The Man Without a Country


Generations of American schoolchildren have read Edward Everett Hale’s short story, “The Man Without a Country.” No doubt, many of them believed American army lieutenant Philip Nolan to be an actual person, so detailed were the descriptions. Less well known is that the story, written during the Civil War to build support for the Union, was also patterned after the life of Ohio politician Clement Vallandingham.
In the story, Nolan is depicted as an accomplice of Aaron Burr who, during his testimony at the treason trial, shouts, “Damn the United States. I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” The judge thereupon sentences Nolan to serve a life sentence aboard American naval ships, with the proviso that he be transferred from ship to ship so as to never enter a U.S. port ever again. The crews of the various ships are also constrained from ever mentioning the U.S. to Nolan, giving him any news, or permitting him to see any newspaper unless all references to the U.S. have been cut out. The story had a powerful effect upon the nation then, and again during the First World War, when it was depicted on the screen starring Holmes Herbert and Florence LaBadie. It would be LaBadie’s last film role before a fatal car crash claimed the young star’s life at the age of 29.