If This Be Treason, Make the Most of It

Painting of Patrick Henry's "If this be treason, make the most of it!" speech against the Stamp Act of 1765 (Peter F. Rothermel (1817–1895))

Painting of Patrick Henry’s “If this be treason, make the most of it!” speech against the Stamp Act of 1765 (Peter F. Rothermel (1817–1895))

In 1765, Patrick Henry attacked the Stamp Act and Parliament’s authority to tax the colonists – while suggesting that George III risked Julius Caesar’s fate if he disregarded American liberty – in a famous speech delivered to the Virginia House of Burgesses. The caption beneath the engraved Rothermell scene quotes a portion of Henry’s speech, as well as the angry response from the assembled legislators.

“Caesar had his Brutus — Charles the First, His Cromwell — And George the Third” — (“Treason!” cried the Speaker — “Treason, treason!” echoed from every part of the house). Henry faultered not for an instant, but rising to a loftier attitude, concluded thus – “may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.”

It was treason under British law. Not that Patrick Henry cared, of course.1

When James Madison drafted the U.S. Constitution, he was careful to define “treason” – the only crime defined in the Constitution – to exclude slander of the King. Article III defines treason:

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.

Oddly, the definition does not seem to include refusing to applaud the U.S. President during a speech to Congress. Yet in a speech Monday, the President referred to the Democrats in Congress, who did not applaud him, as “treasonous.”

Somebody said ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.

Don’t you love that coy “Somebody”? Not Trump originally, he’s saying; Trump is just repeating it. As if.

Expressing by inaction your displeasure with the Commander in Chief isn’t treason. The Commander in Chief claiming it is treason isn’t treason, either. It’s just lying.

WC didn’t applaud, either. So, Mr. President, to borrow a phrase, if that was treason – and it isn’t – make the most of it.


  1. The Rothermel painting shows the bloody glove on the floor of the House of Burgesses. Casting down the gauntlet, of course, was a challenge to a duel. WC will leave it to you to decide if the glove is making a rude gesture.