Encouraging Patriotism Through Stories

The Great Hearts Institute is very proud to be the steward of What So Proudly We Hail, an anthology of songs, stories, and poems celebrating the American experience. With the generous support of author Leon Kass (and in honor of his late wife Amy Kass), we are proud to host the entire WSPWH website for open use by teachers and students—including lesson plans, video interviews, synopses, outlines, and more.
The passage below is excerpted from a 2011 speech Amy gave to the Washington DC chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. In the full speech, she provides an overview of the structure and aims of the anthology and its sister website before turning to a discussion of Edward Everett Hale’s 1863 short story, “The Man Without a Country,” and demonstrating the power of story to produce better citizens and better patriots. For Amy’s unabridged speech, in addition to the full spectrum of resources so generously entrusted to us by the Kass family, visit www.whatsoproudlywehail.org.

We need to furnish our imaginations with true stories of American heroes, stories that inspire emulation and the pride of kinship with those who have nobly gone before. . . . But we also can benefit greatly from fictional stories that not only inspire but also instruct, at their best because they shed light on the complexities of our situation and educate the sentiments in a richer and more sophisticated way. Works of fiction speak most immediately, engagingly, and movingly to the hearts and minds of readers of all ages. They furnish the imagination, educate the sentiments, and, by giving us characters to identify with, provide concrete mirrors for self-discovery and self-examination. To move past simple-minded jingoism, we need to improve the mind even when we seek to attach the heart.

Edward Everett Hale’s “The Man without a Country” was published during the terrible days of Civil War, in 1863, the year President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

A piece of historical fiction, it tells the story of one Philip Nolan, whose obituary—in the same year— prompted the narrator, Fred Ingham, to tell the world of Nolan’s sad story. Seduced, “body and soul,” by the charm and grand vision of Aaron Burr, young Philip Nolan, an ambitious artillery officer in the “Legion of the West,” became a Burr accomplice. He was tried and found guilty of treason. When the president of the court asked him, at the close of the trial, whether he wished to say anything to show that he had always been faithful to the United States, Nolan cried out, in a fit of frenzy,—

‘D—n the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!’”

His judges, half of them veterans of the Revolutionary War, decided to give him precisely what he asked for: From that moment, September 23, 1807, until his dying day, May 11, 1863—56 years later—Nolan spent the rest of his life at sea, transferred from one U.S. Navy ship to another, never again setting foot on American soil and not before his dying day hearing anything at all about the United States.

Yet, during—and perhaps because of—his enforced separation from his native land, Nolan’s attitude toward her would change dramatically.

Ingham, our narrator and then a young naval officer, happened to be aboard the ship then carrying Nolan, when it overhauled a dirty little schooner having slaves on board. An American party was sent aboard the schooner to liberate the slaves, but Vaughn sends for Nolan, who has knowledge of the needed Portuguese, to interpret. Nolan arrives accompanied by Ingham.

As Nolan came on deck, Vaughan desperately commanded him to tell the screaming Africans that they are free, and that the rascals that enslaved them would be hanged. Vaughan further instructs Nolan to tell them that he will take them all to Cape Palmas. But this did not answer so well. “Ah, non Palmas,” they yelled and proposed instead other expedients in very voluble language. Vaughan, disappointed at the result of his liberality, again asked Nolan to translate.

“They say ‘Not Palmas.’ They say, ‘Take us home, take us to our own country, take us to our own house, take us to our own pickaninnies and our own women.’[. . .]

“Tell them yes, yes, yes; tell them they shall go to the Mountains of the Moon, if they will. If I sail the schooner through the Great White Desert, they shall go home!”

And after some fashion Nolan said so. And then they all fell to kissing him again, and wanted to rub his nose with theirs.

But he could not stand it long; and getting Vaughan
o say he might go back, he beckoned me [Ingham] down into our boat. As we lay back in the stern-sheets and the men gave way, he said to me,—

“Youngster, let that show you what it is to be without a family, without a home, and without a country.[. . .] Think of your home, boy; write and send, and talk about it. Let it be nearer and nearer to your thought, the farther you have to travel from it; and rush back to it, when you are free, as that poor black slave is doing now. And for your country, boy,” and the words rattled in his throat, “and for that flag,” and he pointed to the ship, “never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells. No matter what happens to you, no matter who flatters you or who abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all these men you have to do with, 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, if those devils there had got hold of her today!”

I continue to be puzzled by the very moving passage just cited, and I keep changing my mind about a crucial question: To what extent is Nolan’s longing for his homeland a patriotically American longing, a longing for what is special about the United States? How, if at all, does it differ from the longing that might be felt by a German or a Russian for the fatherland or motherland, or, within the story, the longing for home of the newly liberated African slaves? Nolan, in his speech to Ingham, blurs together mother, home, and country, all to be treasured because they are one’s own, not because they are good or because of what they stand for. There appears to be no mention here of the American ideals of freedom and equality, or of the nation’s political institutions that are devoted to promoting and safeguarding these ideals. However one decides about Hale’s story, the issue here raised remains crucial for the larger educational task in which we are engaged: What exactly is required to attach the affections of American citizens to the American polity? Is our distinctive and distinctively worthy national creed sufficient to secure our allegiance: “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all”? Or do we need in addition those atavistic primal attachments of Alma Mater, soil, and ties of blood and kindred ancestry—the love of our own because it is our own—to make patriots out of mere rights-enjoying citizens?

Happily for us Americans, it may be easier than for people elsewhere to live out an answer to this question. That answer was provided by Abraham Lincoln in his eulogy of Henry Clay: “Mr. Clay’s predominant sentiment, from first to last was a deep devotion to the cause of human liberty . . . . With him, this was a primary and all controlling passion. . . . He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because he saw in such, the advancement, prosperity and glory, of human liberty, human right and human nature. He desired the prosperity of his countrymen partly because they were his countrymen, but chiefly to show to the world that freemen could be prosperous.”

How do we produce citizens who can share the sentiments and emulate the example of Henry Clay? Our anthology and our website are modest efforts in that direction. I hope you will read our materials and join us in our efforts, as I am delighted to be able to join in yours.


Dr. Amy Judith Kass (née Apfel; September 17, 1940 – August 19, 2015) was a beloved teacher, scholar, and author. She spent most of her career as a professor of classic texts in the College of the University of Chicago and served as a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute. Her scholarly interests included courtship, marriage, citizenship, and philanthropy.

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