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Treason and the US Constitution

A dollar bill with the word treason on it related to the US Constitution.

The History Of Treason

Treason as a crime has probably existed for as long as there have been governments. The broadest meaning of treason is attacking or betraying a governmental authority to which one owes allegiance. The word originally comes from the Latin verb tradere, which means “hand over” and refers to Christians who handed other Christians over to the Roman authorities.

Traditionally, treason has meant any act against a governing authority and was punishable by death. A common pre-modern definition of treason meant actions against the king, usually in the context of a kingdom’s internal politics. Treason could include criticizing the monarch, siding with a faction that opposed the monarch’s policies, or even sleeping with the king’s wife!

Queens have been executed for adultery as a treasonous act. It was very common in English politics to have both sides accusing the other of treason, with trials, persecutions, and executions of dissenters by those in power.

Treason In The Constitution

Treason is the only crime defined in the United States Constitution. The reason treason is defined there and defined so narrowly is to avoid the abuses perpetrated by governments in Europe and England.

In debates during the creation of the Constitution, the primary concern was not to draft a law that would allow the government to prosecute traitors but to prevent “the numerous and dangerous excrescences” which had been a feature of the English and European laws of treason.

The founding fathers wanted to make sure that political divisions within the country not be escalated into charges of treason, with death for the dissenters as the ultimate penalty.

Their solution, Article 3, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, states,

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

This wording in the Constitution stops Congress from expanding the definition of treason or lowering the standard of proof for prosecution.

This is a clear departure from earlier treason laws in several ways. First, it turns the focus of treason from a largely internal matter to an external one, dealing with foreign enemies. Also, no treason charge may be brought when the proof is just one person’s word against another.

Who Can Be Tried For Treason?

To be tried for treason, one needs to owe allegiance to the government. For example, there is a case of a slave Billy who was sentenced for treason against Virginia. This is because he sided with the British during the American Revolution.

His conviction was voided by Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson because, as a slave, Billy owed no allegiance to the United States or Virginia.

This does not mean that only citizens can be prosecuted. For example, a foreign resident who lives, works, and pays taxes in the United States would be considered to owe allegiance for the benefits he is receiving as a permanent or long-term resident.

Levying War

The first act in the Constitution that can be considered treason against the United States is the act of “levying war.” However, the most famous trial for treason in United States history shows how narrowly this is interpreted.

The case of Ex parte Bollman & Swarthout(1807) dealt with two conspirators in Aaron Burr’s alleged plot to overthrow the government in New Orleans by force.

The court, in this case, held that recruiting men, making plans, and making maps to overthrow the government was not enough for a conviction of treason. Instead, there needed to be an actual assemblage of troops with the intent to commence the overthrow.

Aid And Comfort

The second act that the Constitution defines as treason is

“adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”

This has also been very narrowly construed. A person may adhere to the enemy by being a sympathizer or favoring their cause, but if no action can be considered aid or comfort, then there is no treason.

At the same time, there can be acts that give aid or comfort to the enemy, but if there is no intent to adhere to them, there is also no treason. For instance, someone can call for a strike in a weapons factory during wartime, which aids the enemy by delaying the arming of troops. However, if the intent was to get higher wages for the factory workers, not to help the enemy, they are not adhering to the enemy, and there is no treason.

There must be both a desire to help the enemy and an overt act.


The Founder Fathers succeeded in their goals. As a result, treason trials in the United States are very rare. Since the ratification of the Constitution, there have been fewer than forty Federal treason trials.

9 Responses

  1. What about sending millions and millions of illegal aliens into the United States to Aid and abet their cause knowing that the enemy will use this to its advantage?

  2. So an assembled group that comes to a rally, then marches to the capitol building, bringing an assembled gallows, chanting hang mike pence, while REMOTELY, the speaker at the rally calls governors begging to assist in the conspiracy, Attacking the USA, THE FEDERAL BUILDING, CONGRESS, LAW ENFORCEMENT, THE VP… constitutes levying war.
    The rally, a place of partial, the speech, “we are going to march to the capitol, a place of general. “FIGHT LIKE HELL”, the intention, they built and brought a gallows and chanted the intent to hang the V.P. fits the definition that constitutes a levying of war.
    There must be an assemblage of persons for the purpose of effecting by force a treasonable purpose.

    When war is levied, all those who perform any part, however minute or however remote from the scene of action, and who are actually leagued in the general conspiracy, are traitors.

    Any assemblage of men for the purpose of revolutionizing by force the government established by the United States in any of its territories, although as a step to or the means of executing some greater projects, amounts to levying war. The traveling of individuals to the place of rendezvous is not sufficient, but the meeting of particular bodies of men and their marching from places of partial to a place of general rendezvous is such an assemblage as constitutes a levying of war.

    What more evidence does it take?

    1. All good points. I think this evidence is sufficient. An orchestrated attack on our government certainly qualifies as treason, and the perpetrator should be prosecuted as such.

