In Edward Everett Hale’s story “The Man Without a Country”, the fictional protagonist Philip Nolan is tried for treason along with Aaron Burr. Nolan is convicted and proclaims “Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!” The judge grants his wish by sentencing him to live for the rest of his life on US Navy ships whose crews are instructed never to talk about the United State in Nolan’s presence. As Nolan lives out his life moving from ship to ship, never setting foot on US soil again, he learns the painful lesson of what it means to be a “man without a country.” As he lay dying he shows a sailor the shrine he has assembled to the United States and dies happy knowing how his country has prospered.
Patriotism is the obvious theme of Hale’s story. It is worth noting that the story was written in 1863, during the middle of the Civil War; its purpose to add backbone to the Union war effort. The story was written in such a realistic manner that many thought Philip Nolan to have been a real person. The story is graphic in its portrayal of the loss Nolan endures as a result of renouncing his country.
The idea of renouncing one’s country, albeit in not so dramatic fashion, is alive and well today. While Nolan damned the United States in a fit of pique, today those turning their backs on the United States do so mostly to avoid taxes. The most recent “big name” to de-friend the United States was Eduardo Saverin, a billionaire who helped found Facebook and decided he would rather be a citizen of Singapore, not for tax reasons, but because it was “more practical.” The majority of the new Philip Nolans renounce their citizenship for tax reasons and do so voluntarily, but there are other ways to re-nationalize.
The law governing a citizens loss of nationality is laid out in 8 USC sec. 1481. All of the actions that would cause one to lose their citizenship must be performed voluntarily and with intent to relinquish their citizenship.
1) Obtaining naturalization in a foreign state
2) Making a formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state
3) Serving in the armed forces of a foreign state if that state is engaged in hostilities against the United states or they serve as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer in said armed forces
4) Accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of any office, post, or employment under the government of a foreign state
5) Making a formal renunciation of nationality before a diplomatic or consular officer of the United States while in a foreign state
6) Making a formal written renunciation while in the United States when the United States is in a state of war.
7) Committing treason or attempting to overthrow or bearing arms against the United States or violating 18 USC secs. 2383, 2384, or 2385.
There is however, more to leaving than just complying with this statute. The names of those who renounce their citizenship are published in the Federal Register. In addition an "exit tax" is imposed on those who renounce their citizenship. There are also laws that allow the U.S. to bar ex-citizens from returning to the U.S. (although this provision has not been used).
The process of surrendering one’s U.S. citizenship is not to be taken lightly. Renouncing one’s citizenship seems to be limited to the very rich or those wishing to emigrate permanently with the odd terrorist thrown in.
For more information on the process I suggest the following web sites:
Travel.state.gov : This is the State Department’s web site on the subject.
Renunciationguide.com: This is a site put together by persons who would rather not advertise their names or affiliations. It walks one through the process