It is saddening to see so distinguished an authority as Professor Stephen Presser misquote important words from the Constitution as he does in his November article on impeachment. He writes that treason is “clearly defined” in the Constitution as “making war on the United States or giving aid or comfort to her enemies.”
Here is what the Constitution actually 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.” “Them” meaning the States, the plural usage of “United States” found throughout the Constitution.
Alas, with countless others, Professor Presser unreflectively assumes the long-established error that the Constitution intended to establish a strong national government rather than a co-operative arrangement for the States. “Her” referring to the United States nowhere appears in the Constitution or any other Founding document. It is an emotional nationalist term applied long afterward.
Presser also omits from his definition of treason the qualifying term “only,” vitally important to the Founders. Only so much can be done in one article, but it is too bad that the discussion of impeachment omits entirely the most important and most relevant incident in American history: the attack on Andrew Johnson, in which the Republicans behaved just as badly as the Democrats are doing now.
Dutch Fork, S.C.
Prof. Presser replies:
It’s an honor to receive some kind words from Clyde Wilson, whom I have always admired. His points are well-taken, and, in particular, his critique of the disgraceful impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and the inexcusable behavior generally of the Radical Republicans at the time. I do believe it is appropriate to liken them to today’s Democrats, as he does.
My only point, of course, was to stress the clearer definition of treason, and the deliberately more open definition of impeachable offenses. Clyde Wilson is also undeniably correct that only after the Civil War are the United States spoken of in the singular rather than the plural, and perhaps I should have known better than even to have implied otherwise. I’m grateful for the reminder.