    2. We have a right to assemble peacefully.. Trump didn’t make people not be peaceful. And peaceful people didn’t either. And being a Trump supporter isn’t treason either !

      But Joe Biden cheating should be treason. !

      Biden opening borders is treason. Biden made an oath to protect the citizens of the United States for America ! He clearly isn’t protecting us !!!!!!

      1. Yes, in agreement. Now I am adding that anyone supporting y Biden 2024 is committing TREASON.
        We the public have a duty to vote for a POTUS that is if sound mind.
        That is not Biden. He is in early-middle stage dementia, and voting someone in office that is cognitively declined is willfully putting the country in danger.

  3. So tell me why Biden hasn’t had his trial for treason wirh opening our borders to everyone ? He’s not protecting the USA as ge took an oath allegiance to do !!!!

  4. It’s not an act against our government that defines treason if said governments officials are in fact in violation of the constitution. “We The People” are to be the ones in control. We employ our politicians to represent us . Not do their will and ignore the constitution as they see fit. Why would you even bother writing a constitution if you can choose to ignore it ? People really can’t be so stupid to believe and support that. I would say they were just lazy and don’t want to be bother with such matters but to be left alone to do as they choose. This whole process has become so corrupt that few if any have ever even seen how it began but only the result of years of twisted manipulation.
    As a priest and college professor once told me in his honest opinion, “In theory communism is a excellent concept to achieve a truly balanced society of equality for all people. But because of the existence of evil and corruption it is in fact impossible to achieve. Those in charge of governing the masses develope a feeling of superiority and a elitist mindset. The moment that begins to take place it has failed. Any other belief only proves “Ignorance Really Is Bliss”

  5. all of this garbage, if you bother looking up the 1940 to 1994 amendments of this “Term”
    you would find Treason has expanded , to include Speech, Teaching, funding and forming groups apposing the Fed with the intended threat of violence’s or the Precept of Violence. Meaning if the Fed views you with future possible intent to Treason they have the legal right to round you up , like the trump supporters and Throw away the key. They DID TOO.

    Antiva burning cities is the Purest form of Treason, their leaders and the members can be rounded up with this law of the house. Then tried… which is not death, it is 5 years in prison and 10’000 dollars. Unless there is some extreme case, arming and training of people is 10 years and 10k.

    Yet nothing happens, Because the Federal government is so bloated… it does not know it own basic laws or how to act on them. The body of the federal government it totally pointless and the constitution is a JOKE , to keep you Slaves In line with Hope.

    Do not believe me, Refuse a police officer searching your car do to the 4th amendment You WILL go to prison, the supreme court already said, Autos can be searched with OUT papers from the court.

    Police can now STEAL any money or item, in your car and the car as well… With out 4th amendment “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    You have to go to court, spend thousands of dollars to reclaim any item worth 100s

    PLUS, you are not allow to take to court any Public servant doing their job in the legal process of their job, for civil court.

    Everything you talk about in this Definition is Archaic Based on a 1791 view of Reality. THIS all ended in 1913 with woodrow wilson. Then with teh 1940 1958 1994 adem

    Do yourself a LONG hard favor and READ the Amended constitution, Constitution is a living document , not set in Stone…

    Your rights on this Constitution are there to Sheep herd you, to pay your Taxes and fight rich man’s wars. If you step out of line, they will crush you with your limited means.

    LASTLY.. Constitution states all money shall be made in Gold or Silver… and shall reflect these prices. Printed paper note says payable on demand into silver. would have the value of such metals, This is gone since Nixon.

    This is NOT followed. Constitution is a Bible… LIES to keep you in Line, as your Masters farm you, and war you like Sheep.

    I Mean REALLY>??? read the LAWS, the Amends. you can get them online in 1 second now. not 15 years in law college.

    There is No laws, only law is. Pay your taxes and shut up, feed your sons and daughters into the War Machine without their consent, when America want to go to war. you have no choice, unless you are a drafted slave, you will be punished without DUPROCESS and Interned in Prison like 10’000s of Americans in the Vietnam Police action (not Declared war) or the American Japanese of WW2.

    Democracy ? you are NOT allowed to Vote on ANY law that is Federal.

    The word democracy comes from the Greek words “demos”, meaning people, and “kratos” meaning power; so democracy can be thought of as “power of the people”: a way of governing which depends on the will of the people. In the form of “one person, one vote”

    Socialism is an economic and political system in which the government own the buildings and tools that make goods and services like farms, mines, energy, children, schools, roads, land and factories. This can be achieved through through centralized state-ownership. One central government body (fed) dictates all laws and policy of the state, and the Reginal powers (states) make day to day laws but bow to the Central government. Taxes are collected by the central government and are levy out to the states in a form of control (ie Highway Funds of the Fed)

    1% rules you, your a slave of the federal Socialist state. you have a Number. 4th amendment means nothing, you have a Passport.

    Laws of Treason as defined here are have failed to ADD the Adem and are in the realm of Mythology of the 1791s

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