D. Ariz. 2005).

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