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"The Man Without a Country" was first published in The Atlantic Monthly for December 1863

"The Man Without a Country" is a short story by American writer Edward Everett Hale, first published in The Atlantic in December 1863.[1] It is the story of American Army lieutenant Philip Nolan, who renounces his country during a trial for treason and is consequently sentenced to spend the rest of his days at sea without so much as a word of news about the United States. Though the story is set in the early 19th century, it is an allegory about the upheaval of the American Civil War and was meant to promote the Union cause.


Plot summaryEdit

The protagonist is a young United States Army lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who develops a friendship with the visiting Aaron Burr. When Burr is tried for treason (historically this occurred in 1807), Nolan is tried as an accomplice. During his testimony, he bitterly renounces his nation, angrily shouting, "I wish I may never hear of the United States again!" The judge is completely shocked at this announcement, and on convicting him, icily grants him his wish: Nolan is to spend the rest of his life aboard United States Navy warships, in exile, with no right ever again to set foot on U.S. soil, and with explicit orders that no one shall ever mention his country to him again.

The sentence is carried out to the letter. For the rest of his life, Nolan is transported from ship to ship, living out his life as a prisoner on the high seas, never once allowed back in a home port. Though he is treated according to his former rank, nothing of his country is ever mentioned to him. None of the sailors in whose custody Nolan remains is allowed to speak to him about the U.S., and his newspapers are censored. Nolan is unrepentant at first, but over the years becomes sadder and wiser, and desperate for news. One day, as he is being transferred to another ship, he beseeches a young sailor never to make the same mistake that he had: "Remember, boy, that behind all these men ... behind officers and government, and people even, there is the Country Herself, your Country, and that you belong to her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by her, boy, as you would stand by your mother ... !" On one such ship, he attends a party in which he dances with a young lady he had formerly known. He then beseeches her to tell him something, anything, about the United States, but she quickly withdraws and speaks no longer to him.

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."


Hale published "The Man Without a Country" in the Atlantic Monthly in 1863 to bolster support for the Union in the North.[2] In this first publication, Hale's name does not appear at the beginning or end of the story, though it does appear in the annual index at the end of that issue of the magazine. It was later collected in 1868 in the book The Man Without a Country, And Other Tales published by Ticknor and Fields.

Danforth's summary to Nolan of American history from 1807 to 1860 is an outline of the Northern case for preservation of the Union. The young country is shown standing up fearlessly to the then-global superpower, Great Britain; expanding to North America's Pacific coast; developing new contributions to human knowledge, such as the Smithsonian Institution; and developing new technology such as steamboats.

As Hale had intended, the short story created substantial support for the United States as a country, identifying the priority of the Union over the individual states, and thus pressuring readers to view Southern secession negatively. In so doing, he convinced many individuals to join, or at least support the North's effort to, as Abraham Lincoln put it, "preserve the Union".

Hale skillfully convinced many readers that Nolan was an actual figure, thus increasing the story's effectiveness as a piece of patriotic literature. He achieved this realism through verisimilitude. By frequently mentioning specific dates and places and using numerous contemporary references, Hale grounds his story in a firm foundation of history and makes the story seem like a record of actual events. In his 1893 and 1900 reminiscences, E.E. Hale states that, "To write the story of 'The Man Without a Country' and its sequel, 'Philip Nolan’s Friends', I had to make as careful a study as I could have the history of the acquisition of Louisiana by the United States."[3] Hale makes the narrator, Frederick Ingham, seem a strongly reliable individual. Throughout the text, Ingham often acknowledges his mistakes and identifies possible lapses in his memory. For this reason, readers believe Ingham's sense of honesty, and automatically deem him a trustworthy and, to some extent, an accurate narrator.[citation needed] Hale uses a plain style, maintaining an unstilted and almost colloquial feel.[citation needed] Thus he makes the story easy to relate to, and the patriotic moral accessible to readers.[citation needed]

The story was loosely inspired by Clement Vallandigham, an anti-war pro-Confederate Ohio Democrat who – like Nolan – was exiled and expressed his disgust with the United States.[4]


A monument "in memory of" Nolan and bearing his self-written epitaph was placed in front of the Covington County Courthouse in Andalusia, Alabama, on July 4, 1975, by the Altrusa Club of Andalusia. The monument was placed as part of the Andalusia Bicentennial Committee's official activities commemorating the United States bicentennial.[5]


"The Man Without a Country" has been adapted for film several times, starting in 1917 with The Man Without a Country starring Florence La Badie, a 1918 film My Own United States, one in 1925, and another Man Without a Country starring John Litel and Gloria Holden and released by Warner Brothers in 1937.[6][7][8]

In 1973, a made-for-television movie was directed by Delbert Mann and written by Sidney Carroll. It featured Cliff Robertson as Philip Nolan, Beau Bridges as Frederick Ingham, Peter Strauss as Arthur Danforth, Robert Ryan as Lt. Cmdr. Vaughan, Walter Abel as Col. A.B. Morgan, Geoffrey Holder as one of the slaves on a slave ship, Shepperd Strudwick as the Secretary of the Navy, John Cullum as Aaron Burr and Patricia Elliott as Mrs. Graff.

