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The Man Without A Country by Edward Everett Hale

Updated on December 24, 2009

The Man Without A Country is a short story by Edward Everett Hale. A patriotic parable, it was first published in the Atlantic Monthly for December 1863. Its popularity, in the midst of the Civil War, was immediate. Hale tells the story of Philip Nolan, a young lieutenant in the United States Army, who was court-martialed for participation in Aaron Burr's conspiracy to set up an independent nation in the Louisiana territory. Asked by the court if he would affirm his allegiance to the United States, he exclaimed, "Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!" The court pronounced sentence: He should have his wish. He was shipped aboard a naval vessel bound for a foreign station. The officers whose mess he sometimes shared were under orders never to mention the country in his presence; his reading matter was censored, and allusions to the United States deleted. When the ship completed its foreign tour, Nolan was transferred to another outward-bound cruiser. In a frigate action during the War of 1812, Nolan gallantly helped to serve a gun; the commander mentioned him favorably in dispatches and urged his pardon, but nothing came of it. His exile continued until his death at sea in the spring of 1863. On his deathbed, when he was told by one of the officers about the growth of the United States, he revealed that he had prayed daily for the welfare of the country and had tried to guess at the significance of the new stars in the flag.

Though Hale's story continued to be immensely popular for at least two generations after the Civil War, it was primarily a tract for the times. Hale even named Southern leaders - Braxton Bragg, Matthew Maury, and others - as equal in their treason to the real Burr and the fictitious Nolan. Sectional bitterness is revealed also in sneering references to the Virginian presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The early readers of the story saw only the patriotic parable; later readers are more likely to notice both the implausibility of the narrative machinery and the actual cruelty of Nolan's punishment. In 1937, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, an opera entitled The Man Without a Country had its first performance. The music was by Walter Damrosch, and the libretto by Arthur Guiterman was based on Hale's story.


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