Knighthood and the emoluments clause.

Let’s say that President Trump goes to visit Great Britain. And let’s say the Queen, being the devious genius that she is, spontaneously decides to knight him.

I think we can all agree that President Trump would be all over that, and deaf to objections from anyone in his retinue.

So lets say he went for it, and now he’s “Sir” Donald.

Would he, under the emoluments clause, have effectively abdicated the Presidency?

from Article I of the US Constitution:

“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.”


A British knighthood doesn’t look like an "emolument "(no money or value-in-kind is paid to a knight) or an “office” (there are no duties or functions attached to a knighthood).

Is it a “title”?

It looks like one, I grant you, since TruCelt, after being knighted, would conventionally be addressed as “Sir TruCelt”. But when a non-subject of the Queen is honoured in this way, by convention he or she gets an honorary knighthood, and one of the distinctions is that an honorary knighthood doesn’t carry a distinctive title or form of address. Thus Bob Geldof, knighted in 1986, is simply “Bob Geldof KBE”; if he were a citizen of the UK, or indeed of any Commonwealth realm, he would be “Sir Robert Geldof KBE”.

Trump, SFAIK, is not a British Citizen, or a citizen of any Commonwealth realm, so if he were knighted he would not be “Sir Donald”. So, would an award which entitles him to affix the letters “KBE” to his name count as a “title”? I think not; Rudy Giuliani has an honorary KBE; nobody seems to think it would disqualify him from election to the presidency.

But even if Trump were to accept a foreign “title”, would he thereby have “effectively abdicated the presidency”? The Emoluments Clause doesn’t say so. He would have violated the Emoluments Clause, certainly, but I think it would be up to Congress to decide if such a violation was a High Crime or Misdemeanour which warranted impeachment.

No. The emoluments clause doesn’t provide for any kind of automatic penalty. Congress would have to remove him.

In any case, I think Congress has given permission.

I actually wonder why this hasn’t already happened. An honorary knighthood (usually the highest grade of the Order of the Bath unless the visitor is the monarch of a European country or Japan) is a standard gift during a state visit. Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush received one after their presidencies, but (unusually for visiting heads of state) neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama received one on their state visits. It’s apparently not that presidents can’t accept such things, as both Barack Obama and Donald Trump (and probably other presidents) have received the Order of Abdulaziz from the King of Saudi Arabia.

I think the insignia wold be a “present.”

Knighthoods don’t work that way. The Queen doesn’t decide on them personally, and they are not given out spontaneously. They are recommended by the Honours Committee.

Remember: Rudy and company are honorary knights. They aren’t real knights like Elton John who title is presumably completely not honorary.:wink:

Except for the ones which are at her personal gift. Since the Honours Committee considers people who have contributed to British society, most of their honours go to Brit’s, and most Brit’s get their honours from the honours committee.

Outside Britain, (in Aus for example) a much higher percentage of the people who get British Knighthoods get them personally from the Queen.

For American purposes, a knighthood is considered purely honorary.

Huh? When was the last time anyone in Australia was granted a knighthood, or indeed any honour, on the personal initiative of the Queen?

I imagine they simply declined. Seems like a serving president accepting a knighthood (even honorary) would be asking for trouble in the current media climate.

Looking at the site you linked to, I think it would be considered a decoration. It’s more an award for achievement than a gift.

Agreed that the plain text of the clause prohibits an officer of the United States Government from accepting a title from the Queen, perhaps other than one that is only honorary.

If a President violates this clause of the Constitution – from accepting an actual title or office of knight, duke, minister, ambassador, or whatever; or a large stack of cash – then there’s nothing that automatically expels the President from office. Congress would be well within its powers to respond to the violation of that clause of the Constitution as the basis for impeachment.

For a knighthood, it looks like maybe Sir David Smith in 1990. But that was right as (state) government-recommended knighthoods were ending. For any honour, the Queen handed out a few lower grades of the Royal Victorian Order during her visit in 2011. The fact that the then-GG only got a CVO would indicate that the Queen didn’t want to give out the higher grades in a country where knights and dames were no longer being routinely created. And she also sought the advice of the government of Canada when she wanted to give a Canadian the Order of the Garter; the government did not like the idea, so she gave the Royal Victorian Chain instead.

Ted Kennedy, Tom Foley and a few other Senators/Congressmen have been knighted and continued to serve in the Senate/Congress afterwards with no objections.

And it’s consider not purely honorary where?

Well, that’s sort of like saying that a honorary doctoral degree is indistinguishable from a doctoral degree. Both are honors of a sort, awarded for some type of accomplishment; but I think most people would distinguish between the two.

Not remotely a similar comparison. Not one bit.

Try again.

The comparison isn’t really apt. What Bob Geldof did, say to justify his award would have resulted in a substantive KBE, were he a citizen of any Commonwealth realm. The distinction is not in the nature of his effort or achievement, but in his citizenship status. And this is invariably the case.

As ftg suggests, all knighthoods are honorary in the sense that they are nowadays conferred for the purpose of honoring someone, and in the sense that they involve no duties and no remuneration. But it wasn’t always so and, notionally, it still isn’t. Substantive knights are in a feudal relationship of homage with the monarch, over and above that which applies to all subjects, which carries with it a duty of fealty and (in the past) of knight-service. Honorary knighthoods don’t involve this relationship or these (or any) duties. The reason non-subjects get honorary knighthoods is that it would be inappropriate to expect a non-subject to enter into such a relationship with the monarch.

Which might explain why, in the US, they’re not considered a bar to holding public office. They don’t come with the baggage of fealty, allegiance and other duties that a substantive knighthood at least nominally involves.

This is not a convincing post.

This is. Very good post.

You’re one to talk.

Are you saying that the Queen grants knighthoods in Australia on. Her own initiative, and not in the advice of the Australian government?