Did a Missing Constitutional Amendment Take Away the Citizenship of All Lawyers?

Titles of Nobility Amendment TONA lawyers Esq. Esquire citizenship

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers!” (Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2).

When William Shakespeare wrote those infamous words about lawyers in 1591, he parodied the anti-attorney sentiment that has been part of popular culture for centuries. The Bard, of course, wrote those words in jest. No one has seriously proposed executing all lawyers. That’s not to say that we necessarily want them in our country, of course. That’s why the United States passed a constitutional amendment to strip citizenship away from everyone who practices law.

Confused? Hold on, as we delve into the mystery of the missing 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Naturally, the first stop in researching any subject involving law is the Commonplace Fun Facts Legal Department. It is an easy place to find since it is conveniently located beneath the big sign that reads, “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here.” We boldly asked our legal eagles if there was any truth to this rumor we had been hearing about a constitutional amendment that took away attorneys’ citizenship. Instead of answers, we received cold, heartless stares, and the suggestion that we might be thinking about the bar exam, which strips away a person’s immortal soul.

After insisting that there really was a rumor about some kind of missing amendment, we eventually received a packet of information from the Legal Department. The pages, still dripping with slime, told the story of the Titles of Nobility Act (a/k/a The Missing Thirteenth Amendment). It is a curious blend of truth, fiction, honest mistakes, and bat-looney-crazy conspiracy theories. In other words, it is ripe picking for use by the sovereign citizen movement. More about that later.

First, the truth part….

Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution reads,

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And 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.

Additionally, Section 10 prohibits any state from granting any title of nobility.

This may have been good enough for the country in 1787 when the Constitution was written, but as the new nation entered into the 19th century, many felt it did not go far enough. War with the United Kingdom seemed inevitable, and diplomatic relations with France were uncertain, at best. Many feared undue foreign influence. One way foreign powers might meddle with the country’s internal political mechanisms was through bribes in the form of noble titles and pensions from a foreign government.

Amid the growing distrust of foreign governments, Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger brother, Jerome, married Betsy Patterson from Baltimore, Maryland. Their child, Jérôme Napoleon Bonaparte, although born in Great Britain, had automatic U.S. citizenship through his mother. The parents sought aristocratic recognition from France. Napoleon had already created enough higgledy-piggledy throughout Europe; the prospect of his nephew coming to the US and capitalizing on American citizenship and European nobility was more than many cared to consider. (Read this article to find out how Jérôme’s son ended up profoundly influencing U.S. government.)

These were the concerns that gave birth to the Titles of Nobility Amendment (TONA). This proposed amendment to the Constitution would take the existing constitutional prohibitions against titles of nobility even further by stripping citizenship and prohibiting such person from being able to hold public office.

The proposed amendment read as follows:

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.

It was introduced in the Senate by Maryland Senator Philip Reed. It easily passed by the requisite two-thirds of the Senate, 19-5, on April 27, 1810. One week later, the House of Representatives approved it by a vote of 87-3. From there, it went to the legislatures of the several states for ratification. Over the next two years, twelve states did just that, bringing TONA within spitting distance of becoming the law of the land.

Here is where things start to get a bit complicated.

For an amendment to become effective, it requires the ratification of three-fourths of the states. When the ratification process started, thirteen states were needed to reach the three-fourths threshold. In 1812, with eleven states having approved TONA, Louisiana was admitted as the 18th state. This increased the ratification threshold to 14. Shortly thereafter, New Hampshire became the twelfth state to ratify TONA, bringing the amendment within two states of taking effect.

No further states have taken action on TONA since 1812. Although the action by the twelve states that ratified the amendment remains valid, there are now 50 states in the nation. This means TONA needs an additional 26 states, for a total of 38, before it could take effect.

And a Wee Bit More Complicated…

Looking back at history from the comfort of 21st-century conveniences, the issue of how many states have ratified an amendment and whether said amendment is officially part of the Constitution seems to be fairly straight forward. In the early 19th century, however, things were not nearly as cut and dry.

For one thing, the speed and manner of communication lacked modern sophistication. For another, there was no formal system in place for a state legislature to officially communicate to anyone in the federal government whether it had taken any action concerning an amendment. These facts, coupled with the constantly-changing number of states needed to accomplish ratification, created a period of ambiguity for several constitutional amendments. President John Adams did not officially recognize the 11th Amendment until three years after it was finally ratified. James Madison took three months to recognize the 12th Amendment.

