When Youth Were Patriots: 21-Year-Old Nathan Hale “I Only Regret That I Have but One Life to Lose for My Country!”- American Minute With Bill Federer

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” were the last words of 21-year-old American patriot Nathan Hale, who was hanged by the British without a trial on September 22, 1776.

A Yale graduate, 1773, Nathan Hale almost became a Christian minister, as his brother Enoch did, but instead became a teacher at Union Grammar School.

When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Nathan Hale joined a Connecticut militia and served in the siege of Boston.

On July 4, 1775, Hale received a letter from his Yale classmate, Benjamin Tallmadge, who became General Washington’s chief intelligence officer:

“Was I in your condition … I think the more extensive service would be my choice. Our holy Religion, the honour of our God, a glorious country, & a happy constitution is what we have to defend.”

Nathan Hale accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment under Colonel Charles Webb of Stamford.

Nathan Hale was as pious as he was courageous.

American Heritage Magazine’s article, “The Last Days and Valiant Death of Nathan Hale” (April 1964), gave fellow soldier Lieutenant Elisha Bostwick’s description of Nathan Hale:

“He was undoubtedly pious; for it was remark’d that when any of the soldiers of his company were sick he always visited them and usually prayed for and with them in their sickness.”

Tradition has it that Nathan Hale was part of daring band of patriots who captured an English sloop filled with provisions from right under the guns of British man-of-war.

Following the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, August 27, 1776, the British went from Staten Island across Long Island and were intent on capturing New York City.

General Washington was desperate to know British plans and wrote on September 6, 1776:

“We have not been able to obtain the least information on the enemy’s plans.”

Washington sought a spy to penetrate the British lines to get information.”

On September 8, 1776, Nathan Hale stepped forward as the only volunteer.

Knowing that the act of spying on the British, if caught, would be punishable by death, his fellow officer Captain William Hull attempted to talk Hale out it.

Hale responded:

“I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary.

If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar service, its claim to perform that service are imperious.”

On September 12, 1776, Hale was ferried behind enemy lines to Long Island to discover British troop movements.

On September 15, 1776, 4,000 British troops landed at Kip’s Bay at the east end of 33rd Street and proceeded to capture New York City.

General Washington retreated to Harlem Heights on Manhattan Island’s north end.

On September 21, 1776, Hale was captured by the “Queen’s Rangers” commanded by a loyalist British Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rogers.

British General William Howe ordered Hale to be hanged the next morning.

Hale wrote a letter to his mother and brother, but the British destroyed them, not wanting it known a man could die with such firmness.

Hale asked for a Bible, but was refused. He requested a clergyman, but was denied.

Nathan Hale was marched out and hanged from an apple-tree in Rutgers’ orchard, near present-day 66th Street and Third Avenue in New York City on September 22, 1776.

Because the British insisted on hanging captured American spy Nathan Hale, General Washington later insisted on hanging captured British spy John Andre.

The Essex Journal stated of Nathan Hale, February 13, 1777:

“At the gallows, he made a sensible and spirited speech; among other things, told them they were shedding the blood of the innocent, and that if he had ten thousand lives, he would lay them all down, if called to it, in defense of his injured, bleeding Country.”

Nathan Hale may have drawn inspiration for his last words “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” from the well-known English play “Cato.”

The play “Cato” was written by Joseph Addison in 1712, as Hale had been involved in theater while a student at Yale:

“How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue!

Who would not be that youth? What pity is it

That we can die but once to serve our country.”

Cato the Younger, 95-46 B.C., was a leader during the last days of the Roman Republic who championed:

  • individual liberty against government tyranny;
  • representative republican government against a despotic dictatorship; and
  • logic over emotion.

Cato attempted to prevent Julius Caesar from becoming a dictator.

Cato was known for his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and his distaste for corruption.

George Washington had the play “Cato” performed for the Continental Army while they were encamped at Valley Forge.

Nathan Hale exemplified patriotism, a virtue shared by Americans.

In dissolving the Newburgh Conspiracy, George Washington stated March 15, 1783:

“Let me conjure you, in the name of our common country … to express your utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes … to overturn the liberties of our country, and who wickedly attempts to open the flood gates of civil discord …

By thus determining … you will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice. You will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism.”

George Washington warned in his Farewell Address, September 19, 1796:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.

In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness …

Real Patriots, who may resist the intrigues … are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.”

Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, wrote November 5, 1775:

“A patriot without religion in my estimation is as great a paradox as an honest man without the fear of God.

Is it possible that he whom no moral obligations bind, can have any real good will towards men? …

Can he be a patriot who, by an openly vicious conduct, is undermining the very bonds of society, corrupting the morals of youth.”

After the British burned the Capitol, President Madison declared September 1, 1814:

“An occasion which appeals so forcibly to the … patriotic devotion of the American people, none will forget.

The glory acquired by … fathers in establishing the independence … is now to be maintained by their sons with the … strength and resources … Heaven had blessed.”

Speaker of the House Henry Clay stated in 1841:

“Patriotism, which, catching its inspiration from the immortal God … prompts to deeds of self-sacrifice, of valor, of devotion, and of death itself – that is public virtue, that is the noblest, the sublimest of all public virtues.”

