Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8

[Volume 3, Page 390]

Document 15

Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution 3:§§ 1345--46


§ 1345. This clause seems scarcely to require even a passing notice. As a perfect equality is the basis of all our institutions, state and national, the prohibition against the creation of any titles of nobility seems proper, if not indispensable, to keep perpetually alive a just sense of this important truth. Distinctions between citizens, in regard to rank, would soon lay the foundation of odious claims and privileges, and silently subvert the spirit of independence and personal dignity, which are so often proclaimed to be the best security of a republican government.

§ 1346. The other clause, as to the acceptance of any emoluments, title, or office, from foreign governments, is founded in a just jealousy of foreign influence of every sort. Whether, in a practical sense, it can produce much effect, has been thought doubtful. A patriot will not be likely to be seduced from his duties to his country by the acceptance of any title, or present, from a foreign power. An intriguing, or corrupt agent, will not be restrained from guilty machinations in the service of a foreign state by such constitutional restrictions. Still, however, the provision is highly important, as it puts it out of the power of any officer of the government to wear borrowed honours, which shall enhance his supposed importance abroad by a titular dignity at home. It is singular, that there should not have been, for the same object, a general prohibition against any citizen whatever, whether in private or public life, accepting any foreign title of nobility. An amendment for this purpose has been recommended by congress; but, as yet, it has not received the ratification of the constitutional number of states to make it obligatory, probably from a growing sense, that it is wholly unnecessary.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8, Document 15
The University of Chicago Press

Story, Joseph. Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. 3 vols. Boston, 1833.