“Treason, proditio, in its very name (which is borrowed from the French) imports a betraying, treachery, or breach of faith. It therefore happens only between allies, saith the mirror: for treason is indeed a general appellation, made use of by the law, to denote not only offences against the king and government, but also that accumulation of guilt which arises whenever a superior reposes a confidence in a subject or inferior, between whom and himself there subsists a natural, a civil, or even a spiritual relation; and the inferior so abuses that confidence, so forgets the obligations of duty, subjection, and allegiance, as to destroy the life of any such his superior or lord. This is looked upon as proceeding from the same principle of treachery in private life, as would have urged him who harbours it to have conspired in public against his liege lord and sovereign: and therefore for a wife to kill her lord or husband, a servant his lord or master, and an ecclesiastic his lord or ordinary; these, being breaches of the lower allegiance, of private and domestic faith, are denominated petit treasons.”
Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book 4 Chapter 6 “Of High Treason
If one were to read further, the punishment for “petit treason” was exactly the same as that of High Treason; the convicted traitor would be hung, drawn, and quartered, then displayed as a warning to all and sundry that some satisfactions come at too high a price. The only exception was that of a wife’s treason against her husband – her remains would be burnt at the stake.
Blackstone’s Commentaries first appeared in the American colonies circa 1773/4. Rather providential timing when one considers that within less than two years, the thirteen colonies represented in the Continental Congress would be declared by King George III in his “Proclamation of Rebellion”(1775)to be in “…open and avowed rebellion.”
Our Founding Fathers followed in the footsteps of our first father. The first traitors and rebels were Adam and his wife Eve. Treason is in our blood. When we consider what motivates treason of any kind, it is helpful to refer back to Blackstone.
“…the inferior so abuses that confidence, so forgets the obligations of duty, subjection, and allegiance, as to destroy the life of any such his superior or lord.”
Notice the focus of this quote. Abuse of confidence implies that the superior had previously placed confidence in the betrayer. Forgetting the obligations of duty, subjection, and allegiance destroys the life of the superior. Treason is tantamount to murder.
Observe also the types. Treason has more than one species. There is high treason against the crown or lawful governmental authorities, and “petit treason” – rebellion of the wife to her spouse or the servant to their lawful master.
Jonathon Edwards said in The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners that “Nothing is more agreeable to the common sense of mankind, than that sins committed against any one, must be proportionally heinous to the dignity of the being offended and abused;” If we accept the 18th century perspectives of Blackstone and Edwards as true, then the crime of treason, be it high or petit, was right to be taken seriously.
Do we still take treason seriously?
Do we view rebellion in the same light as Blackstone? Do we see that the emphasis in our lives is on obedience and service? Do we acknowledge that patience and self-denial are more important than self-fulfillment and immediacy?