MARK Twain, one of this country's great humorists, also...

Salmagundi

August 19, 1992

MARK Twain, one of this country's great humorists, also held a long-standing interest in politics. In 1879, in a column for the New York Evening Post, Twain touted his own qualifications for the presidency. The column, reprinted here, is included in the forthcoming book, "Mark Twain: Collected Stories, Sketches, Speeches and Essays":

"I have pretty much made up my mind to run for president. What the country needs 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 . . . .

"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 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. . . .

"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 recommend 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."

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