First 13th Article of Amendment


In 1789, the House of Representatives compiled a list of possible Constitutional Amendments, some of which would ultimately become our Bill of Rights.  The House proposed seventeen; the Senate reduced the list to twelve.  During this process that Senator Tristrain Dalton (Mass.) proposed an Amendment seeking to prohibit and provide a penalty for any American accepting a "title of Nobility" (RG 46 Records of the U.S. Senate).  Although it wasn't passed, this was the first time a "title of nobility" amendment was proposed.

Twenty years later, in January, 1810, Senator Reed, proposed another "Title of Nobility" Amendment (History of Congress, Proceedings of the Senate, p. 529-530).  On April 27, 1810, the Senate voted to pass this 13th Amendment by a vote of 26 to 1; the House resolved in the affirmative 87 to 3; and the following resolve was sent to the States for ratification.

"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."

The Constitution requires three-quarters of the states to ratify a proposed amendment before it may be added to the Constitution.  When Congress proposed the "Title of Nobility" Amendment in 1810, there were seventeen states, thirteen of which would have to ratify for the Amendment to be adopted.  According to the National Archives, the following is a list of the twelve states that ratified, and their dates of ratification:

    Maryland, - - - Dec. 25, 1810 . . . . . . Vermont, - - - - - Oct. 24, 1811
    Kentucky, - - - Jan. 31, 1811 . . . . . . Tennessee, - - - - Nov. 21, 1811
    Ohio, - - - - - Jan. 31, 1811 . . . . . . Georgia, - - - - - Dec. 13, 1811
    Delaware, - - - Feb.  2, 1811 . . . . . . North Carolina, - -Dec. 23, 1811
    Pennsylvania, - Feb.  6, 1811 . . . . . . Massachusetts, - - Feb. 27, 1812
    New Jersey, - - Feb. 13, 1811 . . . . . . New Hampshire, - - Dec. 10, 1812

Before a Thirteenth state could ratify, the War of 1812 broke out with England.  By the time the war ended in 1814, the British had burned the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and most of the records of the first 38 years of government.  Whether there was a connection between the proposed "title of nobility" amendment and the War of 1812 is not known. However, the momentum to ratify the proposed Amendment was lost in the tumult of war.  The fact that American Troops were sent from Washington D. C., followed by a British invasion therein, which burned the Secretary of State's building to the ground is suspicious.

Four years later, on December 31, 1817, the House of Representatives resolved that President Monroe inquire into the status of this Amendment.  In a letter dated February 6, 1818, President Monroe reported to the House that Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (Esquire) had written to the governors of Virginia, South Carolina, and Connecticut to tell them that the proposed Amendment had been ratified by twelve States and rejected by two (New York and Rhode Island), and asked the governors to notify him of their legislature's position.  (House Document No. 76)

This and other letters written by the President and the Secretary of State during the month of February, 1818, note only that the proposed Amendment had not yet been ratified. Eleven years later these letters would later are used in the absence of contradicting information to nullify the 13th Amendment.

On February 28, 1918, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, reported the rejection of the Amendment by South Carolina.  [House Doc. 129].  There are no further entries regarding the ratification of the 13th Amendment by Virginia in the Journals of Congress.  Likewise, a search through the executive papers of Governor Preston of Virginia does not reveal any correspondence from Secretary of State John Quincy Adams.  However, there is a journal entry in the Virginia House that the Governor presented the House with an official letter and documents from Washington within a time frame that conceivably includes receipt of Adam's letter.

On March 10, 1819, the Virginia legislature passed Act No. 280 (Virginia Archives of Richmond, "misc. file, p. 299 for micro-film"):

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that there shall be published an edition of the Laws of this Commonwealth in which shall be contained the following matters, that is to say, the Constitution of the united States and the amendments thereto. . . "

This act was the specific legislated instruction on what was to be included in the re-publication (a special edition) of the Virginia Civil Code.  The Virginia Legislature had already agreed that all Acts were to go into effect on the the day that the Act to re-publish the Civil Code.  Therefore, the Virginia ratification of the 13th Amendment would be the date of re-publication of the Virginia Civil Code, which was March 12, 1819.

The Delegates knew Virginia was the last of the 13 States to ratify the 13th Amendment.  They also knew there were powerful forces allied against ratification, so they took extraordinary measures to insure that it was published in sufficient quantity (4,000 copies) were ordered, almost triple their usual order), and instructed the printer to send a copy to James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, as well as a copy to President James Monroe.  (The printer, Thomas Ritchie, was bonded.  He was required to be extremely accurate in his research and his printing, or he would forfeit his bond.)

Virginia announced its ratification of the 13th Amendment by publishing it as the law of the land in the Virginia Civil Code.  There is only the question as to whether Virginia ever formally notified the Secretary of State that it had ratified this 13th Amendment.  Some have argued that because such notification was not received (or at least, not recorded), the Amendment was therefore not legally ratified, however the Fifth Article of the Constitution only prescribeswho shall propose an amendment and how and by whom it must be ratified, not to whom it must be reported.  One would expect that a report sent to (technically served upon) the President of the United States would be more than adequate notification of ratification process.


Knowing they were the last State necessary to ratify the Amendment, the Virginians ware correct to announce their own and the nation's ratification of the Amendment by publishing it in a special edition of the Constitution.

Word of Virginia's 1819 ratification spread throughout the States and both Rhode Island and Kentucky published the new Amendment in 1822.  Ohio first published in 1824.  Maine ordered 10,000 copies of the Constitution with the 13th Amendment to be printed for use in the schools in 1825, and again in 1831 for their Census Edition.  Indiana Revised Laws of 1831 published the 13th Article of Amendment on p. 20.  Northwestern Territories published in 1833.  Ohio published in 1831 and 1833.  Then came the Wisconsin Territory in 1839; Iowa Territory in 1843; Ohio again, in 1848; Kansas Statutes in 1855; and Nebraska Territory six times in a row from 1855 to 1860.

So far, David Dodge has identified eleven different states or territories that printed the Amendment in twenty separate publications over forty-one years.  And more editions including this 13th Amendment are sure to be discovered.  Clearly, Dodge is onto something.


In addition to the above information from Dodge, new information has been discovered.

More information has been received from a researcher in Indiana, and another in Dallas, who have found five more editions of statutes that include the Constitution and the missing, but now found, 13th Amendment.

These editions were printed by Ohio, 1819; Connecticut (one of the states that voted against ratifying the 13th Amendment), in 1835; Kansas, in 1861; and the Colorado Territory, in 1865 and 1867.

These finds are important because: (1) they offer independent confirmation of Dodge's claims; and (2) they extend the known dates of publication from Nebraska 1860 (Dodge's most recent find), to Colorado in 1867.

The most intriguing discovery was the 1867 Colorado Territory edition which includes both the "missing" 13th Amendment and the current 13th Amendment (freeing the slaves, on the same page.  The current 13th Amendment is listed as the 14th Amendment in the 1867 Colorado edition.

This investigation has followed a labyrinthine path that started with the questions about how our courts evolved from a temple of the Bill of Rights to the current star chamber, and whether this situation had anything to do with retiring chief Justice Burger's warning that we were "about to lose our constitution."

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