Philip Nolan and Flag Day

Tuesday, June 14, AD 2011

Today is Flag Day.  Edward Everett Hale, in his short story A Man Without A Country, reminds us that patriotism is a very powerful form of love.  Hale, a great nephew of Nathan Hale who died on a British scaffold and uttered the deathless  “I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.”, wrote the story in the midst of the Civil War in 1863 to help inspire patriotism.

The story is a simple one.  Philip Nolan was a young artillery lieutenant in the United States Army.  He became involved in the  vague scheme of Aaron Burr to detach some territory from the  United States and form an independent nation.  All the big fish escape conviction, but Lieutenant Nolan does not.  At his courtmartial the following takes place:

One and another of the colonels and majors were tried, and, to fill out the list, little Nolan, against whom, Heaven knows, there was evidence enough,–that he was sick of the service, had been willing to be false to it, and would have obeyed any order to march any-whither with any one who would follow him had the order been signed, “By command of His Exc.A. Burr.” The courts dragged on. The big flies escaped,–rightly for all I know. Nolan was proved guilty enough, as I say; yet you and I would never have heard of him, reader, but that, when the president of the court asked him at the close whether he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States, he cried out, in a fit of frenzy,–

“Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”

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4 Responses to Philip Nolan and Flag Day

  • A very haunting work of fiction indeed. Allegedly, the character of Philip Nolan was inspired by a real-life figure, Cong. Clement L. Vallandingham of Ohio, a notorious Copperhead who was arrested for sedition by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside at one point and exiled to Canada for a time. Supposedly, Vallandingham was overheard saying “Hang the U.S.; I hope the day comes when I never hear the name.”

  • Thanks. This has long been one of my favorite stories — one I can’t read without tears coming to my eyes at the end, softy that I am.

  • Darwin the TV movie from 1973 is just as good. Cliff Robertson was magnificent as Nolan.

    Elaine that is the first I’ve heard of Vallandigham inspiring the character of Nolan. Ugh! To say the least, Copperhead Clement has never been high on my list of figures from the Civil War!

  • Sorry for the man who sees Old Glory and does not feel love and pride.

    If I think about Philip Nolan I become angry. Nolan is nothing but an ancestor for liberal democrats. Only thing: progressives don’t repent.

    America is the worst country in the world except for all the others.