Inside the Museum Monday, February 20, 2023

William Howard Taft by Mark Twain

27th President of the United States

You can't help but like Mr. Taft. The country likes him and respects him; and I want him to make the best people in the country continue to respect him and every now and then dislike him--sure proof, in a public servant, that he is doing his whole duty, as he sees it, regardless of personal consequences. He has the natural gifts, the culture, the experience, the training, the sanity, the right-mindedness, the honesty, the truthfulness, the modesty, and the dignity properly requisite in a President of the United States, the most responsible post on the planet. In a word, he possesses every qualification the other one [Theodore Roosevelt] was destitute of.

- letter dated March 2, 1909; published in The New York Times, June 5, 1912, p. 10.

Mark Twain for President

In the year 1900 Mark Twain returned from five years abroad, and he was unsure of his eligibility to vote in the upcoming presidential election. He told a New York Herald reporter that if it turned out he couldn’t vote, “I shall run for President. A patriotic American must do something around election time, and that’s about the only thing political that is left for me.”

It’s not the first time Twain (jokingly) hinted at a presidential run. In 1879, in a widely syndicated piece, he “announced” his candidacy and simultaneously preempted opposition by confessing to various past misdeeds.

“Mark Twain as a Presidential Candidate” appeared in 1879, the year before the race between James A. Garfield, the Republican candidate, and Winfield Scott Hancock, the Democrat. Although Twain found much to ridicule in politics and politicians, he was hardly reluctant to get involved or curry favor. A jubilant supporter of Garfield’s bid for the presidency, he delivered a mocking “funeral oration” for the Democratic Party at an election night victory celebration in Hartford. (His somber tone initially fooled many in the audience.) In Boston for another celebration four days later, he recounted the excitement of the campaign:

. . . everybody thought a thunderbolt would be launched out of the political sky. I judged it would hit somebody, and believed that somebody would be the Democratic party, and that it would hit them faithfully. I did not believe we had much to fear on the Republican side, because I believed we had a good and trustworthy lightning rod in James A. Garfield.

In January 1881 Twain wrote “as a simple citizen” to President-elect Garfield and urged him to retain Frederick Douglass “in his present office as the Marshall [sic] of the District of Columbia.” As U.S. Marshal, Douglass presided over the inauguration of President Garfield, leading him into the Capitol for the ceremony on March 4. Before his first year as President was cut short by assassination, Garfield appointed Douglass as the District of Columbia’s first African American Recorder of Deeds.

Coincidentally, on the day Garfield was shot (July 2, 1881), Mrs. Clemens received a disturbing letter from a friend in London, consoling her for Mark Twain’s death in Australia. (As it happens, the man Down Under was an impostor.) Twain immediately sent a response, “Being dead I might be excused from writing letters, but I am not that kind of a corpse. May I never be so dead as to neglect the hail of a friend from a far land.”

Toward the end of his life, Twain summed up his views on politics: “The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet”—and over the course of his career he gladly filled the role of maître d’.

* We refer to ourselves as we with hesitation, knowing that the following quote is often attributed to Twain: “Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial we.” But, with some relief, we have confirmed that there’s no evidence Twain ever said it.

* * *

A Presidential Candidate

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 if any Congressional committee is disposed to prowl around my biography in the hope of discovering any dark and deadly deed that I have secreted, why—let it prowl.

