Titles of Nobility

Author:Dennis J. Mahoney

Page 2703

In the twentieth century, the idea of a hereditary ruling elite using titles of nobility as a device for maintaining its authority seems a bit frivolous. To the founding generation, however, the threat was only too real. Moreover, the threat that a foreign potentate might suborn an American citizen or official by proffering such a title was also perceived as significant. The ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION forbade the acceptance of foreign titles by any person holding federal or state office and forbade the granting of titles by the United States or by any state. The prohibitions were carried over into the Constitution, except that there is no longer a ban on state officers accepting foreign titles, and Congress may authorize acceptance of titles by federal officers. In both documents, titles of nobility are treated, along with gifts and offices, as items of value that foreign governments might offer in exchange for favors, and Governor EDMUND RANDOLPH, at the CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, asserted that the provision was designed to guard against corruption.

As it appears in the Constitution, the prohibition against accepting foreign titles applies only...

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