Titles of Nobility Amendment



Passed by Congress in 1810, the amendment came within two states of being approved between 1812 and 1816.  The text of the amendment:


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. (more…)

Published in: on May 18, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Titles of Nobility Amendment  
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Adams v. Jefferson: the Necessity of Government

A debate between Adams and Jefferson from the John Adams mini-series on the necessity of a written constitution.  I am all on the side of Adams.  Putting one’s faith in the good sense and decency of people in general, and being cavalier about political arrangements as to government, is a short route to chaos as History woefully tells us.  Jefferson’s views on this topic were tellingly set forth in a letter to William Smith on November 13, 1787:

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

Jefferson, for a man who did not spend a single day in the Continental Army during the Revolution, was quite free in his talk about bloodshed.  Most of the Founding Fathers, including Adams, viewed the misery and the blood of the Revolution as a regrettable necessity in the setting up of a new nation, and dreaded a repetition of such a conflict.  Not so Jefferson who seemed to view such conflict as a necessary and normal part of a free society.  Fortunately, heads wiser than Jefferson’s helped frame an enduring Constitution.  James Madison, ironically the closest political associate of Jefferson throughout most of Jefferson’s later political career, summed up the necessity of government well in Federalist 51: (more…)

Published in: on November 17, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Adams v. Jefferson: the Necessity of Government  
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September 17, 1787: A Republic Madam, If You Can Keep It


A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.

Doctor James McHenry, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from Maryland.  The quote is excerpted from his diary.  The lady referred to was Elizabeth Powel.  She was a daughter of a mayor of Philadelphia and the wife of another mayor of Philadelphia.  She would live to 1830, the Republic kept during her long life (She was born in 1742.).

Published in: on September 17, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 17, 1787: A Republic Madam, If You Can Keep It  
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Benjamin Franklin’s Speech on Signing the Constitution

A woman to Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Constitutional Convention:

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

  Benjamin Franklin“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

September 17 of this week was the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution on  September 17, 1787 at the close of the Convention.  The speech of Benjamin Franklin on this occasion has always struck me as being chock full of wisdom.  Here is the text of his address: (more…)

Published in: on September 21, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Barney Fife and Ezra Klein

Don Knotts, one of the great comedians of his day, demonstrates how little his character Barney Fife recalled about the preamble of the US Constitution.  Ezra Klein, leftist blogger and columnist for the Washington Post would be pleased.  Recently he said:

The issue with the Constitution is that the text is confusing because it was written more than a hundred years ago and what people believe it says differs from person to person and differs depending on what they want to get done.

My co-blogger Paul Zummo, at The American Catholic where we also both blog, patiently explains to Mr. Klein why his comment is nonsense:

So the Constitution is confusing because it was written over a hundred years ago (actually it’s over 200 years old, but let’s not let little details like that deter us)?  A fascinating comment  coming from a Jewish intellectual, because the Hebrew Scriptures are a wee bit more than a hundred years old.  Should we disregard the Bible because it was written centuries ago – and in several different languages?  Also, it’s not as though the Constitution was written in old English.  Sure there are some stylistic flourishes that were more common in 18th century America, but one doesn’t need some sort of secret decoder ring to decipher the meaning of the text.  One need not be a PhD in ancient languages to understand the Constitution.

Klein’s comment is quite revealing, though.  This is the main bone of contention that most Progressives have with the Constitution – it’s old.  It was written over two hundred years ago by some dead white men, and therefore those of us living should not bind ourselves to some outdated and “confusing” text.  This is an attitude as old as the Constitution itself, and is implicit in Thomas Jefferson’s advocacy of changing the Constitution every 20 years.

What we see behind this attitude as expressed by Klein is a disdain for permanent things.  It is the core issue that separates progressives and conservatives.  Conservatives seek to preserve the heritage of the Constitution – and not just for the sake of it.  We recognize that if we turn the Constitution into a mutable plaything, ever changing with the times, then we might as well discard the thing and live under the temporary whims of whoever is in charge of the federal government. 

Go here to read the whole post. (more…)

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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How to Distinguish the Constitution From Toilet Paper

Andrew Klavan explains the difference between the Constitution and toilet paper.

Published in: on August 15, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on How to Distinguish the Constitution From Toilet Paper  
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Lincoln, the Constitution and Catholics


In the 1840s America was beset by a wave of anti-Catholic riots.  An especially violent one occurred in Philadelphia on May 6-8.  These riots laid the seeds for a powerful anti-Catholic movement which became embodied in the years to come in the aptly named Know-Nothing movement.  To many American politicians Catholic-bashing seemed the path to electoral success.

