Character makes nation great
The Independence Day weekend has arrived and with it comes the stories about how our nation won its freedom against what seemed to be insurmountable odds.
What has always made our nation great is our national character. We won our freedom through unbelievable individual effort. The story of the United States is one of common people who were extremely brave and willing to risk everything for the good of the nation.
Such is the case of one young American patriot whose act of courage is well known, yet very little is remembered about the man. Nathan Hale died at a young age and his heroic death has come to symbolize the American spirit.
So, who was Nathan Hale? No matter what source you choose, Hale is described as a brilliant, dedicated young man with a great future. He never realized that future as he was hanged as a spy in 1776.
Hale was born on June 6, 1755 and was the sixth of 12 children of a prosperous Connecticut farmer and his wife. Apparently, education was very important to Hale’s family and he followed his brothers to Yale. One source said that young Nathan was probably destined for the clergy since he had brothers who were ministers.
At Yale, he was an outstanding student and one of the top graduates in his class. It was added that the only extracurricular activity he was known to participate in was dramatics. Hale was 18 years old when he graduated in 1773.
Hale was apparently well ahead of his time in thinking. He supported education for women. He accepted a position as head master for the Union School of New London, which was an educational institution for women.
Of course the biggest issue discussed in the American colonies in the early 1770s was that of independence from England. Many Americans were having a very tough time dealing with the British form of government. The English were adding fuel to the independence fire with heavy handed government. The colonials had absolutely no voice in British policy and those in England regarded the colonists as second class citizens.
Certainly, young Nathan Hale was caught up in the fervor. He made a patriotic speech after the Battle of Lexington and was soon appointed as a lieutenant by the Connecticut General Assembly. He took part in the siege of Boston and was promoted to the rank of captain in a ranger unit.
Gen. George Washington sought a volunteer to go behind British lines in disguise as a spy and to ascertain information on troop movements. Hale volunteered for this very dangerous assignment. He was dressed in civilian clothes and entered New York City. The remainder of the story is one of an inexperienced spy who didn’t have a cipher or code trying to relay information to an untried network. One source pointed out that Hale had completed his work and signaled what he believed to be an American ship to pick him up. Unfortunately, a British ship picked up his signal and Hale was arrested. Apparently the evidence was overwhelming since maps of fortifications were discovered in his shoe. Still some historians believed that if Hale had denied spying, his life might have been spared. That wasn’t the case, however, and Nathan Hale admitted he was an American spy and he was sentenced to death.
He was hanged on Sept. 22, 1776, giving his life for his country at the young age of 21. His last words immortalized him forever. He paraphrased a play, “Cato,” by Joseph Addison and said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Nathan Hale embodies the American spirit of service and sacrifice. He was a young man who might have had a brilliant future, yet he was willing to risk it all for a cause. He is truly an American hero.