An opera of the story, also entitled The Man Without a Country, was composed by Walter Damrosch and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1937.

On November 21, 1943, the horror/thriller radio program The Weird Circle presented an adaptation of the story. Bill Johnstone (best known as Orson Welles' replacement as the title character in The Shadow radio drama) narrated (and took part in) the story as Hale.

A four-part dramatization was recorded in June 1947 and issued by Decca on two coupled 12" 78 rpm discs. Bing Crosby provided the narration and Frank Lovejoy portrayed Philip Nolan.[9]

The Railroad Hour presented a 30-minute adaptation of "The Man Without a Country" June 28, 1953. Gordon MacRae and Dorothy Warenskjold starred in the broadcast.[10]

On May 8, 1977, a three-act radio play was broadcast as an episode of Himan Brown's The General Mills Radio Adventure Theater. Russell Horton performed the part of Nolan. Tom Bosley was host of the series.

In Sam Fuller's Run of the Arrow (1957), Captain Clark (Brian Keith), a U.S. Army Engineer commissioned to build a fort on Sioux territory, relates the Nolan story to O'Meara (Rod Steiger), a southerner who, refusing to accept the defeat of the Confederacy has married among the Sioux and been appointed by them to see the fort is built where agreed. In the context of pressing O'Meara to decide whether his loyalties lie ultimately with the Sioux or with the Americans, Clark tells the Nolan story as if it were historical fact.

In 2016 Chuck Pfarrer penned an historical novel entitled Phillip Nolan: The Man Without a Country for the US Naval Institute Press. Blending history and fiction, Pfarrer tells the story of Philip Nolan, who becomes embroiled in Aaron Burr's 1807 conspiracy to invade the territories of the Louisiana Purchase. Learning that his own court martial will proceed, despite Burr's acquittal, Nolan denounces his accusers, damns his country, and tells the court he wishes never again to hear the words "United States" as long as he lives. The judges return with an ominous verdict: the prisoner's wish will be granted. Nolan is sentenced to permanent exile aboard a series of U.S. warships, never again to hear news from or speak of his country.

Decades pass. Shuttled from ocean to ocean, Nolan realizes he is a stateless person, estranged from his keepers and forgotten by his country. Eventually passed aboard an American frigate in the Mediterranean, Nolan comes into the custody of a newly commissioned lieutenant, Frank Curran. When Barbary pirates capture an American whaleship, the pair is drawn into a web of international deceit and mortal danger. As a rescue mission is launched, Nolan teaches the young officer a lesson about duty, loyalty, and the meaning of patriotism.

Equal parts adventure, naval history, and morality tale, Philip Nolan: The Man Without a Country is more than frigate duels and small boat actions. Intricately plotted and beautifully crafted, the novel is a poignant and closely observed examination of the human condition.


  1. ^ "The Atlantic Monthly Volume 12 Issue 74 pages 665-679 (December 1863)". 2009. Retrieved October 19, 2009.
  2. ^ Hall, Timothy L. American Religious Leaders. Infobase Publishing, 2003: 156. ISBN 0-8160-4534-8
  3. ^ Edward Everett Hale. 1900. The Works of Edward Everett Hale, a New England Boyhood, Volume VI, 2nd Edition. p. 338. Boston: Little, Brown and Company
  4. ^ "The Man Without a Country" Study Guide at What So Proudly We Hail Curriculum. Retrieved 14 February 2012.[page needed][better source needed]
  5. ^ "Philip Nolan Memorial – Andalusia, AL". February 19, 2013.
  6. ^ IMDb The Man Without a Country 1917 Film[unreliable source?]
  7. ^ IMDb My Own United States 1918 Film[unreliable source?]
  8. ^ IMDb The Man without a Country 1973 TV[unreliable source?]
  9. ^ "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved September 12, 2017.
  10. ^ Kirby, Walter (June 28, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 44. Retrieved July 1, 2015 – via  
  • John R. Adams, Edward Everett Hale (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977),
  • Melinda Lawson; "'A Profound National Devotion': The Civil War Union Leagues and the Construction of a New National Patriotism." Civil War History. Volume: 48. Issue: 4. : 2002. Pp 338+.

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