When it came to TONA, it had gotten so close to ratification by 1815 when the Philadelphia printing house of Bioren and Duane published, under a government contract, a five-volume set titled Laws of the United States, it included TONA as “Article 13” to the Constitution. There were no explanatory notes on that particular page, but 76 pages earlier, in the introduction to the volume, the editors noted:

There has been some difficulty in ascertaining whether the amendment proposed, which is stated as the thirteenth, has or has not been adopted by a sufficient number of the state legislatures. …. It has been considered best, however, to publish the proposed amendment in its proper place, as if it had been adopted, with this explanation, to prevent misconception.

This edition of the Laws of the United States would not be updated until 1845. Consequently, a whole generation of its readers could easily — but mistakenly — conclude that TONA was part of the Constitution.

An example of a printed edition of the Constitution that mistakenly printed TONA as if it had been ratified. (Click on image to expand)

To further complicate matters, pocket-sized copies of the Constitution were given to members of Congress in 1817. The printers apparently used the Bioren and Duane editions of the Constitution as a reference and printed TONA as the 13th Amendment without any explanatory note. Members of Congress expressed confusion about the amendment, prompting President James Monroe to investigate the amendment’s status. He enlisted the assistance of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to look into the matter. On February 27, 1818, Monroe reported that the requisite number of states had yet to ratify TONA.

Partly in response to this confusion, Congress passed a law on April 20, 1818, giving responsibility to the Secretary of State to oversee the process for any pending or future constitutional amendments. From that point forward, a matter as important as the current language of the U.S. Constitution would be much more streamlined.

And here’s where it starts to get goofy….
“How to Be a Conspiracy Theorist” — SMBC comics — by Zach Weinersmith.

In 1983, a researcher named David Dodge stumbled across several copies of the pre-Civil War constitution. These copies all had TONA as the mistakenly-identified thirteenth amendment. He wrote several articles about his findings, making some wild claims and conclusions. His writings set the stage for the movement that now believes that TONA had actually been ratified by a sufficient number of states to make it law and that its existence had since been covered up as part of a grand conspiracy. That conspiracy was started and perpetuated by lawyers who wanted to retain their hold over the government, so they worked together to make everyone “forget” that the Constitution had been amended.

What happens when you take a theory that undermines the legitimacy of law enforcement and base it upon obscure legal references to long-ago documents that never purported to have anything to do with the matter under discussion? That is just the sort of recipe that will bring sovereign citizens flocking in faster than bacon grease will bring a bear to your camping site. The primary difference is that you might, eventually, with some strong persuasion, get the bear to leave you alone.

The sovereign citizen movement has been well documented and explained in this article. It is a movement that began in the 1970s that claims exemption from the laws of the United States and other countries based upon convoluted readings of the Magna Carta, Black’s Law Dictionary, the United Nations Charter, the Articles of Confederation, and countless other resources. Sovereign citizens point to their interpretation of the law to justify driving without a driver’s license, failure to pay taxes, disobedience to drug laws, and refusal to pay private financial obligations. Put the TONA matter in the hands of sovereign citizens, and you might as well buckle up; it is the jurisprudence equivalent of giving whiskey and car keys to a teenage boy.


Fueled by copies of the pre-Civil War publications referenced above, rumors began to circulate that TONA had, in fact, been properly ratified. Specifically, the claim is that it was Virginia that put TONA over the top in terms of the number of needed states.

In point of fact, Virginia had taken up the matter of TONA, but rather than ratify the amendment, the legislature explicitly rejected it. The records of the Virginia state senate show that this happened on February 14, 1811. Writing several years thereafter, however, the governor of Virginia noted that he was unable to find an official document reflecting action one way or the other by the legislature. Regardless, whether the state’s senate rejected the measure as its journal reflects or failed to take action, it is quite clear that Virginia did not ratify TONA.

Don’t let facts get in the way of a good conspiracy theory, however. Those who believe that Virginia put TONA officially in the Constitution are now known as “Thirteenthers” because TONA would have become the 13th Amendment.

And that, naturally, is why all lawyers were stripped of their citizenship.

