The Hesitant Patriot
On the morning of September 22, 1776, Captain Nathan Hale approached the British gallows. He had volunteered to spy on the British during the battle of New York and was captured as he tried to return to the Continental army. When General Howe asked if he had any last words before being hanged he said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”1
Patriotism is defined as devotion to and vigorous support for one's country. Nathan Hale certainly displayed patriotism with his sacrifice, but what brought him to that point? He was only 21 years old with his whole life ahead of him. Like all of us, he had dreams and aspirations. He was educated at Yale and certainly had a life of influence and success awaiting him. What possessed him to risk his future on such an impossible cause as the revolution? Where does that commitment come from?
When I speak to people about our cause, I see excitement and love for the principles of the liberty, but I often sense hesitation. They seem to believe in the cause of liberty supported by the Constitution, but when it comes to the moment of commitment their eyes look away. They want to support the cause, but something keeps them from making a commitment and taking the oath.
Naturalized citizens must take an oath to support and defend the Constitution in order to receive the benefits of citizenship in this great nation. Why is it so hard for those of us born here to take the same oath? Have we become so complacent that we are no longer committed to protecting our liberties? Have we become so worried about offending someone that we no longer stand for anything? Are we no longer willing or able to make the same sacrifice that Nathan Hale was willing to make? What makes us hesitant patriots?
The current political climate is full of division and rancor, but this is also an indication that we are not complacent citizens. We want to engage, but the ugly rhetoric and uncivil discourse we experience when we try to engage often drives us away. We want to wave the flag and sing the national anthem, but because of the negative feelings we attach to the politics of the day we end up avoiding the topic altogether allowing only those who seem to relish in a political brawl to be part of the discussion. Complacency isn’t keeping us from committing. Division is.
The truth is that we have always been a divided people. To illustrate this, consider the ratification process for the Constitution. Because of opposition from Anti-Federalists (those opposed to ratification), North Carolina did not ratify it until almost two years after the convention.2 Rhode Island didn’t ratify it until the newly formed US government threatened to sever commercial ties, and then it only passed by two votes. (This earned them the nickname “Rogue Island.”)3 The Anti-Federalists in Pennsylvania, knowing that the Assembly was about to adjourn, tried to block the vote by not showing up for duty and prohibiting the Assembly from having the required quorum for a vote. With just a few hours before the Assembly was to adjourn, an exuberant gang found two of the Anti-Federalist delegates hiding out in their boardinghouses. They dragged them to the State House and thrust them into their seats, giving the Federalists a quorum and the vote was taken.4 From our inception as a nation, we have always been a divided people. Our Constitution was designed to handle division. The separation of powers, the checks and balances, and the constant turnover of the people’s representatives are all designed to deal with the division that has, and will, continue to exist among us. The Founders understood that division was the norm, not the exception.
That is EXACTLY why we started this movement! If we can't be united on the liberties and principles of our Constitution, what can we be united on? Our intent is clear—unite citizens around our Constitution. The methodology we chose is to commit people "by oath" so that they will then feel more compelled to educate themselves and engage in civil discussion and debate. That is our charter. That doesn't mean that we need to agree on the rest of the issues. It means we agree on this common ground that protects our ability to disagree. It gives us the framework for dealing with rancorous division.
Most of us will never be asked to make the sacrifice Nathan Hale made. We should, however, be willing to support and defend our Constitution and the principles of liberty it protects. Stop being the hesitant patriot. Don’t let division keep you from engaging in the process of self- government. Take the oath and lose your life for your country by supporting and defending our wonderful Constitution.
_____________________________________________________________________________ 1 History.com Editors, October 26, 2020, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nathan-hale-volunteers-to- spy-behind-british-lines 2 Cavanagh, John C., October 26, 2020, https://www.ncpedia.org/government/convention-1789 3 Jessiekratz, October 26, 2020, https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2015/05/18/rogue-island-the-last-state-to- ratify-the-constitution/ 4 Richard Beeman, (2009). Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution, Random House, Page 458