crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation

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.

The death of Lady Jane Grey, who served as de facto Queen of England for nine days in 1553 before relinquishing the throne to Mary Tudor; Queen Mary later charged Lady Jane Grey (among others) with high treason.


  • This may, at the same time, prove an instructive lesson to the boldest and bravest among the disaffected, not to build any hopes upon the talkative zealots of their party; who have shown, by their whole behavior, that their hearts are equally filled with treason and cowardice. No. 28. Monday, March 26, 1716
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.
  • Treason doth never prosper, what's the reason?
    For if it prosper, none dare call it Treason.
    • Sir John Harington, Epigrams, Book iv, Epistle 5. Compare: "Prosperum ac felix scelus/ Virtus vocatur" ("Successful and fortunate crime/ is called virtue"), Seneca, Herc. Furens, ii. 250.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • “I heard he was a traitor,” he said.
    “Maybe,” I replied. “It's one of those words, the more people use it, the less it means.”
    • K. J. Parker, Heaven Thunders the Truth (2014), reprinted in Rich Horton (ed.) The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015 (p. 80)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
    Why if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
  • Judas had given them the slip.
  • The man who pauses on the paths of treason,
    Halts on a quicksand, the first step engulfs him.
  • 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.
  • He [Cæsar] loved the treason, but hated the traitor.
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