The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article III, Section 3, and Clause 1: “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.” This provision clearly states the need for at least two witnesses to the same act of treason – not thought of treason - or a confession in court.
W. Cleon Skousen explained that the “Constitution requires that a person cannot be convicted of treason unless there is the testimony of two witnesses, and, of course, under the Sixth Amendment the prisoner must be confronted with the witnesses testifying against him. One of the most notorious cases in English law was the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1618. His conviction was obtained on the single deposition (written testimony) of Lord Cobhan, an accomplice and a prisoner, who was not examined in court and was already known to have retracted his accusation. The Founders did not want any instance of such gross injustice to occur in the United States” (The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 624).
Bradley C.S. Watson of The Heritage Foundation explained the crime of treason. “The laws of the American colonies reflected the broad outlines of the common law of England, both as to breadth of the offense and severity of punishment, though sometimes the definitions of treason in the colonies were broader than those in England. By the eighteenth century, laws began more consistently to reflect the English law of treason, and eventually, during the revolutionary period, came to require more precise definitions, more exacting standards of proof, and more lenient punishments. During the Revolution, many states adopted language recommended by the Continental Congress and its `Committee on Spies,’ defining treason as adherence to the king of Great Britain (including accepting commissions from him) or to other `Enemies,’ giving them `Aid and Comfort.’ …
“…Thus, in the Constitution, treason consists only in levying war against the United States or adhering to its enemies by giving them aid and comfort. It may be proved only by confession in open court, or on the testimony of no fewer than two witnesses to the same overt act” (The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 264).