Nathan Hale’s sacrifice echoes in ’24 election
By Brian Greenspun
It is Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, as this is being written.
So why can’t I stop thinking about Sunday, Sept. 22, 1776?
I realize that many people won’t remember that date. I didn’t. So I will save you the trouble of looking it up.
That’s the day the British Army marched a 21-year-old Lt. Nathan Hale to a public house near what is now 66th Street and Third Avenue in New York City. And that is where they hanged him for spying for Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army.
To those who are under a certain age (the age during which history has not been taught or learned ) and haven’t figured out the time frame yet, that was during the Revolutionary War between the American colonies and King George III’s and our Mother England.
We won, and the United States of America, the greatest and most enduring democracy ever to grace planet Earth, was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
I recount this small but important bit of America’s history, not for the event itself but for the words attributed to Lt. Hale just prior to his execution. He said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
When I was growing up and had to learn all about the United States and our Founding Fathers — men braver than most today, smarter than almost everyone today and blessed with the ability to see far into the future in ways few today can or even want to contemplate — the story of Nathan Hale animated us.
We were growing up in a post-World War II world where stories of patriotism consumed our television and movie-going moments and drove us to pursue and achieve that American dream for which so many fought and died. To us, service to our country and our families were of equal importance because to have the latter, every American had to commit to some measure of the former.
Nathan Hale’s commitment to country represented the ring from freedom’s bell.
So, now I have to think about today. More, specifically, tomorrow.
We are way past those simple concepts of patriotism and freedom. With the most notable and admirable exception of Americans who are committed to service in our armed forces, there are more and more examples of people losing their way on the path towards commitment to country and this democracy that was so hard-fought for and hard-won way back then.
We hear a lot today about Benjamin Franklin’s response to Elizabeth Willing Powel’s question about the kind of government he and the others had given to the people.
“A republic, if you can keep it.”
His answer contemplated all of the flaws inherent in the newly written Constitution that he believed could and would be fixed over time, through conscientious people charged with fealty to and governance by that document. And he knew deep in his heart and his most fertile mind, that without such dedication to democracy, despotism would rule the day.
As I look at the nation’s political landscape of 2024 and the presidential choices offered Americans between President Joe Biden and Donald Trump, I see what Franklin saw and what concerned him most.
Today, America is calling the question of Elizabeth Willing Powel. The 2024 presidential election is all about whether we can keep our republic.
So, now is a good time to remember Nathan Hale and what he did for his country. He did everything he could to birth the republic the Founding Fathers so graciously gave us.
To keep our republic, we don’t have to lose our lives. We just have to not lose our minds.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Su