July 12, 2009 by drkate
(Author’s Note: This is the first of a two-part article on treason. In this first part, I present context, some history, and a few questions for your consideration. The second article, coming up shortly, provides a brief presentation of case law on treason, some implications for today, and further questions.)
A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within.~Cicero
O.K. I want to talk about this openly–without accusation, but with the intent of sharing information that we, as Americans are currently faced with. We now face ‘treason’ in two fundamental ways:
- first, we are assessing Obama’s behavior, as well as Congress, and the concept of treason arises in our minds.
- Second, already those of us who have been at the TEA parties, protested or spoken up about Congress’ or the executive’s power grab have been accused of being ‘treasonous’.
Those listeners of Constitutional Radio know that I am a fan of not being loose with language, especially the Constitution. In that regard I strongly believe in defining the terms as they are used in and applied by the Constitution. We must not let Obama define what the word ‘treason’ is, or what constitutes legitimate or ‘treasonous’ protest. He has already labeled a legitimate exercise of constitutional democracy a ‘coup‘.
I was taking my time writing this article when Paul Krugman wrote a piece on June 29 describing those who voted against the cap and trade bill as “committing treason against the planet.” In one fell swoop, Krugman cheapens the word and concept of ‘treason’, while demonizing anyone who dares to question the true intent of this bill.
In my opinion, Krugman’s piece was the trial balloon in using the word ‘treason’ to demonize different viewpoints and to attribute “treason” to actions on the environment.
To attribute a charge of treason to anyone in this country, it must be lodged within the historical context of and framework for its development, and the founders’ inclusion of ‘treason’ in the Constitution. We must know these terms and concepts in order to defend ourselves and to reclaim and restore our Constitutional Republic.
According to J.W. Hurst,
Article III, Section 3, bears the mark of a provision, the primary reference of which is to history:
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.
The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.
The framers did not choose to contrive their own definition of the crime of attempting the subversion of the government. “Treason” is itself a term which — to speak only of the Anglo-American background — was familiar to the common law before it was used in the Statute of 25 Edward III, from which the Constitution derives its language concerning the levying of war, and adhering to enemies, giving them aid and comfort.
The record makes it clear that terms thus weighted with historic significance were deliberately chosen, in order better to deal with a problem the practical dangers of which history was believed to teach.
There are thus two elements of treason against the united States according to the Constitution:
- Actual waging of war against them
- Adhering to their enemies; giving their enemies aid and comfort
Further the Constitution provides that no person can be convicted of treason unless accused by two people knowledgeable about and witnesses to the same act of treason, or by confession in Court.
Treason in U.S. History
Our Founding Fathers were treated as traitors, and as having committed treason against the King of England by declaring independence. And, yes this was necessary in order to create the United States.
The Declaration of Independence articulated the conditions–tyranny–under which the people had the right to reject one allegiance and transfer it to another. Though imperfect, the creation of the United States Constitution obligates America to justice.
Here is a brief summary of the applications of the Constitution’s treason provisions in American history, found at this interesting site:
- 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. Federal troops led by George Washington quashed this challenge to central authority, and a federal circuit court condemned to death two men—whom Washington later pardoned—for treason.
- 1807 trial of Aaron Burr, accused of attempting to establish an independent trans‐Appalachian empire. Although circumstantial evidence pointed toward the defendant’s guilt, the government’s inability to prove that an overt act of treason had occurred resulted in Burr’s acquittal. In a victory for a narrow interpretation of the law of treason, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that “the difficulty of proving a fact will not justify conviction without proof.”
- During the Mexican War (1846–48), religious allegiance took precedence over national loyalty for several hundred Irish immigrant U.S. troops who deserted to the Mexican Army when the Mexican government appealed to them to defend Catholicism and promised them land.
- 1859, John Brown and his followers, in the name of God and slave liberation, seized the Federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, as part of a plan to establish a guerrilla force to free all slaves. Although considered treason, the raid was “a serious and important attempt to end slavery in North America.” Although Brown had attacked U.S. property, Governor Henry Wise had the conspirators tried for treason against Virginia. This assertion of state jurisdiction reflected the assumptions that soon produced the secession of the Southern states in 1861. [emphasis added]
The secession of the states has been described as the ‘most significant act of treason in American history’, and “suppression of the rebellion was based on the assumption that the Union was permanent and that secession from it could never be justified.” But as we know, there are many reasons behind the south’s secession, including the fact that in 1860, the southern states provided 87% of the tax revenue to the Northern states, who used it to protect their own manufacturing interests.