In the first place, I admit that I treed a rheumatic grandfather of mine in the winter of 1850. He was old and inexpert in climbing trees, but with the heartless brutality that is characteristic of me I ran him out of the front door in his nightshirt at the point of a shotgun, and caused him to bowl up a maple tree, where he remained all night, while I emptied shot into his legs. I did this because he snored. I will do it again if I ever have another grandfather. I am as inhuman now as I was in 1850. I candidly acknowledge that I ran away at the battle of Gettysburg. My friends have tried to smooth over this fact by asserting that I did so for the purpose of imitating Washington, who went into the woods at Valley Forge for the purpose of saying his prayers. It was a miserable subterfuge. I struck out in a straight line for the Tropic of Cancer because I was scared. I wanted my country saved, but I preferred to have somebody else save it. I entertain that preference yet. If the bubble reputation can be obtained only at the cannon’s mouth, I am willing to go there for it, provided the cannon is empty. If it is loaded my immortal and inflexible purpose

is to get over the fence and go home. 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. My financial views are of the most decided character, but they are not likely, perhaps, to increase my popularity with the advocates of inflation. I do not insist upon the special supremacy of rag money or hard money. The great fundamental principle of my life is to take any kind I can get.

The rumor that I buried a dead aunt under my grapevine was correct. The vine needed fertilizing, my aunt had to be buried, and I dedicated her to this high purpose. Does that unfit me for the Presidency? The Constitution of our country does not say so. No other citizen was ever considered unworthy of this office because he enriched his grapevines with his dead relatives. Why should I be selected as the first victim of an absurd prejudice? I admit also that I am not a friend of the poor man. I regard the poor man, in his present condition, as so much wasted raw material. Cut up and properly canned, he might be made useful to fatten the natives of the cannibal islands and to improve our export trade with that region. I shall recom-

mend legislation upon the subject in my first message. My campaign cry will be: “Desiccate the poor workingman; stuff him into sausages.”

These are about the worst parts of my record. On them I come before the country. If my country don’t want me, I will go back again. But I recommend myself as a safe man—a man who starts from the basis of total depravity and proposes to be fiendish to the last.




James - Working MG Gift Shop on Wednesday and Ignite 5:30 - 7, Transportation Mtg on Thursday 3:30 - 4:30

Henry - Out of office Monday and Tuesday

Brent - Out Monday, Friday out 8 - 9

Melissa - Working at the IC on Wednesday, Thursday admission clerk training with. Becky at 1, off on Friday

Meagan - Working at Old Museum on Tuesday, Out Wednesday 11 - 12


Tuesday - HHMC from 4 - 6:30 in auditorium

Thursday - Quilt Group in boardroom 1 - 4


Dave Thomson Exhibit Continues

The Dave Thomson exhibit continues this week. Stop by the Museum Gallery Auditorium to see a sampling of Mark Twain items.

The Museum was bequeathed a large collection of Mark Twain memorabilia from Mr. Thomson who passed away July 3, 2021.

The Museum received over 3,000 items from the Thomson Collection including more than 1,100 books, magazines and first editions of Twain's works.


YEE HAW! We're rounding up volunteers for our annual Volunteer Brunch to be held on March 16th in the museum auditorium. Invitations will be arriving soon!

Volunteer opportunities abound at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum with flexible hours. Gardening |Baking |Gift Shop Clerk |Admissions Clerk | Assisting with Mailers | Docents | Event Planning | Fundraising | Programs & Events | Artists | Educators and so much more. Whatever the passion, skills or talents, there's a place for everyone with the Friends of the Museum.

If you know someone who might enjoy being a part of Friends of the Museum, let Melissa know and she'll invite them to a brunch to hear more about the many volunteer opportunities at the Museum.


The selection process for the 2023-2024 Tom and Becky ambassadors begin this week. Invitations were mailed to all 7th grade students in the schools in early February. Additional invitation mailers are available for homeschooled children in the museum offices. Sign-ups will take place in all schools and in the museum offices Monday, February 20th through Friday, February 24th.

An informational meeting for all interested youth and their guardians will be held on the evening of February 28th at 5:30 in the Page Dining Hall on the campus of HLGU.


Mark Twain Museum website

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Tom and Becky Ambassador Alumni Page | Hannibal MO | Facebook

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The mission of the Mark Twain Home Foundation is to promote awareness and appreciation of the life and works of Mark Twain and to demonstrate the relevance of his stories and ideas to citizens of the world.

Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum |

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