Abraham Lincoln stated in his Inaugural, March 4, 1861:

“Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.”

Awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to John Wayne, President Jimmy Carter stated May 26, 1979:

“I have today approved … a specially struck gold medal to John Wayne.

For nearly half a century, the Duke has symbolized the American ideals of integrity, courage, patriotism, and strength and has represented to the world many of the deepest values that this Nation respects.”

President Donald J. Trump stated in his Inaugural, January 20, 2017:

“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

The Bible tells us, ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity’ …

Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.”

The opposite of patriotism is “identity politics.”

This tactic is to stop citizens from identifying with the nation and instead get them to identify with various subgroups.

A recent division introduced is vaccinated versus unvaccinated.

These subgroups are then pitted against each other to bring division, disunity, and domestic instability.

When enough citizens become overwhelmed with feelings of insecurity for life and property, they quickly surrender their independence to a government leader who promises to restore order, but then usurps power to become a tyrant.

Washington warned in his Farewell Address of citizens identifying with and having allegiance to subgroups called “parties” or “factions”:

“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State …

The spirit of party … is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments … and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities …

This leads at length to a … permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual;

and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction … turns this disposition to … his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt warned Congress, January 3, 1940:

“Doctrines that set group against group, faith against faith, race against race, class against class,

fanning the fires of hatred in men too despondent, too desperate to think for themselves, were used as rabble-rousing slogans on which dictators could ride to power.

And once in power they could saddle their tyrannies on whole nations.”

Theodore Roosevelt addressed the Knights of Columbus, New York City, October 12, 1915

“The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin … would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English- Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian- Americans, or Italian-Americans …”

Roosevelt added:

There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism … The man who puts German or Irish or English or French before the hyphen … Our allegiance must be purely to the United States.”

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge addressed the New England Society of Brooklyn, December 21, 1888:

“Let us have done with British-Americans and Irish-Americans and German-Americans, and so on, and all be Americans …

If a man is going to be an American at all let him be so without any qualifying adjectives; and if he is going to be something else, let him drop the word American from his personal description.”

History has many examples of democracies and republics which fell because citizens abandoned patriotism and divided their allegiances into competing groups.

In ancient Israel, Abimelech sowed discord in the city Shechem, and raided the Temple of Baalberith for money to bribe some citizens to abandon patriotism to the Hebrew Republic.

With his “vain and worthless” followers, he killed the sons of Gideon and declared him king.

In ancient Greece, Philip the Second of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, bribed some citizens of the Athenian Democracy to abandon patriotism and betray their city by sowing discord, thus weakening Athens’ defenses, allowing Philip to seize control.

In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar raided the treasury of the Temple of Saturn for money to bribe some citizens to abandon patriotism to the Roman Republic, join him in fighting Pompey, and declare him dictator for life.

Machiavelli, Hegel, Marx, Lenin, Hitler, and Alinsky followed this example of hiring agitators to sow discord and disunity, resulting in citizens abandoning patriotism and dividing into groups, thus weakening the country and allowing a dictator to usurp power.

Mark Twain wrote:

“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.”

Nathan Hale’s nephew was Massachusetts Governor Edward Everett.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Battlefield, Edward Everett spoke for two hours.

Following him was Abraham Lincoln, who gave his famous ten sentence Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.

Edward Everett stated:

“All the distinctive features and superiority of our republican institutions are derived from the teachings of Scripture.”

Edward Everett remarked at the opening of the Dudley Observatory in Albany, New York:

“I am filled with amazement, when I am told, that, in this enlightened age and in the heart of the Christian world, there are persons who can witness this daily manifestation of the power and wisdom of the Creator, and yet say in their hearts, There is no God.”

Nathan Hale’s grand nephew was U.S. Senate Chaplain Edward Everett Hale, who wrote in 1897, “Challenge to the Youth of Boston”:

“As a boy goes on his errand he shall say, ‘To such duty I, too, am born. I am God’s messenger.’

As the young man tells the story to his sweetheart, he shall say, ‘We are God’s children also, you and I, and we have our duties.’

They look backwards, only to look forward.

‘God needs me, that this city may still stand in the forefront of his people’s land. Here am I.

God may draft me for some spiritual duty, as he drafted Dr. Joseph Warren and Benjamin Franklin. Present! Ready for service!

Thank God I come from men who are not afraid in battle.

Thank God, I am born from women whose walk was close to him.

Thank God I am his son.’ And she shall say, ‘I am his daughter.’

He has nations to call to his service. ‘Here am I.’

He has causeways to build, for the march forward of his people. ‘Here am I.’

There are torrents to bridge, highways in deserts, ‘Here am I.’

He has oceans to cross. He has the hungry world to feed. He has the wilderness to clothe in beauty. ‘Here am I.’

God of Heaven, we will be with Thee, as the fathers were. Boys and girls; young men and maidens, listen to the voice which speaks here.”

Capturing this patriotic spirit, American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his poem, “Voluntaries,” 1863:

“So nigh is grandeur to our dust,

So near is God to man,

When Duty whispers low, ‘Thou must’

The youth replies, ‘I can.'”