What assertion of state jurisdiction today would bring a charge of ‘treason’ and a federal assault on a state?
Returning to the brief review of treason in U.S. history:
- Congress has expanded the definition of treasonous behavior by legislation such as the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and and the Espionage and Sedition Acts of World War I (1917; 1918), which punished political expression deemed hazardous to the state. Both sets of legislation proved controversial. The acts of 1917–18 legitimated a government crackdown on dissent of all kinds and foreshadowed the crisis atmosphere of the Red Scare of the 1920s.
- The Cold War saw the charge of treason used to build political careers and silence dissent. Congressman Richard M. Nixon, in 1948, initiated investigation of a State Department employee, Alger Hiss for his alleged activities as a Communist Party contact in the 1930s. In 1952, Senator Joseph McCarthy, alleging “twenty years of treason,” launched his campaign to eliminate alleged traitors in the federal government. McCarthyism made dissent tantamount to treason.
- 1985 Jonathan Pollard, a Defense Department analyst.
- In recent years, treason has tended to be committed for monetary gain rather than ideological commitment. Typical of this trend are Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials Aldrich Ames and Harold James Nicholson. Ames passed extensive information on U.S. intelligence operatives abroad; Nicholson, confessed to passing secrets to the Russians, and is the highest ranking CIA employee to be caught spying.
Applications & Lingering Questions
We who opposed Obama have already been ’softened up’ to the charge of ‘treason’: for more than a year our concerns have been met with charges of racism and worse. The foul accusations are intended to ‘desensitize’ the population to a charge of being a ‘right wing radical’, a ‘domestic terrorist’, a a ‘political terrorist’, or ‘unpatriotic’, all of which can easily lead to careless (but deadly) accusation of ‘treason’.
In application so far, it looks like Krugman is using the word ‘treason’ as a tool to silence dissent, like Nixon, or at least laying the ground work for the TOTUS (teleprompter of the United States) to do so. When the link is made between ‘betrayal of the country’ (or Obama) and refusal to pass so-called environmental legislation, like cap and trade, then I believe this has crossed the line and becomes ‘an attack against the united States’ or ‘domestic violence’ perpetuated on the state under Article IV, Clause 4. In other words, treason–the very thing they are trying to accuse us of!
For further insight into how words are being appropriated and twisted by Obama, look at his reactions to the Iran and to Honduras. In Iran, the government attack on and murder of the people was called “unjust”; in Honduras, the lawful exercise of constitutional power to remove an executive who had violated the constitution, a Supreme Court order, various drug laws, and his own government was called a ‘coup’. In the first situation, Obama offers Iran hot dogs and negotiations; in the second, he rallies with dictators and attempts to involve the United Nations in forcing the restoration of “democratic processes” a dictator in Honduras.
In the language of the U.S. Constitution, and from America’s perspective, the actions of the Iranian government fall into the treasonous category of “making war against” the people and would not be tolerated here. In Honduras, the government properly exercised its constitutional authority to remove a man that was committing treason against his own country by “providing aid and comfort to and adhering to its enemies,” the enemies of democracy.
If such a treasonous action happened here, it would be up to the FBI to arrest the appropriate individuals, and if the FBI refuses a valid arrest warrant, the U.S. military. Not the local police. And if that happens we have procedures outlined in our constitution on how to replace the individuals who have been arrested.
Think about this. Obama had the exact opposite reaction to these two events that would be predicted from the President of the United States of America. Informed Americans would condemn Iran and support the call for Zeyala’s voluntary resignation–yes something short of the use of the military if possible.
Asserting states’ rights under the 10th Amendment will be an important test of the endurance of our Constitution. I also believe that 10th Amendment actions are important components of wresting control back from the federal government. But at what point, and in what form, will the federal government “wage war on the states” for that assertion of state sovereignty, under the guise of “treason”? Would they conjure up the civil war just in case they need to use the race card again?