Lysander Spooner

Lysander Spooner
(1801-1887)

No Treason #2
III

The Constitution does not say who will become traitors, by "levying war against the United States, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort." It is, therefore, only by inference, or reasoning, that we can know who will become traitors by these acts.

Certainly if Englishmen, Frenchmen, Austrians, or Italians, making no professions of support of friendship to the United States, levy war against them, or adhere to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort, they do not thereby make themselves traitors, within the meaning of the Constitution; and why? Solely because they would not be traitors in fact. Making no professions of support or friendship, they would practice no treachery, deceit, or breach of faith. But if they should voluntarily enter either the civil or military service of the United States, and pledge fidelity to them, (without being naturalized,) and should then betray the trusts reposed in them, either by turning their guns against the United States, or by giving aid and comfort to their enemies, they would be traitors in fact; and therefore traitors within the meaning of the Constitution; and could be lawfully punished as such.

There is not, in the Constitution, a syllable that implies that persons, born within the territorial limits of the United States, have allegiance imposed upon them on account of their birth in the country, or that they will be judged by any different rule, on the subject of treason, it is. Therefore treason in fact---that is, actual treachery, deceit, or breach of faith---must be shown in the case of a native of the United States, equally as in the case a foreigner, before he can be said to be a traitor.

Congress have seen that the language of the Constitution was insufficient, of itself, to make a man a traitor---on the ground of birth in this country---who levies war against the United States, but practices no treachery, deceit, or breach of faith. They have, therefore---although they had no constitutional power to do so---apparently attempted to enlarge the language of the Constitution on this point. And they have enacted:

That if any person or persons, owing allegiance to the united states of america, shall levy war against them, or shall adhere to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort, such person or persons shall be adjudged guilty of treason against the United States, and shall suffer death. Statute, April 30, 1790, Section 1. It would be a sufficient answer to this enactment to say that it is utterly unconstitutional, if its effect would be to make any man a traitor, who would not have been one under the language of the Constitution alone.

The whole pith of the act lies in the words, "persons owing allegiance to the United States." But this language really leaves the question where it was before, for it does not attempt to show or declare who does "owe allegiance to the United States;" although those who passed passed the act, no doubt thought, or wished others to think, that allegiance was to be presumed (as is done under other governments) against all born in this country, (unless possibly slaves).

The Constitution itself, uses no such word as "allegiance," "sovereignty," "loyalty," "subject," or any other term, such as is used by other governments, to signify the services, fidelity, obedience, or other duty, which the people are assumed to owe to their government, regardless of their own will in the matter. As the Constitution professes to rest wholly on consent, no one can owe allegiance, service, or any other duty to it, or to the government created by it, except with his own consent.

The word allegiance comes from the Latin words ad and ligo, signifying to bind to. Thus a man under allegiance to a government, is a man bound to it; or bound to yield it support and fidelity. And governments, founded otherwise than on consent, hold that all persons born under them, are under allegiance to them; that is, are bound to render them support, fidelity, and obedience; and are traitors if they resist them.

But it is obvious that, in truth and in fact, no one but himself can bind any one to support any government. And our Constitution admits this fact when it concedes that it derives its authority wholly from the consent of the people. And the word treason is to be understood in accordance with that idea.

It is conceded that a person of foreign birth comes under allegiance to our government only by special voluntary contract. If a native has allegiance imposed upon him, against his will, he is in a worse condition than the foreigner; for the latter can do as he pleases about assuming that obligation. The accepted interpretation of the Constitution, therefore, makes the foreigner a free person, on this point, while it makes the native a slave.

The only difference---if there be any---between natives and foreigners, in respect of allegiance, is, that a native has a right---offered to him by the Constitution---to come under allegiance to the government, if he so please and thus entitle himself to membership in the body politic. His allegiance cannot be refused. Whereas a foreigner's allegiance can be refused, if the government so please.

Next

No Treason - Introduction
No Treason #2, Chapter IV-VI
No Treason #1 (1867)
No Treason #6 (1870)

NOTICE: Lysander Spooner is not affiliated with Freedom School.
NOTICE: If anything in this presentation is found to be in error a good faith effort will be made to correct it in timely fashion upon notification.
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