Treason, in legal terms, is criminal disloyalty, typically to the state, usually referring to some of the more extreme acts against one's nation or sovereign, including participation in warfare against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known as a traitor, a term also used as a political epithet against political dissidents, or against officials in power who are perceived as failing to act in the best interest of their constituents.
- In monarchy the crime of treason may admit of being pardoned or lightly punished, but the man who dares rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death.
- Samuel Adams, Arguing for a Riot Act which prohibited 12 or more persons from congregating in public and which empowered county sheriffs to kill rioters, during debates prompted by Shays' Rebellion (1786 - 1787) and the death sentences given to many of the rebels; as quoted in Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (1980) Chapter 5 : A kind of Revolution; also quoted in "Completing the American Revolution" by Norman D. Livergood
- Is there not some chosen curse,
Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man
Who owes his greatness to his country's ruin?
- Joseph Addison, Cato, A Tragedy (1713), Act I, scene 1.
- Article III, Section 3 is the only instance in which the U.S. Constitution defines a specific crime, that of treason. Treason is defined either as levying war against the United States or as giving "Aid and Comfort" to the enemies of the United States. The "Aid and Comfort" clause expands the definition of treason beyond physical acts of violence—e.g. to the passing of state secrets to another nation—but the Constitution also lays down specific legal procedures by which people accused of treason might be convicted of such an act. The Constitution further limits the punishment of treason to the person actually committing the act, not to family members or close associates. In 1807, in the treason trial of Aaron Burr, for his role in an alleged plan to lead parts of the Louisiana territory in a secessionist movement from the United States, Chief Justice John Marshall laid down further limitations on the definition of treason, establishing the doctrine of "constructive treason," meaning that the mere planning of an act that might be considered treasonous was not sufficient grounds for conviction; in order to be convicted of treason one actually had to commit, or at least be in the process of committing, the act. Moreover, the act of simply speaking, however stridently, in a manner that some might believe to be giving comfort to the enemy was given further protection under the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment.
- 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.
- Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution
- And now for all of us to do our duty! The clarion call is ringing in our ears and we cannot falter without being convicted of treason to ourselves and to our great cause.
Do not worry over the charge of treason to your masters, but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves. Be true to yourself and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on earth.
- This principle is old, but true as fate,
Kings may love treason, but the traitor hate.
- Thomas Dekker, The Honest Whore (1604), Part I, Act IV, scene 4.
- The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason.
- If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.
- E. M. Forster, Two Cheers for Democracy (1951).
- Rebellion must be managed with many swords; treason to his prince's person may be with one knife.
- Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
- Our job as Americans and as Republicans is to dislodge the traitors from every place where they've been sent to do their traitorous work.
- Joseph McCarthy, speech before the Republican National Convention (1952)
- Hast thou betrayed my credulous innocence
With vizor'd falsehood and base forgery?
- Oh, colder than the wind that freezes
Founts, that but now in sunshine play'd,
Is that congealing pang which seizes
The trusting bosom, when betray'd.
- Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh (1817), The Fire Worshippers.
- Oh, for a tongue to curse the slave
Whose treason, like a deadly blight,
Comes o'er the councils of the brave,
And blasts them in their hour of might!
- Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh (1817), The Fire-Worshippers.
- If you maintain a consistent political position long enough, you will eventually be accused of treason.
- Mort Sahl, "Live at the hungry i" (1960 comedy album).
- The man was noble,
But with his last attempt he wiped it out:
Destroy'd his country, and his name remains
To the ensuing age abhorr'd.
- Though those that are betray'd
Do feel the treason sharply, yet the traitor
Stands in worse case of woe.
- I did pluck allegiance from men's hearts,
Loud shouts and salutations from their mouths,
Even in the presence of the crowned king.
- Treason is but trusted like the fox
Who, ne'er so tame, so cherish'd and locked up,
Will have a wild trick of his ancestors.
- Some guard these traitors to the block of death;
Treason's true bed and yielder up of breath.
- Treason and murder ever kept together,
As two yoke-devils sworn to either's purpose,
Working so grossly in a natural cause,
That admiration did not hoop at them.
- Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep;
And in his simple show he harbours treason.
- To say the truth, so Judas kiss'd his master,
And cried "all hail!" whereas he meant all harm.
- Know, my name is lost;
By treason's tooth bare-gnawn and canker-bit.
- Tellest thou me of "ifs"? Thou art a traitor:
Off with his head!
- Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers.
- All men should have a drop of treason in their veins, if the nations are not to go soft like so many sleepy pears.
- Dame Rebecca West, "The Meaning of Treason" (Revised edition, Penguin Books, 1965), Conclusion, p. 413.
Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations
- Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 811-12.
- Nemo unquam sapiens proditori credendum putavit.
- No wise man ever thought that a traitor should be trusted.
- Cicero, Orationes In Verrem, II. 1. 15.
- Treason is not own'd when 'tis descried;
Successful crimes alone are justified.
- John Dryden, Medals, line 207.
- O that a soldier so glorious, ever victorious in fight,
Passed from a daylight of honor into the terrible night;
Fell as the mighty archangel, ere the earth glowed in space, fell—
Fell from the patriot's heaven down to the loyalist's hell!
- Thomas Dunn English, Arnold at Stillwater.
- With evil omens from the harbour sails
The ill-fated ship that worthless Arnold bears;
God of the southern winds, call up thy gales,
And whistle in rude fury round his ears.
- Philip Freneau, Arnold's Departure.
- Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
- Sir John Harrington, Epigrams, Book IV, Epigram V.
- Judas had given them the slip.
- Matthew Henry, Commentaries, Matthew, XXII.
- Tarquin and Cæsar had each his Brutus—Charles the First, his Cromwell—and George the Third—("Treason!" shouted the Speaker) may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.
- Patrick Henry, speech (1765).
- The man who pauses on the paths of treason,
Halts on a quicksand, the first step engulfs him.
- Aaron Hill, Henry V, Act I, scene 1.
- For while the treason I detest,
The traitor still I love.
- John Hoole, Metastatio, Romulus and Hersilia, Act I, scene 5.
- Ipsa se fraus, etiamsi initio cautior fuerit, detegit.
- Treachery, though at first very cautious, in the end betrays itself.
- Livy, Annales. XLIV. 15.
- The traitor to Humanity is the traitor most accursed;
Man is more than Constitutions; better rot beneath the sod,
Than be true to Church and State while we are doubly false to God.
- James Russell Lowell, On the Capture of Certain Fugitive Slaves near Washington.
- He [Cæsar] loved the treason, but hated the traitor.
- Plutarch, Life of Romulus.