Wait a minute…. It sounds like we missed something along the way. Let’s circle back and try this again, thinking as a Thirteenther. According to David Dodge, the guy who got this all started:

  • TONA is the real 13th Amendment to the Constitution, thus automatically stripping the citizenship of anyone who has a foreign title of nobility and further prohibiting such persons from holding any office of trust or profit within the country;
  • The only organization that certified lawyers was the International Bar Association (IBA), chartered by the King of England;
  • Lawyers admitted to the IBA receive the title “Esquire;
  • Therefore, all lawyers (and judges, of course, who are also lawyers) lose their citizenship the moment they become entitled to use “Esq.”; and
  • Any government-employed prosecutor or judge is automatically without constitutional authority, since that person cannot hold an office of trust or profit within the United States.

Does it all make sense to you now? If you read the explanation, as set forth in the website American History From Revolution to Reconstruction, it sounds reasonable. Of course, the whole thing is prefaced with a quote from David Dodge: “If the evidence is correct and no logical errors have been made….” That’s a big “if.”


In terms of whether TONA was actually ratified, what we have noted up to this point should be sufficient to answer the question. If you still need some more evidence, consider this:

  • In 1833, Associate Justice Joseph Story of the U.S. Supreme Court published the text of the Constitution in his Commentaries on the Constitution. That publication included twelve amendments and a clear statement (in § 959) that there were only twelve amendments adopted. The text also included a statement (in § 1346) that TONA had not been adopted “probably from a growing sense that it is wholly unnecessary.”
  • In 1847, Associate Justice Levi Woodbury mentioned in a dissenting opinion that there “were only twelve amendments ever made to” the Constitution.
  • In Dillon v. Gloss (1921), the Supreme Court explicitly described TONA as not having been adopted.
  • In Coleman v. Miller (1939), the two dissenting Justices similarly described TONA as unadopted.
  • In Afroyim v. Rusk (1967), the majority and dissenting opinions described it as unadopted.
  • On March 2, 1861, Congress proposed the Corwin Amendment. It sought to prevent any federal legislation, including a future proposed amendment to the Constitution, that would have interfered with or abolished slavery. It did not pass, but it is noteworthy in that it was titled as a proposed Thirteenth Amendment. There is no record of anyone claiming that there was already a Thirteenth Amendment.
  • On February 1, 1865, the 38th Congress passed and sent to the states for ratification a proposed amendment that would become the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. When it was proposed and adopted, no one protested that there already was a Thirteenth Amendment – either the 1810 or the 1861 proposals.

The term “Esquire” has its origins in medieval Europe, referring to the shield-holder or assistant to a knight. The United States, of course, has its origins in the United Kingdom, a nation that is simply lousy with titles conferred by the government.

One of the titles commonly handed out by the British sovereign was “esquire.” Unlike the titles of the peerage system, such as duke, earl, marquess, etc., esquire did not carry with it any particular rights or privileges. Referring to someone as “esquire” or “squire” did not suggest he was necessarily a member of the nobility, but he wasn’t a peasant, either. In effect, it meant that this person was someone of moderate respectability.

At the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, people of elevated social status were using the title “esquire,” but without any clear directives about when or how it should be used, and what, if anything, it meant. For a while, it was used interchangeably with “Honorable” or “Hon.” for anyone who held elected office. Gradually, the term faded away in all professions except the law.

The practice of law is largely governed by each state, and most give no direction to its legal professionals about whether or how to use “Esq.” California, Arizona, and the District of Columbia have cautioned non-lawyers against using the title since it could cause people to mistakenly believe such individual is licensed to practice law. Beyond that, it is left up to the individual attorney.

Having said that, the fact that some attorneys choose to use “Esq.” doesn’t mean that all do.

Having said that, even if all attorneys adopted “Esq.” as part of their names, it isn’t quite the same as accepting a title from a foreign government.

Having said THAT, even if “Esq.” were a title from a foreign government, it isn’t a title of nobility.

It is also noteworthy to point out that of the 55 men of the Constitutional Convention that wrote the part of the Constitution that actually does prohibit accepting titles of nobility (Article I, Section 9), 34 of them had studied law to some degree and well over half of them were practicing attorneys. Since some of these members of the Constitutional Convention then went on to serve in Congress and the presidency of the United States, and since the Constitution provides that only citizens can hold such offices, it is difficult to believe that any of them thought that being a lawyer equated to holding a title of nobility from a foreign government.