Lincoln made clear where he stood on this issue when he organized a public meeting in Springfield, Illinois on June 12, 1844.  At the meeting he proposed and had the following resolution adopted by the meeting:

“Resolved, That the guarantee of the rights of conscience, as found in our Constitution, is most sacred and inviolable, and one that belongs no less to the Catholic, than to the Protestant; and that all attempts to abridge or interfere with these rights, either of Catholic or Protestant, directly or indirectly, have our decided disapprobation, and shall ever have our most effective opposition. Resolved, That we reprobate and condemn each and every thing in the Philadelphia riots, and the causes which led to them, from whatever quarter they may have come, which are in conflict with the principles above expressed.” (more…)

Published in: on August 6, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Federalist 27 – Hamilton

In Federalist 27, Alexander Hamilton seeks to answer the charge that the Constitution “cannot operate without the aid of a military force to execute its laws.”  In other words, American citizens will obey the Constitution only at the point of gun.  Hamilton refutes this idea, suggesting along the way that the people of the United States will come to respect the Federal government to such a degree that they will obey the government’s dictates.  As he puts it:

Unless we presume at the same time that the powers of the general government will be worse administered than those of the State government, there seems to be no room for the presumption of ill-will, disaffection, or opposition in the people. I believe it may be laid down as a general rule that their confidence in and obedience to a government will commonly be proportioned to the goodness or badness of its administration.

Loyalty to the government will thus hinge in some fashion on how well-administered it is.  This being a historical blog, I will forgo the ample number of snide comments about current affairs that are crossing my mind at the moment.

Hamilton discusses the likelihood that the “general government will be better administered than the particular governments, and summarizes the arguments in favor of this supposition.  He goes on to say:

It will be sufficient here to remark, that until satisfactory reasons can be assigned to justify an opinion, that the federal government is likely to be administered in such a manner as to render it odious or contemptible to the people, there can be no reasonable foundation for the supposition that the laws of the Union will meet with any greater obstruction from them, or will stand in need of any other methods to enforce their execution, than the laws of the particular members.

Hamilton predicts that as the general government has more day-to-day interactions with the people, it will draw from the masses a greater deal of respect and fealty.

I will, in this place, hazard an observation, which will not be the less just because to some it may appear new; which is, that the more the operations of the national authority are intermingled in the ordinary exercise of government, the more the citizens are accustomed to meet with it in the common occurrences of their political life, the more it is familiarized to their sight and to their feelings, the further it enters into those objects which touch the most sensible chords and put in motion the most active springs of the human heart, the greater will be the probability that it will conciliate the respect and attachment of the community. Man is very much a creature of habit. A thing that rarely strikes his senses will generally have but little influence upon his mind. A government continually at a distance and out of sight can hardly be expected to interest the sensations of the people. The inference is, that the authority of the Union, and the affections of the citizens towards it, will be strengthened, rather than weakened, by its extension to what are called matters of internal concern; and will have less occasion to recur to force, in proportion to the familiarity and comprehensiveness of its agency. The more it circulates through those channls and currents in which the passions of mankind naturally flow, the less will it require the aid of the violent and perilous expedients of compulsion.

No doubt IRS agents will cheerily assent to this characterization.  And after all, who is more loved than a federal bureaucrat?

Finally, the federal government will be able to employ state authorities to carry out its objectives.  This will be yet another inducement to popular attachments.

The plan reported by the convention, by extending the authority of the federal head to the individual citizens of the several States, will enable the government to employ the ordinary magistracy of each, in the execution of its laws. It is easy to perceive that this will tend to destroy, in the common apprehension, all distinction between the sources from which they might proceed; and will give the federal government the same advantage for securing a due obedience to its authority which is enjoyed by the government of each State, in addition to the influence on public opinion which will result from the important consideration of its having power to call to its assistance and support the resources of the whole Union. It merits particular attention in this place, that the laws of the Confederacy, as to the enumerated and legitimate objects of its jurisdiction, will become the supreme law of the land; to the observance of which all officers, legislative, executive, and judicial, in each State, will be bound by the sanctity of an oath. Thus the legislatures, courts, and magistrates, of the respective members, will be incorporated into the operations of the national government as far as its just and constitutional authority extends; and will be rendered auxiliary to the enforcement of its laws.

A thoroughly fascinating essay that proves, if nothing else, that even the greatest thinkers sometimes miss very, very badly.

Published in: on February 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm  Comments Off on Federalist 27 – Hamilton  
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