Last modified on 29 September 2014, at 17:05

Nathan Hale

I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.

Nathan Hale (6 June 175522 September 1776) was a captain in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Captured by the British, he was hanged as a spy.

SourcedEdit

  • 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.
  • I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.
    • Last words before being hanged by the British as a spy, (September 22, 1776), according to the account by William Hull based on reports by British Captain John Montresor who was present and who spoke to Hull under a flag of truce the next day:
‘On the morning of his execution,’ continued the officer, ‘my station was near the fatal spot, and I requested the Provost Marshal to permit the prisoner to sit in my marquee, while he was making the necessary preparations. Captain Hale entered: he was calm, and bore himself with gentle dignity, in the consciousness of rectitude and high intentions. He asked for writing materials, which I furnished him: he wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to a brother officer.’ He was shortly after summoned to the gallows. But a few persons were around him, yet his characteristic dying words were remembered. He said, ‘I only regret, that I have but one life to lose for my country.’
Some speculation exists that Hale might have been repeating or paraphrasing lines from Joseph Addison's play Cato, Act IV, Scene IV:
How beautiful is death when earned by virtue. Who would not be that youth? What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country.
See George Dudley Seymour, Captain Nathan Hale, Major John Palsgrave Wyllys, A Digressive History, (1933), p. 39.
Another early variant of his last words exists, as reported in the Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser (17 May 1781):
I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is, that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.

Quotes about HaleEdit

  • He behaved with great composure and resolution, saying he thought it the duty of every good Officer, to obey any orders given him by his Commander-in-Chief; and desired the Spectators to be at all times prepared to meet death in whatever shape it might appear.
    • Robert MacKensie, a British officer, in his diary entry regarding Hale's execution.
  • However, 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 defence of his injured, bleeding Country.
    • Hale's execution, as reported in the Essex Journal (13 February 1777).
  • ‘Hate of oppression’s arbitrary plan,
    The love of freedom, and the rights of man;
    A strong desire to save from slavery’s chain
    The future millions of the western main,
    And hand down safe, from men’s invention cleared,
    The sacred truths which all the just revered;
    For ends like these, I wish to draw my breath,’
    He bravely cried, ‘or dare encounter death.’
    And when a cruel wretch pronounced his doom,
    Replied, ‘Tis well, — for all is peace to come;
    The sacred cause for which I drew my sword
    Shall yet prevail, and peace shall be restored.
    I’ve served with zeal the land that gave me birth,
    Fulfilled my course, and done my work on earth;
    Have ever aimed to tread that shining road
    That leads a mortal to the blessed God.
    I die resigned, and quit life’s empty stage,
    For brighter worlds my every wish engage;
    And while my body slumbers in the dust,
    My soul shall join the assemblies of the just.’
    • "To the Memory of Capt. Nathan Hale" by Eneas Munson, Sr.
  • And because that boy said those words, and because he died, thousands of other young men have given their lives to his country.
    • Dr. Edward Everett Hale, great-nephew of Nathan Hale, at the dedication of the Hale statue in New York, 1893.
  • Hale is in the American pantheon not because of what he did but because of why he did it.

External linksEdit

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