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Editorial: New Hampshire lawyers, beware!

Triskaidekaphobics, beware. This concerns the case of the purloined 13th Amendment and the New Hampshire patriots who seek to retrieve and restore it. And if you thought that fear of the number 13 wasn’t taken seriously in the Granite State, you’d be mistaken. There is, for example, no seat number 13 in the 400-member House of Representatives. But back to the case that’s afoot.

The current 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you’ll recall, prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude but it is, according to state Reps. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, Stella Trembly of Auburn and Lars Christiansen of Hudson, a usurper. The original 13th Amendment, ratified by New Hampshire in 1812 according to the bill’s sponsors, prohibits any U.S. citizen from accepting “any title of nobility or honor, or . . . without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind from any Emperor, King, Prince or foreign power.” Anyone who did so would forfeit their citizenship and be barred from holding public office.”

As the story goes, the impetus for the amendment was the 1810 marriage of Napoleon Bonaparte’s little brother Jerome to the daughter of a Baltimore merchant. With Napoleon on the throne of France that made some Americans fear that the dreaded system of nobility and the favored treatment that came with it might come to pass in their new nation. Both houses of Congress passed the amendment, which then needed to be ratified by three-quarters of what at the time were the 17 states in the Union. And then history seems to be a bit muddled. The bill’s sponsors, and like-minded conservatives in other states, claim that amendment received the needed 13 state ratifications. That’s why it appears in more than a score of early copies of the Constitution. But then, activists who have been dubbed “Thirteenthers” say, it was surreptitiously removed from later copies of the document by sinister forces.

The sponsors of the new New Hampshire bill, part of a national movement to restore the amendment to its rightful place as law, see its suppression as a conspiracy on the part of lawyers and the judicial branch. Historians, however, agree with John Quincy Adams, who as secretary of state under President James Monroe, ruled that the amendment had not been successfully ratified. Two centuries later, the sponsors of House Bill 638 disagree:

“This unlawful ursurpation gives the judicial branch control over all government and the people in grand juries. As long as the original Thirteenth Amendment is concealed from the people, there shall never be justice or a legitimate constitutional form of government. . . . . The act is also intended to end the infiltration of the Bar Association and the judicial branch into the executive and legislative branches of government.”

Thirteenthers believe that because they adopt the honorary title of esquire, members of the legal bar have accepted a title of nobility and thus forfeited their citizenship. In their view, all lawyers should be prohibited from holding public office. Democracy could probably survive that, but what would America be like if Elvis were no longer The King? What if Prince were no longer Prince? Would history make traitors of Count Basie and Duke Ellington? And what would be the fate of Bill Gates, Rudy Giuliani, Steven Spielberg and other Americans who have been knighted by the queen, including Ronald Reagan, who was awarded the Knights Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath?

For now, we’ll award the “Order of the Cold Shower” to the sponsors of House Bill 638 and suspect that before the missing amendment is restored, there will be a Seat 13 in Representatives Halls.

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