On September 21, 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold meets with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, a former American hero, became synonymous with the word “traitor.”
The Merriam Dictionary defines “traitor” as a person who is not loyal or true to a friend, duty, cause, or belief or is false to a personal duty. 2 : a person who betrays his or her country : a person who commits treason.
In our modern times, the word “traitor” is loosely used by political partisans when a citizen or politician does something that they don’t personally like or something against their political party’s platform. That’s usually just talk used as fodder for political argument or to rile up their bases.
But “treason” is a legal position defined as the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government. It has a very high bar.
Treason is what the January 6th committee of the United States Congress is currently looking into as it relates to those that attempted to overthrow a legal federal election in the United States of America.
Chaos as U.S. Capitol is attacked by Trump’s army of rioters who he sent to overthrow the election of 2020. 5 were killed including a Capitol police officer. Many have already been convicted and sentenced. Many more cases are pending and some, are still being investigated.So far, the Jan. 6th attackers who have been charged mostly are getting charged with “sedition”, which is a lower bar than the very very serious charge of treason.
As for their leader whom they say sent them, inspired them, and lead them, former President Donald Trump, he has NOT been charged, not yet.
It would be a very high bar to get to a charge of treason, especially for a former president. It has NEVER happened in the United States of America. But this investigation is still ongoing so we don’t know the full outcome yet. But we do know the full outcome of Americans who have been charged and convicted of “treason”. I have listed those people at the very bottom of this article.
So, to date, the most famous person, the person who defines “treason” remains Benedict Arnold.
Arnold was born into a well-respected family in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. He apprenticed with an apothecary and was a member of the militia during the French and Indian War (1754-1763).
He later became a successful trader and joined the Continental Army when the Revolutionary War broke out between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies in 1775. When the war ended in 1783, the colonies had won their independence from Britain and formed a new nation, the United States.
During the war, Benedict Arnold proved himself a brave and skillful leader, helping Ethan Allen’s troops capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and then participating in the unsuccessful attack on British Quebec later that year, which earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Arnold distinguished himself in campaigns at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield and Saratoga, and gained the support of George Washington.
However, Arnold had enemies within the military and in 1777, five men of lesser rank were promoted over him. Over the course of the next few years, Arnold married for a second time and he and his new wife lived a lavish lifestyle in Philadelphia, accumulating substantial debt. The debt and the resentment Arnold felt over not being promoted faster were motivating factors in his choice to become a turncoat.
In 1780, Arnold was given command of West Point, an American fort on the Hudson River in New York (and future home of the U.S. military academy, established in 1802). Arnold contacted Sir Henry Clinton, head of the British forces, and proposed handing over West Point and his men. On September 21 of that year, Arnold met with Major John Andre and made his traitorous pact.
However, the conspiracy was uncovered and Andre was captured and executed. Arnold, the former American patriot, fled to the enemy side and went on to lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut. He later moved to England, though he never received all of what he’d been promised by the British. He died in London on June 14, 1801.
AMERICANS CHARGED and CONVICTED OF TREASON
- Philip Vigil and John Mitchell, convicted of treason and sentenced to hanging; pardoned by George Washington; see Whiskey Rebellion.
- John Fries, the leader of Fries’ Rebellion, was convicted of treason in 1800 along with two accomplices, and pardoned that same year by John Adams.
- In a case famous at the time, Aaron Burr was acquitted of treason, and then burned in effigy, in 1807. He voluntarily exiled himself to the United Kingdom for 5 years.
- Governor Thomas Dorr 1844, convicted of treason against the state of Rhode Island; see Dorr Rebellion; released in 1845; civil rights restored in 1851; verdict annulled in 1854.
- The abolitionist John BrownThe first person executed for treason in the country’s history, convicted in 1859 of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, murder, and fomenting a slave insurrection for his part in the Harpers Ferry raid;.
- Aaron Dwight Stevens, took part in John Brown’s raid and was executed in 1860 for treason against Virginia.
- William Bruce Mumford, convicted of treason and hanged in 1862 for tearing down a United States flag during the American Civil War.
- Walter Allen was convicted of treason on September 16, 1922 for taking part in the 1921 Miner’s March against the coal companies and the U.S. Army at Blair Mountain, West Virginia. He was sentenced to 10 years and fined. During his appeal to the Supreme Court he disappeared while out on bail. United Mineworkers of America leader William Blizzard was acquitted of the charge of treason by the jury on May 25, 1922.
- Max Stephan, a German-born Detroit tavernkeeper, was convicted of treason on July 2, 1942, after the jury deliberated for only one hour and 23 minutes. In April 1942, Stephan harbored and fed a Luftwaffe pilot at his tavern who escaped from a Canadian POW camp. On August 6, Judge Arthur J. Tuttle sentenced Stephan to death by hanging. He was the first man convicted and sentenced to death on a federal treason charge since the Civil War. His sentence was later commuted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to life in prison.
- Hans Max Haupt, Walter Otto Froehling and Otto Richard Wergin were convicted of treason and sentenced to death, and Erna Emma Haupt, Lucille Froehling and Kate Martha Wergin were convicted of treason and sentenced to 25 years in prison on November 24, 1942, in a joint indictment. All six individuals were charged with treason for giving aid and comfort to the executed German saboteur Herbert Hans Haupt. On appeal, these judgments were reversed and remanded to be retried. Hans Max Haupt was convicted again on June 9, 1944. He was sentenced to life in prison. He appealed again, but the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this judgement. Walter Otto Froehling and Otto Richard Wergin were sentenced to 5 years in prison on July 22, 1944 as accessories to treason. Hans Max Haupt eventually appealed the case up to the Supreme Court, which sustained the verdict against him.
- Martin James Monti, United States Army Air Forces pilot, convicted of treason for defecting to the Waffen-SS in 1944. He was paroled in 1960.
- Max Otto Koischwitz, charged with treason for defecting to Nazi Germany during World War II in 1943, died of tuberculosis in 1944.
- Edward Leo Delaney, charged with treason for defecting to Nazi Germany during World War II in 1943, charges were dropped in 1947.
- Jane Anderson, American journalist indicted on charges of treason in 1943, defected to Nazi Germany in World War II, charges were dropped in 1947.
- Frederick Wilhelm Kaltenbach, indicted for defecting to Germany during World War II as a broadcaster in 1943, died in Soviet custody
- Douglas Chandler, worker for National Geographic, convicted of treason in 1947 for defecting to Germany during World War II, sentence commuted by president John F. Kennedy
- Robert Henry Best, convicted of treason on April 16, 1948 and served a life sentence.
- Iva Toguri D’Aquino, who is frequently identified by the name “Tokyo Rose“, convicted 1949. Subsequently, pardoned by President Gerald Ford.
- Mildred Gillars, also known as “Axis Sally“, convicted of treason on March 8, 1949; served 12 years of a 10- to 30-year prison sentence.
- Herbert John Burgman, convicted of treason in 1949 during WWII for spreading Nazi propaganda; sentenced to 6–20 years in prison.
- Tomoya Kawakita, sentenced to death for treason in 1952, but eventually released by President John F. Kennedy to be deported to Japan.