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ART. VI.- THE ETHICS OF TREASON.
1. C. CRISPI SALLUSTII Catilina. Cura N. BUTLER. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1860.
2. The Spirit of Military Institutions. By MARSHAL MARMONT. Translated by HENRY COPPÉE. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1862. Clact
WHEN among the various classes of convicts and outcasts we pause before the traitors, estimating them with moral discrimination, the most glaring phenomenon in relation to them is this: that all mankind, in all ages, have agreed to regard them with more intensity of detestation than any other specimen of criminals. No species of conduct or type of character has such a brand of infamy and hatred burned into it by the judgment and instinct of the world. Dante, the pictures of whose poetic vision embody the deliberate verdicts of his conscience, traversing the nine successive spheres of torment, found the bottom of the lowest hell assigned to traitors! In order to understand the causes of this unanimous estimate, and to determine whether it is just or erroneous, we must first learn what constitutes treachery or treason.
Searching the etymology of the words employed to express the thing, we find that they all bear one fundamental meaning, namely, to drag out to the light, to deliver up. The essential significance is, to disclose and yield up to a hostile power a trust which we were pledged to keep; by a breach of honor to discover and hand over to an enemy a secret, a cause, or a person, confided to our friendship and integrity.
Now, whoever acts against the justice, safety, welfare of his country, aiding and abetting her foes, is pre-eminently a traitor. Mankind, in every time and clime, have unanimously consented thus to stigmatize that recreant man. Nor is he under any circumstances a traitor merely by construction. He is a full-blown traitor, by the very terms, in overt and signal distinction, though he have never taken office nor breathed oath of allegiance at her altar. For a country always takes for granted the allegiance of her children, and
confides in them accordingly without suspicion. A boy is not exempt from filial obligations until he has formally sworn to love his mother. He is born into those obligations. They are assumed by the sacred relationships of moral being. The loyalty of its members is the first principle of a nationality. Every son of a country is therefore implicitly pledged a patriot from the beginning. Any blow of his against her life, her fame, partakes of the qualities of a parricidal stab. In this truth we begin to see why such a transcendent stigma has always been affixed to the public traitor. He apostatizes from promises having the validity of baptismal vows; he repudiates duty in her holiest form of disinterestedness, sacrificing the authority of his country to the caprice of his passion. Flinging open the breast of a traitor to inspect the interior workings of his character, we behold the meaner forces trampling down the nobler, the lowest motives subjugating the highest. And well may every moral instinct feel that the spectacle is horrible.
Tracing the origination of treachery, we discern three species of it. For the sake of fulness of illustration we may call them three, though the substance is the same in them all; namely, an unprincipled selfishness subordinating to its wishes the commands of authorities rightfully superior to itself.
Terror is a prolific parent of treachery. A brave, highsouled man, placed by the confidence of his country, his friend, his employer, in a situation of responsibility, feels obliged to be faithful to his trust at all hazards. Danger has no fright for him when he remembers what is expected of him. Death, in comparison with the hideousness of dishonor, wears a radiant beauty, and proffers a prize. The fiercer waxes the peril, and the louder sounds the voice of alarm, so much the higher flames his resolution, and so much the closer he clings to his duty. But a timid, little-hearted man, under such circumstances, is cowed to the basest overtures; the color flies from his dastard cheek; his soul flutters with terror; he is at the mercy of every vile temptation, anxious to creep away at some ignominious outlet, ready to betray anything to purchase safety for his miserable body. Here we have the selfishness of fear making a traitor out of the coward. This is the
most contemptible form of treachery. Mankind, by common agreement, have always poured the largest measure of scorn on the representatives of this class. What words open such abysses of abomination and loathing, as coward, craven, poltroon?
Another generator of treachery is wounded conceit, selfish emulation disappointed of its aim and turned into malice. Rankling over defeat, chafing with anguish and rage at every sight of the laurels on the brow of its successful competitor, it thirsts to revenge fancied wrongs by ruining him who has surpassed it in the race, and by humbling those who have dared to crown him. The motive here indicated has played a direful part in the affairs of the world, both ancient and modern. Scarcely a brilliant general or honored statesman ever stood prominent in his time but had some villains around trying, from motives of selfish hostility, to tarnish and drag him down. Here we have the selfishness of envy making a traitor out of the rival. This is the most fearful form of treachery. Vanity, unregulated by moral principle, animated by a virulent greed for power and praise, baffled of winning them in the measure it thinks its due, seeing somebody else more trusted and honored than itself, is thereby changed into flaming poison. Its subject, possessed by a diabolical hate, becomes reckless of everything else in his desire to strip the wreath from the intolerable emulator who has obscured him, stop the sound of his praises, and feel his own superiority by covering him with defeat. He is willing to pay the price of treason to buy this demoniac luxury. History teems with instances. Words were wasted in denouncing a type of character so fiendish. Every healthy conscience will spontaneously assign it its rank and its doom.
