Mark Twain, A presidential candidate (Review)

Mark Twain, by Matthew Brady, 1871 (Public Domain in the US, via Wikipedia)

Mark Twain, by Matthew Brady, 1871 (Public Domain in the US, via Wikipedia)

Towards the end of his life, Mark Twain wrote, the Library of America (LOA) says,

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.

I’m not sure the US had/has a monopoly on this. However, let me get to the point. LOA published Twain’s column, “A presidential candidate”, back in 2012 but, given the current political shenanigans in the USA (no offence to my American readers intended), I couldn’t resist sharing it with you today. It’s very, very brief, so my post will be too. In fact, I suggest you ignore my post, and just click on the link below to read it yourself.

Sometimes, I think, we forget – at least I do – how little things have changed really. Just read Twain’s opening:

I have pretty much made up my mind to run for President. What the country wants is a candidate who cannot be injured by investigation of his past history, so that the enemies of the party will be unable to rake up anything against him that nobody ever heard of before. If you know the worst about a candidate, to begin with, every attempt to spring things on him will be checkmated. Now I am going to enter the field with an open record. I am going to own up in advance to all the wickedness I have done …

And he then proceeds to own up to a wide range of rather bizarre “wickedness” as you would expect from Twain, wickedness like running “a rheumatic grandfather” up a tree in the middle of a night because he snored, and burying a dead aunt under a tree to fertilise his vine. He also ran away, he says, at the battle of Gettysburg. His friends try to excuse him, he writes, on the basis that he was trying to emulate George Washington at Valley Forge, but no, he says, the reason is that he was scared. He’d like his country to be saved but would prefer someone else to save it. Indeed, he writes,

My invariable practice in war has been to bring out of every fight two­-thirds more men than when I went in. This seems to me to be Napoleonic in its grandeur.

I like his style! He also discusses his financial views and what he would do with poor people, but you can read those for yourself.

LOA tells us that the piece was written the year before the presidential race between Republican James A. Garfield and Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock. Twain supported Garfield. As American readers would know, Garfield won, but was assassinated before he finished his first year.

But that’s another story. Twain’s “A presidential candidate” is an entertaining piece of political satire in which Twain suggests that all he need do to be a valid candidate is to make known upfront his “wrongdoings”. What sort of man he is, he implies, is far less relevant. Indeed, Twain once wrote that “an honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere”. If Twain is at all representative of his times, it makes me think that not as much has changed in the last hundred or so years regarding our attitudes to politics and politicians as current commentators think.

Mark Twain
“A presidential candidate”
The Library of America
Originally published as Mark Twain as a presidential candidate, 1879
Available: Online

11 thoughts on “Mark Twain, A presidential candidate (Review)

  1. A lovely little piece and its rather good advice for any presidential candidate. I don’t know if it can apply to the current candidates for the us presidency: we’ve had a pretty good idea of Mr Trump for 20 or so years!

  2. Trump might have run on the basis that we already know the worst about him, but then he confounds us with some new idiocy. I hope the US survives the 2016 presidential elections, all idea of restraint appears to have been abandoned. And of course, where they go we follow.

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