The International Bar Association, said to be responsible for conferring these foreign titles of nobility, was established in 1947, long after TONA was supposedly written for the purpose of preventing the IBA’s manipulation of the government of the United States. It was created by the United Nations, not the King of England. The overwhelming majority of U.S. attorneys are not members of it, and it has nothing to do with licensing anyone to practice before any court of the United States.

There is a plethora of related claims, such as this one that claims that “bar” is really an acronym for “British Accredited Registry.” It ends with this sage counsel:

Fire your BAR Attorney. Refuse to acknowledge their corrupt inner-bar courts of thievery. Formally charge them with the illegal act of practicing law without lawful authority. Why? A BAR Attorney is not a lawyer by lawful definition. An Esquire is an officer of the State with the duty to carry out State activities, including “attornment.”

State officers have no constitutional authority to practice law as lawyers, barristers, advocates, or solicitors. Americans should begin formally charging these false lawyers with unlawfully practicing the profession of law since their BAR licenses only give them the privilege to be Attorneys and Squires over land transfers.


As we have noted previously, one of the enduring hallmarks of sovereign citizen arguments is that they do not work. YouTube is replete with videos posted by members of the movement, claiming that they “owned” or “destroyed” a judge or police officer with their cogent, well-reasoned, inescapable legal arguments. Evidently, the sovereign citizen definition of “owned” or “destroyed” includes the “owner” or “destroyer” being held in contempt, having one’s car window broken, and being charged with resisting arrest and obstructing justice.

Of course, there is a fundamentally flawed element of any strategy that seeks to use the law to convince those whose job it is to uphold the law that the legal system is invalid. Such has been the experience of those who have taken the TONA argument before federal judges, who get their jobs under Article III of the Constitution, and claiming that the Constitution has stripped them of any authority to hear the case.

In Campion v. Towns, (D. Ariz. July 15, 2005) 96 A.F.T.R.2d 5646, a tax protester raised the TONA argument. The court reviewed the claims and wrote:

In his Complaint, Plaintiff includes a certified copy of the Thirteenth Amendment from the Colorado State Archives which was published in 1861. As included in that compilation, the Thirteenth Amendment would strip an individual of United States citizenship if they accept any title of nobility or honor. However, this is not the Thirteenth Amendment. The correct Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery. Although some people claim that state publication of the erroneous Thirteenth Amendment makes it valid, Article V of the Constitution does not so provide.

In a 2004 case, Sibley v. Culliver, a federal district court ruled against a convicted murder’s claim that TONA should free him

[The defendant’s] documents allege in great detail a complex conspiracy by an illegal monopoly, the American Bar Association, which resulted in a take-over of the judicial systems of this country, both federal and state, by the ABA and its related entities, including the Alabama State Bar Association and Alabama’s Unified Court System. It is then alleged that the ABA-controlled system is illegal and in violation of what is referred to as the “missing Thirteenth Amendment,” to the United States Constitution, which stated that any person who accepts a title of nobility forfeits his United States citizenship and which amendment was ratified but subsequently hidden or excised from the law. Since lawyers and judges accept the titles “Esquire”/”The Honorable,” it is argued, they are not citizens and the entire judicial system is illegal. Furthermore, these documents contend that the charge of conviction in this case, capital murder of a police officer acting in the line of duty, is unconstitutional because it bestows upon police officers special rights or a special designation of the worth of life in contravention of the “missing Thirteenth Amendment.” The documents then explain that these are reasons that Sibley and his wife refused appointed counsel on appeal and refused to pursue matters any further in the court system and that only Congress can give them relief.

The court then threw out Sibley’s appeal, using legalese to say, “Your argument is rubbish, so WRONG! DING! Thank you for playing, anyway.”

Such has been the success rate of everyone who has made the TONA claim before any court. If history and facts mattered to sovereign citizens, however, there simply wouldn’t be a sovereign citizen movement.

The definitive piece on the history of the “Missing 13th Amendment” is this law journal article from 1999 by Jol A. Silversmith. It is well worth the read.

Of course, there is no end to the websites you will find that make eloquent claims to the contrary. To them, we respond with the words of our Legal Department: “Well, you might be right… But let me just pull out my law degree and my proof of citizenship paperwork to check for sure.”

Now if we could only get to the bottom of the mystery of the lizard people who secretly run the government….

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