United States Constitution

PREAMBLE : We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution



Article 3, Section 3

Text of Article 3, Section 3:
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.

The 'Travis Translation' of Article 3, Section 3:
Treason, or betraying the United States, is making war against the United States, or being loyal to an enemy of the United States, or giving that enemy help or comfort. Nobody can be found guilty of treason unless two people describe the same obvious act of treason in open court, or unless the accused person says in open court that she/he did it.

Congress decides how to punish treason. If someone is guilty of treason, their family cannot be punished. The disgrace of the traitor, and any fines they owe, will go with them to their death, but not past that.

This clause is unique in that, unlike many of the other general constitutional provisions relating to criminal law, this clause is quite specific. It defines the crime of treason, and enshrines it in the Constitution. This both serves to impress the gravity of the offense, as well as ensure that its parameters are anything but unclear.

The definition here works to set the American definition of treason apart from the earlier British version. According to British law, there were several different actions that could be defined as treason, many relating to Kings and Queens. Here, the Constitution narrowed the scope of treason to two offenses: waging war against the United States, or helping an enemy of the United States. Additionally, under British law, treason was such a terrible crime, that the convicted traitor’s property could not even pass to his or her heirs upon death (and any money owed by the traitor would remain the obligation of heirs). The United States Constitution undid this as well. The punishment of the traitor ends at death, and goes no further.

Finally, the clause describes some of the parameters surrounding a conviction of treason, including the requirement that two individuals bear witness to the crime.