Many of the articles written in the current furor over symbols of the Confederacy claim that the men (many of them were boys) who fought for the South were guilty of treason. Never mind that although the United States imprisoned Jefferson Davis and held him for two years, he was released because the government realized it would be unable to convict him. Threats of indictment for treason were made against other Southern officials, including high ranking officers like Robert E. Lee, but they all came to naught although they were prohibited from holding elected Federal office by the Fourteenth Amendment. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were restored to full citizenship in the 1970s, Davis during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. http://news.yahoo.com/pardon-jefferson-davis-14th-amendment-163609181.html
What those who hold these views are forgetting is that the nation from which eleven of the fifteen Southern states seceded (two others proposed secession articles which didn’t pass) and which we ourselves are citizens of was in fact founded as a result of treason. Tomorrow we celebrate an act that was, under the laws of the day, an act of high treason against the British Crown. John Hancock affixed his name to a document branding him a traitor to the country of which he was a citizen. “Taxation without representation” is one of the reasons given for the decision made by some colonial leaders to rebel against the king to whom they owed allegiance and the nation whose citizenship the enjoyed. (The taxes were actually low, but colonists were upset because they had no representation in Parliament.) Thomas Jefferson rattled off of a list of grievances against King George, grievances some of which seem almost petty in today’s world –
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these states
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Bear in mind that while Thomas Jefferson’s words are written as if they are directed at a king from his subjects, they only applied to the subjects in the American colonies, not including those in what became Canada. Nor did they apply to Australia and New Zealand, where England also had colonies, or the British colonies in Central America and the Caribbean. In his words, Jefferson was attempting to justify what he, as a lawyer, knew was an act of treason against the king to whom he was subject. Furthermore, Jefferson was writing in 1776, a decade after American colonists had first rebelled against their king although the rebellion didn’t become openly hostile until 1775 when Massachusetts was declared to be in open rebellion after locals fired on British troops at Concord and Lexington. Later that year, colonial troops invaded Quebec although the invasion was unsuccessful. The Continental Congress appealed to the British parliament to end the conflict but the king refused to read the appeal. He then declared certain colonies in rebellion and branded those involved in the rebellion as traitors.
It is important to remember that the thirteen colonies only existed by permission of the Crown. Each colony was established under a charter obtained from the British government by individuals and corporations. By 1776, most of the colonies had been in existence for well over a century. Their inhabitants were subjects of the king. By declaring the colonies independent, Jefferson and those who signed the declaration were committing high treason – and they knew it. Although they called themselves “patriots,” they were actually rebels and were key figures in a rebellion that had started in 1765 when colonists declared that the Crown had no right to tax them and eventually escalated to armed conflict. The war we now call the Revolutionary War went back and forth until the new government formed an alliance with France which was joined by Spain. With a wider war on their hands, the British reduced the number of troops in the colonies and started recruiting Loyalists and slaves.
We have been led to believe that everyone in the America colonies shared the feelings of those who rebelled against the authority of King George and the British government. In fact, large numbers of colonists were not in sympathy with the revolution that started in the 1760s in protest of British taxes, which the colonists called tyranny. Historians estimate that those who remained loyal to England accounted for approximately 20% of the population. This estimate is probably conservative. There were also large numbers of colonists who didn’t really care whether they were under the Crown or not. This group was the largest of the factions in the colonies. Patriots are estimated to have only accounted for some 45% of the white colonists. At best, Patriots had a bare majority. The war finally ended when the British fleet bringing troops to Yorktown found itself facing the French Navy and retreated to New York. Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown was then defeated in a battle fought primarily by French artillerists. Cornwallis surrendered and even though King George wanted to continue the war, Parliament wasn’t willing to support him. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris brought an end to hostilities and Britain withdrew its remaining troops from its former colonies. The treaty gave the former rebels control of all of North America south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi River except Florida. (The Indian tribes who controlled the region west of the Appalachians were not consulted and did not sign the treaty.) Britain ceded Florida back to Spain in a separate treaty.
Of course, all of that happened almost 250 years ago. The second American rebellion, which we now call the Civil War, ended 150 years ago. Those who remained in the Union called those who voted to withdraw “traitors” and accused them of treason, just as King George had done regarding their ancestors a century before. Now, we are all Americans and the British are our best friends (and some consider the French as our enemies.) However, it would do us well to remember tomorrow when we celebrate the birth of our nation that we are actually celebrating treason.