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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 1: 1900 - 1907|
CCXVII. Mark Twain in Politics
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|There was a campaign for the mayoralty of New York City that fall, with
Seth Low on the Fusion ticket against Edward M. Shepard as the Tammany
candidate. Mark Twain entered the arena to try to defeat Tammany Hall.
He wrote and he spoke in favor of clean city government and police
reform. He was savagely in earnest and openly denounced the clan of
Croker, individually and collectively. He joined a society called 'The
Acorns'; and on the 17th of October, at a dinner given by the order at
the Waldorf-Astoria, delivered a fierce arraignment, in which he
characterized Croker as the Warren Hastings of New York. His speech was
really a set of extracts from Edmund Burke's great impeachment of
Hastings, substituting always the name of Croker, and paralleling his
career with that of the ancient boss of the East India Company.
It was not a humorous speech. It was too denunciatory for that. It
probably contained less comic phrasing than any former effort. There is
hardly even a suggestion of humor from beginning to end. It concluded
with this paraphrase of Burke's impeachment:
I impeach Richard Croker of high crimes and misdemeanors. I impeach
him in the name of the people, whose trust he has betrayed.
I impeach him in the name of all the people of America, whose
national character he has dishonored.
I impeach him in the name and by virtue of those eternal laws of
justice which he has violated.
I impeach him in the name of human nature itself, which he has
cruelly outraged, injured, and oppressed, in both sexes, in every
age, rank, situation, and condition of life.
The Acorn speech was greatly relied upon for damage to the Tammany ranks,
and hundreds of thousands of copies of it were printed and circulated.--
[The "Edmund Burke on Croker and Tammany" speech had originally been
written as an article for the North American Review.]
Clemens was really heart and soul in the campaign. He even joined a
procession that marched up Broadway, and he made a speech to a great
assemblage at Broadway and Leonard Street, when, as he said, he had been
sick abed two days and, according to the doctor, should be in bed then.
But I would not stay at home for a nursery disease, and that's what
I've got. Now, don't let this leak out all over town, but I've been
doing some indiscreet eating--that's all. It wasn't drinking. If
it had been I shouldn't have said anything about it.
I ate a banana. I bought it just to clinch the Italian vote for
fusion, but I got hold of a Tammany banana by mistake. Just one
little nub of it on the end was nice and white. That was the
Shepard end. The other nine-tenths were rotten. Now that little
white end won't make the rest of the banana good. The nine-tenths
will make that little nub rotten, too.
We must get rid of the whole banana, and our Acorn Society is going
to do its share, for it is pledged to nothing but the support of
good government all over the United States. We will elect the
President next time.
It won't be I, for I have ruined my chances by joining the Acorns,
and there can be no office-holders among us.
There was a movement which Clemens early nipped in the bud--to name a
political party after him.
"I should be far from willing to have a political party named after me,"
he wrote, "and I would not be willing to belong to a party which allowed
its members to have political aspirations or push friends forward for
In other words, he was a knight-errant; his sole purpose for being in
politics at all--something he always detested--was to do what he could
for the betterment of his people.
He had his reward, for when Election Day came, and the returns were in,
the Fusion ticket had triumphed and Tammany had fallen. Clemens received
his share of the credit. One paper celebrated him in verse:
Who killed Croker?
I, said Mark Twain,
I killed Croker,
I, the jolly joker!
Among Samuel Clemens's literary remains there is an outline plan for a
"Casting-Vote party," whose main object was "to compel the two great
parties to nominate their best man always." It was to be an organization
of an infinite number of clubs throughout the nation, no member of which
should seek or accept a nomination for office in any political
appointment, but in each case should cast its vote as a unit for the
candidate of one of the two great political parties, requiring that the
man be of clean record and honest purpose.
From constable up to President [runs his final clause] there is no
office for which the two great parties cannot furnish able, clean,
and acceptable men. Whenever the balance of power shall be lodged
in a permanent third party, with no candidate of its own and no
function but to cast its whole vote for the best man put forward by
the Republicans and Democrats, these two parties will select the
best man they have in their ranks. Good and clean government will
follow, let its party complexion be what it may, and the country
will be quite content.
It was a Utopian idea, very likely, as human nature is made; full of that
native optimism which was always overflowing and drowning his gloomier
logic. Clearly he forgot his despair of humanity when he formulated that
document, and there is a world of unselfish hope in these closing lines:
If in the hands of men who regard their citizenship as a high trust
this scheme shall fail upon trial a better must be sought, a better
must be invented; for it cannot be well or safe to let the present
political conditions continue indefinitely. They can be improved,
and American citizenship should arouse up from its disheartenment
and see that it is done.
Had this document been put into type and circulated it might have founded
a true Mark Twain party.
Clemens made not many more speeches that autumn, closing the year at last
with the "Founder's Night" speech at The Players, the short address
which, ending on the stroke of midnight, dedicates each passing year to
the memory of Edwin Booth, and pledges each new year in a loving-cup
passed in his honor.