Treason

A 17th-century illustration of Guy Fawkes. Fawkes tried to assassinate James I of England. He failed and was convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

In law, treason is criminal disloyalty, typically to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's nation or sovereign. This usually includes things such as participating in a war 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 in law as a traitor.[1]

Historically, in common law countries, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife or that of a master by his servant. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a lesser superior was petty treason. As jurisdictions around the world abolished petty treason, "treason" came to refer to what was historically known as high treason.

At times, the term traitor has been used as a political epithet, regardless of any verifiable treasonable action. In a civil war or insurrection, the winners may deem the losers to be traitors. Likewise the term traitor is used in heated political discussion – typically as a slur against political dissidents, or against officials in power who are perceived as failing to act in the best interest of their constituents. In certain cases, as with the Dolchstoßlegende (Stab-in-the-back myth), the accusation of treason towards a large group of people can be a unifying political message. Treason is considered to be different and on many occasions a separate charge from "treasonable felony" in many parts of the world.

History

Cartoon depicting Václav Bělský (1818–1878), Mayor of Prague from 1863 until 1867, in charge of the city during Prussian occupation in July 1866. Some forces wanted to try him for high treason (left: "What some men wished" – "Dr. Bělský for high treason"), but he got a full confidence from the Council of Prague (right: "but what they did not expect" – "address of confidence from the city of Prague").

In English law, high treason was punishable by being hanged, drawn and quartered (men) or burnt at the stake (women), although beheading could be substituted by royal command (usually for royalty and nobility). Those penalties were abolished in 1814, 1790 and 1973 respectively. The penalty was used by later monarchs against people who could reasonably be called traitors. Many of them would now just be considered dissidents.[2]

Christian theology and political thinking until after the Enlightenment considered treason and blasphemy as synonymous, as it challenged both the state and the will of God. Kings were considered chosen by God,[3] and to betray one's country was to do the work of Satan.[citation needed]

The words "treason" and "traitor" are derived from the Latin tradere, to deliver or hand over.[4] Specifically, it is derived from the term "Traditors". which refers to bishops and other Christians who turned over sacred scriptures or betrayed their fellow Christians to the Roman authorities under threat of persecution, during the Diocletianic Persecution between AD 303 and 305.

Originally, the crime of treason was conceived of as being committed against the Monarch; a subject failing in his duty of loyalty to the Sovereign and acting against the Sovereign was deemed to be a traitor. As asserted in the 18th Century trial of Johann Friedrich Struensee in Denmark, a man having sexual relations with a Queen can be considered guilty not only of ordinary adultery but also of treason against her husband, the King.

The English Revolution in the 17th Century and the French Revolution in the 18th introduced a radically different concept of loyalty and treason, under which Sovereignty resides with "The Nation" or "The People" - to whom also the Monarch has a duty of loyalty, and for failing which the Monarch, too, could be accused of treason. Charles I in England and Louis XVI in France were found guilty of such treason and duly executed. However, when Charles II was restored to his throne, he considered the revolutionaries who sentenced his father to death as having been traitors in the more traditional sense.

In modern times, "traitor" and "treason" are mainly used with reference to a person helping an enemy in time of war or conflict.

Many nations' laws mention various types of treason. "Crimes Related to Insurrection" is the internal treason, and may include a coup d'état. "Crimes Related to Foreign Aggression" is the treason of cooperating with foreign aggression positively regardless of the national inside and outside. "Crimes Related to inducement of Foreign Aggression" is the crime of communicating with aliens secretly to cause foreign aggression or menace. Depending on a country, conspiracy is added to these.