There is one more cause of treachery, - an unbridled craving for the means of self-indulgence. A man with a loose conscience, powerful propensities, and a rampant will, whose lawless wishes are opposed by his comrades or superiors, in his curbed and exasperated hankerings, free from that virtuous rule of principle which alone makes abstinence tolerable and denial noble, becomes an easy prey to the blandishments of wickedness. His longings for pleasure, praise, power, thwarted
of their gratification by legitimate means, solicit him to count nothing sacred that withstands their satisfaction. In the absence of a kingly conscience, if he have courage enough to run the risks, he will yield to the seduction, however vile the guise in which it comes, break every bond, and tread remorselessly on every impediment to his purpose.
Vanity and its affiliated passions furnish the ready material for vice and deceit to work on; they are tinder for the torch of temptation. Pride is a great provoker of hate, and a great nourisher of revenge, but hardly a creator of treachery; rather a protection from it, except when, by some tremendous rebuff, crushed out of its proper nature, and maddened into one impulse of recalcitrant fury, forcing an outlet through retaliation. In ordinary cases, its haughtiness cannot bear to stoop so low. Its insolent sensitiveness shrinks from exposing itself to the burning taunts which, as it knows, deservedly beset the betrayer of a trust. But put a voluptuous, ostentatious, prodigal self-lover- such a man such a man as Benedict Arnold was in a position where he cannot indulge himself within the barriers of honesty and honor, and he will soon overpass those holy limits, making use of any means of compassing his purpose, even down to the most shameful recreancy. Here we have the selfishness of desire making a traitor out of the egotist. This is the most dangerous form of treachery. It is more frequent than any other. Indeed, in some relations so common is it that it has lost most of its peculiar odiousness; as, for example, in the betrayal of business trusts. Many a man who has plunged in a bath of fraud, and come up dripping with moral slime, is received in society just as if he were clean and upright. Few men comparatively are so pusillanimous as to be frightened into traitors; few comparatively so revengeful as to be aggravated into traitors; but when men, the better to gratify their desires for wealth and fame, betray the cause with which they have been identified, the friend who has confided in them, the charge intrusted to their keeping, we only see the goaded outbreak of a universal passion, the headlong intensification of propensities which in a more governed degree exist in all, and are constantly tempted to rebel against their divine sovereigns and checks.
Having seen what a traitor is, the verdict of mankind on him may easily be explained, and will stand fully justified. Treachery is so profoundly despised, in the first place, because of the baseness of the motives in which it has its birth. There is always in it- characteristic of the whole Iscariot brood this uppermost element of tainted and sneaking self, asking of those who have penalties to denounce and rewards to offer, "What will ye give me, and I will betray him unto you?" There is a mediæval legend, not without impressiveness, to the effect that the thirty pieces of silver which Judas received are a perpetual heirloom in his moral lineage, and that wherever any great treason is perpetrated, these guilty coins will always be found turning up afresh in the hands of the culprit. Treachery is the explosive point at which selfishness attains its climax. It is the antithesis of magnanimity, the moral antipode of chivalry. It must be loathed by as much as these are admired. The most generous characters, looking from their height, will abhor it most; and, in the long run, they give the rule for the rest, and establish the ethical scale and judgment of the world.
A second reason why the conduct of the traitor is so vehemently condemned, is furnished by the dire effects it produces. That lawlessness can put on no dress so hateful as treason is partly because there is no other shape of evil so alarming and destructive. A grave responsibility imposed on one, an important trust placed in his hands, puts his moral manhood on its mettle to prove him worthy of the distinction, and to keep him proudly faithful to the duties it involves. His honor, the sensitive centre of all that is most authoritative and sacred, the vital seat of every moral command and religious oracle, is appealed to, and responds with loyal vows. Human nature itself is put in pledge for him. If, after all this, he prove false, the ultimate sanctity in man is defiled, the very foundations of ethical order are broken up, and all confidence exploded. Were overt deceit and treason as common as they are exceptional, every man's hand would be against every man, and the whole organism of society would go down in night and slaughter. The intercourse of civilized life presupposes mutual faith and fidelity in the universal repose of