The last time I saw “The Man Without A Country” (1973, featuring Cliff Robertson as Lt. Nolan, a man who'd allegedly turned his back on his country) was neither the first nor final among the many staged, screened or even operatic versions rendered from America's leading literary magazine the 1863 short story.

Originally published in The Atlantic Monthly by Edward Everett Hale, it was developed in hopes of boosting morale for the Union. This publication came late in the 1863 year after Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which also had had the effect of heightening the world's perception of moral purpose of the “War Between The States.”

Reports of improved morale of the Union troops and exuberance of escaped formerly enslaved peoples came forth with glee to the executive mansion. Czar Alexander of Russia, who'd recently freed that nation’s serfs, sent two fleets to assist in embargo formations off U.S. coasts .and England's P.M. Lord Palmerston shelved his previous interventionist designs to profit from “King Cotton.”

Yet, Napoleon III lingered in in his attempts to place Bourbons as emperors in Mexico and “the Spanish Indies.”

Hale's story concerns an American Army lieutenant, Phillip Nolan, who repeatedly denounces his country during his trial for treason, co-joined with his apparent disdain for the trial's possible consequences. (Yes, written and adapted initially for a series of auditory and visual broadcasts well before Dr. Tompkins development of Affects Psychology.)

I recall hearing the radio drama on WTAD radio, Quincy, Illinois, tuned in by my WWII veteran dad on the family Philco when I was 6 years old. It may have been “The Man Without a Country” dramatization replayed with Bing Crosby as the narrator and Frank Lovejoy as Lt. Nolan, as I best recall their voices. It served as one of my first guidance concerning the value of patriotism and love of country.

Told in mock flashback method, Hale tells Phillip Nolan's story by reflecting on a supposed current obituary entry of “The Man Without a Country” or Phillip Nolan, who was a brilliant young officer during the Madison Administration (1809-1817), attached to “The Legion of The West,” and who by happenstance had encountered one Aaron Burr at an much earlier career-forming dinner party.

He would fall under Burr's charismatic influence (well before the term 'charisma' was invented). Nolan participated with others in Burr's excursions into the Louisiana Purchase zone and parts of Texas. And concomitant with Burr's historic Feb. 19, 1807 trial for (related) treason before the U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia under Chief and District Court Justice John Marshal; one of the first tests of the U.S. Constitution' s treason clause: Article III, Section 3.

Historically, Aaron Burr was acquitted, as inter alia, two witnesses to an overt act were not provided by the prosecution in this highly publicized and politicalized trial.

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Back to Hales' historic fiction, Lt. Phillip Nolan's trial for complicit acts of treason progressed to a point where he supposedly learns that Burr has been acquitted, but fails to understand why his own trial as one of Burr's accomplices for conspiracy and treason cannot therefore be preemptively dismissed.

At that point during his testimony, Nolan bitterly objects, curses and vows “I wish that I shall never hear of the United States again.” The Navy judge is completely shocked by the revelation and meets Nolan's outbursts by sentencing him to spend his life aboard U.S. Navy warships , in exile, to never set foot upon American soil so long as he shall live.

And explicit orders are given that no one shall ever mention his country to him again. (Magazines and newspapers are heavily censored.) Hale's story omits the supposed findings of fact and conclusions of law affecting Phillip Nolan, but remember it's fiction-- allegorical at that--about man who turned his back upon his country.

As one might suspect, once deprived of any homeland, Lt. Nolan — yes, ironically, he retains his rank — begins to mourn his family, his “homeland's music, nature off-ship[s],” the memories of neighbors and associates. There are moments of redemption for ostracized and unprivileged Philip Nolan as he serially sails the oceans and Great Lakes gray or blue, as when the barkentine he happens to be on is attacked as it approaches Portugal.

Nolan's quick call to action proves to save another sailor's life. Much later in his shipboard renditioning, a Lt. Danforth enters Lt. Nolan's cabin, where Phillip lies dying and discovers a little sanctuary of patriotism: The Stars & Stripes cover in part a likeness of George Washington. Over his bunk, Nolan has carved an outline of an eagle. An outdated map, which includes the older territories, found at the foot of Lt. Nolan's bunk. Whereupon Danforth agrees to brief Nolan as he lies dying.

But the allegory has retained such staying power that it's ”willing disbelief” produced an actual marker memorializing Lt. Phillip Nolan's epitaph in front of the courthouse of Covington County, Alabama: "He loved his country as no other man has loved her, but no man deserved less at her hands."

Here, I ask the readers to take their own inventories of misbehaviors: Is Lt. Phillip Nolan to remain the only man without a country?

Bob Austin


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