“What Is Treason?” The American Sentinel 5, 30, pp. 233, 234.

July 31, 1890

WHEN it is said that the State has no right to interfere with the private school, or to dictate what shall or shall not be taught there, certain persons who make a boast of their Americanism and wear it for a badge, exclaim, and by the exclamation betray their ignorance of American principles, “Suppose the private school should teach treason!” It would be well, and it is strictly in order, for such persons to learn that there is no such thing in this country as teaching treason. Treason cannot be taught here. American principles know no such thing as the teaching of treason.

The United States Constitution says:—

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.

This same provision is in the Constitution of all the States. The words “adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort” plainly mean adhering to those who are levying war, or who are engaged in it. As treason therefore consists “only in levying war,” or adhering to those who are doing so, it is plain that treason cannot be taught; it can only be acted, and that in the waging of actual war.

This is confirmed by other points, one of which is the declaration that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. So far as the Government is concerned, freedom of speech and the press is absolute. The theory of this Government is that thinking, discussion, and teaching, shall be absolutely free, that there shall be no restriction upon ideas, even though an idea should gain the assent of a majority of the people to the extent of changing the form of government itself. This is the doctrine of the Declaration of Independence, which says:—

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to secure their safety and happiness.

From this it is plain that if the idea of a monarchical instead of a republican form of government were conceived by a single man to be the better form of government, he has the right freely to publish and to speak, and to teach that idea; and if by such means he can cause that idea to grow until it absorbs the majority of the people, they might actually change the form of government without committing treason. Governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, it is one of the rights of the people to establish such form of government as suits them best; and if a sufficiently large majority of people could be gained to change the form of government by ballot or by any other peaceable means, there would be in it no treason. Upon American principles, ideas are free, and it is expected that whatever idea prevails, that is the idea that the people want to see prevail.

In all this there is no shadow of a suggestion or an admission that the teaching [234] in the private schools would be treason even if treason could be taught. It is simply to can the attention of our boastful “Americans” to the fact that when they exclaim against the danger of somebody’s “teaching treason” in this country, they are testifying against themselves that they have not yet gotten rid of the principles of despotism in government; and that if they intend to be Americans indeed, they need to know what American principles are, and to speak accordingly. A. T. J. [234]

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