Although Edward Everett Hale lived a long, vigorous, colorful life as a journalist, novelist, editor, historian, reformer, and Christian minister (including a stint as U.S. Senate chaplain), his fame rests almost entirely on his first well-known publication, the short story “The Man Without a Country.”
Hale was a young man when he first determined to write a work of fiction about an exile who longs for home, but it took the national trauma of the American Civil War and, in particular, the 1863 Ohio gubernatorial campaign to crystallize his idea into “The Man Without a Country.” When one candidate proclaimed that he did not want to live in a country led by Abraham Lincoln, Hale became enraged and wrote his short, patriotic fiction as a political polemic. Ironically, Hale’s effort had no effect whatsoever on the specific election, since its first publication in the Atlantic magazine was delayed until well after the event (the pro-Southern candidate was trounced anyway). Instead, it caught the public fancy and quickly became the great and popular artistic embodiment of American patriotic sentiment.
The factors behind the story’s immediate impact are not hard to understand—the trauma of the Civil War, a roused and committed public opinion, the atmosphere for fervent nationalism and jingoism—but the reasons for its continued popularity are somewhat more difficult to pinpoint. It is easy enough to fault the story for thin characterization, vague scenes, sentimentality, and blatant didacticism, but such a judgment...
(The entire section is 636 words.)