A Man Without A Country ► Unpacking The Writer

Edward Everett Hale

When I was in elementary school — back when they still taught Civics — one of my favourite short stories was The Man Without A Country, by Edward Everett Hale. These days, whenever I cross the border between Canada and the United States (as I did recently), I am reminded of this heart-breaking story.

SPOILER ALERT: It was many years after I first read it that I learned that The Man Without A Country is not a true story at all. It was a newly-minted (in 1863) allegory about patriotism and The Civil War, which was currently ripping the country apart.

None of that meant a thing to the young, unsophisticated, me. It felt true, like a good Onion story. Like a bad Michener novel, it was peopled with real folks. Like Citizen Kane, it is the story of one man piecing together the life of mysterious man. It would always bring me to tears. I can still remember the disappointment I felt when I discovered I had been hoodwinked by a brilliant writer.

The Man Without A Country was written as if the author had only just read an obituary of a little remembered figure in history and expounds on why this man should be remembered 50 years after the events described. The author relates how Philip Nolan, whose obit he stumbled across, had been friends with Aaron Burr and was tried for treason along with him in 1807. In a fit of pique Nolan renounces his country and proclaims, “I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” The judge sentences him to be put on board U.S. war ships, never allowed walk on U.S. soil again, nor could people tell him of news back home. The WikiWackyWoo picks up the story:

As it appeared in The Atlantic in 1863

Deprived of a homeland, Nolan slowly and painfully learns the true
worth of his country. He misses it more than his friends or family, more
than art or music or love or nature. Without it, he is nothing. Dying
aboard the USS Levant, he shows his room to an officer named Danforth; it is “a little shrine” of patriotism. The Stars and Stripes are draped around a picture of George Washington. Over his bed, Nolan has painted a bald eagle,
with lightning “blazing from his beak” and claws grasping the globe. At
the foot of his bed is an outdated map of the United States, showing
many of its old territories
that had, unbeknownst to him, been admitted to statehood. Nolan smiles,
“Here, you see, I have a country!” The dying man asks desperately to be
told the news of American history since 1807, and Danforth finally
relates to him almost all of the major events that have happened to the
U.S. since his sentence was imposed; the narrator confesses, however,
that “I could not make up my mouth to tell him a word about this
infernal rebellion.” Nolan then asks him to bring his copy of the Presbyterian Book of Public Prayer,
and read the page where it will automatically open. These are the
words: “Most heartily we beseech Thee with Thy favor to behold and bless
Thy servant, the President of the United States, and all others in
authority.” Nolan says: “I have repeated those prayers night and
morning, it is now fifty-five years.” Every day, he had read of the
United States, but only in the form of a prayer to uphold its leaders;
the U.S. Navy had neglected to keep this book from him. This is the
supreme irony of the story. Nolan asks him to have them bury him in the
sea and have a gravestone placed in memory of him at Fort Adams, Mississippi or at New Orleans. When he dies later that day, he is found to have drafted a suitably patriotic epitaph
for himself: “In memory of PHILIP NOLAN, ‘Lieutenant in the Army of the
United States. He loved his country as no other man has loved her; but
no man deserved less at her hands.'”

Had I known when I first read the story that I would come to feel like Philip Nolan, The Man Without A Country, I may have cried all the harder back then.

Unlike Nolan, I have never renounced my ‘Merkin citizenship. I did, however, take up Canadian citizenship. To do so I swore an oath to “the Queen, her heirs and assigns” that I’d not vote, nor serve in the armed forces of another country. I take that oath seriously. Renunciation, on the other hand, is an overt act.

The only time my citizenship gets complicated is when I am crossing from Canada back into the United States. When I am going into Canada all I have to do is flash my Canadian Citizenship picture ID and — Bang! Zoom! — I’m in.

However, I’ve learned that coming back into ‘Merka it’s best that I don’t mention my Canadian citizenship if I can help it. When asked “citizen of what country” I answer truthfully. “United States” precisely because I have not renounced my citizenship. I learned a number of years ago that the United States does not recognize the concept of “dual citizenship” and claiming such only complicates matters at the border. Hoo boy! I am made to feel as if I am The Man Without A Country.


This 3rd filming of the story was a Made For TV
Movie
. Earlier versions were filmed in 1917 and 1937.
The Monthly Top Ten

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Apologies to my regular readers who have noticed I’ve been neglecting Not Now Silly for the last little while. If you’ve been paying attention, you will know that Pops was hospitalized in June and spent 7 weeks there. More recently he was transferred to a rehab center, where he’s made amazing progress.

Then there was the 3 week Road Trip, details of which are still to come. I thought I would have time to update the Not Now Sill Newsroom while I was on the road, but there was so much to do that I never got around to unpacking the laptop.

Even though I’ve been away, the Not Now Silly Newsroom archive has had quite a workout. Here’s this month’s Top Ten. (The All Time Top Ten is in the column to the right.)

1. Who Is To Blame For The Destruction of the E.W.F. Stirrup House?
2. The 4th Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research
3. Javier Gonzalez Kicks Off His District 2 Campaign
4. Say Goodbye to the E.W.F. Stirrup House While You Still Can
5. The Detroit Riots ► Unpacking My Detroit ► Part Five
6. Coconut Grove in Black and White
7. Did Roger Ailes Dupe James Rosen, Or Did Rosen Dupe ‘Merka?
8. Tribute to Don Knotts ► Morgantown’s Favourite Son
9. Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?
10. Harry Nilsson ► Thursday (Here’s Why I Did Not Go To Work Today) ► A Musical Interlude

I’ve stoked the fires under the Steam-Powered Word-0-Matic and the Newsroom is back up and running full-tilt, balls out. I already have several stories in the pipeline that include: A brand new, exciting Don Knotts and Morgantown Update; another Pastoral Letter, following my most recent visit with my oldest childhood friend, Pastor Kenny, who has written a very important book; Notes From A Road Trip, which I’m still collating and trying to make sense of; and a long, involved investigative article about a Miami institution that I’ve been researching for almost 3 years and writing, on and off, since early June. There’s a just a small amount of research left on that one and it’ll be ready for prime time.

And, along the way, there will be some surprises. Consider tossing a little bit into the Tip Jar above and help support Investigative Journalism from the Not Now Silly Newsroom.


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Headly Westerfield
Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.