CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER
CONNECTING PEOPLE TO IDEAS AND TO EACH OTHER

It’s Hard to Be an American Traitor, Even If You Try

Legal Scholars Tell Warren Olney Why Treason Is So Difficult to Commit in the United States

Why is it so hard to commit treason in the United States? The short answer—offered at the debut of a Zócalo/KCRW event series, “Critical Thinking with Warren Olney”—amounted to this: America was founded by traitors. “The American Revolution was a massive act of treason against the British government,” said UC Davis legal scholar Carlton F.W. Larson, who is working on a book about treason. And even before the war, American colonists had been accused of treason under English law for acts of protest like the Boston Tea Party. So, Larson said, the Founders pointedly included a limited definition of treason in the U.S. constitution. The more expansive version in English law made it easier to punish those who opposed the King as traitors—with not just execution but decapitation and disembowelment. The Founders had another reason for making treason hard to charge …