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legal term for various acts of disloyalty. The English law, first clearly stated in the Statute of Treasons (1350), originally distinguished high treason from petit (or petty) treason. Petit treason was the murder of one's lawful superior, e.g., murder of his master by an apprentice. High treason constituted a serious threat to the stability or continuity of the state. It included attempts to kill the king, the queen, or the heir apparent or to restrain their liberty; to counterfeit coinage or the royal seal; and to wage war against the kingdom. Especially cruel methods were used in executing traitors. Court decisions developed the English law of treason into an instrument for suppressing resistance to governmental policy. Any degree of violence in expressing opposition to parliamentary enactments was held to be a levy of war and a threat to the king's life. In the 19th cent., the English law was reformed; petit treason was abolished, cruel methods of executing traitors were forbidden, and many types of treason (e.g., counterfeiting) were made felonies that involved a lesser penalty than death. To avoid the abuses of the English law, treason was specifically defined in the U.S. Constitution (definitions of other crimes were not deemed necessary). Article 3 of the Constitution thus provides that treason shall consist only in levying war against the United States or in giving aid and comfort to its enemies and that conviction may be had only on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act or on confession in open court. There have been fewer than 40 federal prosecutions for treason and even fewer convictions. Several men were convicted of treason in connection with the Whiskey Rebellion (1794) but were pardoned by George Washington. The most famous treason trial, that of Aaron BurrBurr, Aaron,
1756–1836, American political leader, b. Newark, N.J., grad. College of New Jersey (now Princeton). Political Career

A brilliant law student, Burr interrupted his study to serve in the American Revolution and proved himself a valiant soldier in
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 in 1807, resulted in acquittal. Politically motivated attempts to convict opponents of the Jeffersonian Embargo Acts and the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 all failed. In the 20th cent., treason has become largely a wartime phenomenon, and the treason cases of World Wars I and II were of minor significance. Most states have provisions in their constitutions or statutes similar to those in the U.S. Constitution. There have been only two successful prosecutions for treason on the state level, that of Thomas Dorr in Rhode Island and that of John Brown in Virginia.


See M. Boveri, Treason in the Twentieth Century (tr. 1961); J. W. Hurst, The Law of Treason in the United States (1971); C. Pincher, Traitors (1987).


See also Treachery.
Arnold, Benedict
(1741–1801) American Revolutionary general who plotted surrender of West Point to British. [Am. Hist.: Benét, 52]
Burgundy, Duke of
fights for English, then joins French. [Br. Lit.: I Henry VI]
Carne, Caryl
traitor to country. [Br. Lit.: Springhaven]
Christian, Colonel William
executed for treason. [Br. Lit.: Peveril of the Peak, Walsh Modern, 96]
“a most toad-spotted traitor.” [Br. Lit.: King Lear]
Nolan, Philip
deserts the U.S. Army to join Burr’s conspiracy. [Am. Lit.: Hale The Man Without a Country in Magill I, 553]
Quisling, Vidkun
(1887–1945) Norwegian fascist leader; persuaded Hitler to attack Norway. [Nor. Hist.: Flexner, 444]
seat of collaborationist government after German occupation (1941). [Fr. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 1128]
Wallenstein, Count
powerful German general in Thirty Years’ War who corresponded with the Swedish enemy. [Ger. Drama: Schiller Wallenstein in Magill II, 1119]


violation or betrayal of the allegiance that a person owes his sovereign or his country, esp by attempting to overthrow the government; high treason
References in periodicals archive ?
They wrote into the organic act of the new government a prohibition of legislative or judicial creation of new treasons.
91) These actual or considered treason charges against individuals because of their links with terrorism signal renewed interest in treason and a possible expansion and reconceptualization of the crime to extend to the provision of aid to terrorist organizations--a departure from the enemy-state-based treasons of the World War era.
The Framers, by omitting "any provision analogous to that in English law which punished compassing the death of the king[,] removed the foundation on which the English judges had built much of the reprobated structure of 'constructive' treasons.
The elimination of compassing-thought treasons in the United States takes the wind out of Fletcher's sails by ruling out the historic category of cases that would have been most likely to violate the harm principle.
Harsh and public punishment of traitors may serve as an effective deterrent against future treasons.
An intimidated jury, subjected to the perjury of Richard Rich, convicted More of treason.
However vehemently treason is ascribed within the play, evidence is rarely constituted in a definitive way.
Rather than expressing either a singular or a antithetical conception of treason, Richard II is characterized by a relational or, more accurately, dialectical approach, in which treason is viewed as dependent on modulations in authority, finding meaning only in relation to the sovereignty it would help establish or undermine.
One obvious influence on, and context for, these fluctuations in the play's representation of treason lies with its major source, the 1587 edition of Holinshed's Chronicles.
In its detailed narration of the struggle between royal and baronial parties, the attribution of treason and the resistance it provokes help structure Holinshed's account: it is the instrumental means by which factional ascendancy is secured and (temporarily, at least) maintained.
Further, that, once pardoned, they repeated these treasons in January.
In their letters, they reminded Bigod of the goals and demands of the pilgrims, and Henry said this was treason by word.