Running for Governor

Mark Twain

A few months ago I was nom­i­nat­ed for Gov­er­nor of the great state of New York, to run against Mr. John T. Smith and Mr. Blank J. Blank on an inde­pen­dent tick­et. I some­how felt that I had one promi­nent advan­tage over these gen­tle­men, and that was — good char­ac­ter. It was easy to see by the news­pa­pers that if ever they had known what it was to bear a good name, that time had gone by. It was plain that in these lat­ter years they had become famil­iar with all man­ner of shame­ful crimes. But at the very moment that I was exalt­ing my advan­tage and joy­ing in it in secret, there was a mud­dy under­cur­rent of dis­com­fort ril­ing” the deeps of my hap­pi­ness, and that was — the hav­ing to hear my name bandied about in famil­iar con­nec­tion with those of such peo­ple. I grew more and more dis­turbed. Final­ly I wrote my grand­moth­er about it. Her answer came quick and sharp. She said:

You have nev­er done one sin­gle thing in all your life to be ashamed of — not one. Look at the news­pa­pers — look at them and com­pre­hend what sort of char­ac­ters Messrs. Smith and Blank are, and then see if you are will­ing to low­er your­self to their lev­el and enter a pub­lic can­vass with them.

It was my very thought! I did not sleep a sin­gle moment that night. But, after all, I could not retreat.

I was ful­ly com­mit­ted, and must go on with the fight. As I was look­ing list­less­ly over the papers at break­fast I came across this para­graph, and I may tru­ly say I nev­er was so con­found­ed before.

PER­JURY. – Per­haps, now that Mr. Mark Twain is before the peo­ple as a can­di­date for Gov­er­nor, he will con­de­scend to explain how he came to be con­vict­ed of per­jury by thir­ty-four wit­ness­es in Wakawak, Cochin Chi­na, in 1863, the intent of which per­jury being to rob a poor native wid­ow and her help­less fam­i­ly of a mea­ger plan­tain-patch, their only stay and sup­port in their bereave­ment and des­o­la­tion. Mr. Twain owes it to him­self, as well as to the great peo­ple whose suf­frages he asks, to clear this mat­ter up. Will he do it?

I thought I should burst with amaze­ment! Such a cru­el, heart­less charge! I nev­er had seen Cochin Chi­na! I nev­er had heard of Wakawak! I did­n’t know a plan­tain-patch from a kan­ga­roo! I did not know what to do. I was crazed and help­less. I let the day slip away with­out doing any­thing at all. The next morn­ing the same paper had this — noth­ing more:

SIG­NIF­I­CANT. – Mr. Twain, it will be observed, is sug­ges­tive­ly silent about the Cochin Chi­na perjury.

[Mem. — Dur­ing the rest of the cam­paign this paper nev­er referred to me in any oth­er way than as the infa­mous per­jur­er Twain.”]

Next came the Gazette, with this:

WANT­ED TO KNOW. – Will the new can­di­date for Gov­er­nor deign to explain to cer­tain of his fel­low-cit­i­zens (who are suf­fer­ing to vote for him!) the lit­tle cir­cum­stance of his cab­in-mates in Mon­tana los­ing small valu­ables from time to time, until at last, these things hav­ing been invari­ably found on Mr. Twain’s per­son or in his trunk” (news­pa­per he rolled his traps in), they felt com­pelled to give him a friend­ly admo­ni­tion for his own good, and so tarred and feath­ered him, and rode him on a rail; and then advised him to leave a per­ma­nent vac­u­um in the place he usu­al­ly occu­pied in the camp. Will he do this?

Could any­thing be more delib­er­ate­ly mali­cious than that? For I nev­er was in Mon­tana in my life.

[After this, this jour­nal cus­tom­ar­i­ly spoke of me as, Twain, the Mon­tana Thief.”]

I got to pick­ing up papers appre­hen­sive­ly — much as one would lift a desired blan­ket which he had some idea there might have a rat­tlesnake under it. One day this met my eye:

THE LIE NAILED. – By the sworn affi­davits of Michael O’Flana­gan, Esq., of the Five Points, and Mr. Snub Raf­fer­ty and Mr. Cat­ty Mul­li­gan, of Water Street, it is estab­lished that Mr. Mark Twain’s vile state­ment that the lament­ed grand­fa­ther of our noble stan­dard-bear­er, Blank J. Blank, was hanged for high­way rob­bery, is a bru­tal and gra­tu­itous LIE, with­out a shad­ow of foun­da­tion in fact. It is dis­heart­en­ing to vir­tu­ous men to see such shame­ful means resort­ed to to achieve polit­i­cal suc­cess as the attack­ing of the dead in their graves, and defil­ing their hon­ored names with slan­der. When we think of the anguish this mis­er­able false­hood must cause the inno­cent rel­a­tives and friends of the deceased, we are almost dri­ven to incite an out­raged and insult­ed pub­lic to sum­ma­ry and unlaw­ful vengeance upon the tra­duc­er. But no! let us leave him to the agony of a lac­er­at­ed con­science (though if pas­sion should get the bet­ter of the pub­lic, and in its blind fury they should do the tra­duc­er bod­i­ly injury, it is but too obvi­ous that no jury could con­vict and no court pun­ish the per­pe­tra­tors of the deed).

The inge­nious clos­ing sen­tence had the effect of mov­ing me out of bed quick­ly that night, and out the back door also, while the out­raged and insult­ed pub­lic” surged in the front way, break­ing fur­ni­ture and win­dows in their right­eous indig­na­tion as they came, and tak­ing off such prop­er­ty as they could car­ry when they went. And yet I can lay my hand upon the Book and say that I nev­er slan­dered Mr. Blank’s grand­fa­ther. More: I had nev­er even heard of him or men­tioned him up to that day and date.

[I will state, in pass­ing, that the jour­nal above quot­ed from always referred to me after­ward as Twain, the Body-Snatcher.”]

The next news­pa­per arti­cle that attract­ed my atten­tion was the following:

A SWEET CAN­DI­DATE. – Mr. Mark Twain, who was to make such a blight­ing speech at the mass-meet­ing of the Inde­pen­dents last night, did­n’t come on time! A telegram from his physi­cian stat­ed that he had been knocked down by a run­away team, and his leg bro­ken in two places — suf­fer­er lying in great agony, and so forth, and so forth, and a lot more bosh of the same sort. And the Inde­pen­dents tried hard to swal­low the wretched sub­terfuge, and pre­tend that they did not know what was the real rea­son of the absence of the aban­doned crea­ture whom they describe as their stan­dard-bear­er. A cer­tain man was seen to reel into Mr. Twain’s hotel last night in a state of beast­ly intox­i­ca­tion. It is the imper­a­tive duty of the Inde­pen­dents to prove that this besot­ted brute was not Mark Twain him­self. We have them at last! This is a case that admits of no shirk­ing. The voice of the peo­ple demands in thun­der tones, WHO WAS THAT MAN?”

It was incred­i­ble, absolute­ly incred­i­ble, for a moment, that it was real­ly my name that was cou­pled with this dis­grace­ful sus­pi­cion. Three long years had passed over my head since I had tast­ed ale, beer, wine or liquor or any kind.

[It shows what effect the times were hav­ing on me when I say that I saw myself, con­fi­dent­ly dubbed Mr. Delir­i­um Tremens Twain” in the next issue of that jour­nal with­out a pang — notwith­stand­ing I knew that with monot­o­nous fideli­ty the paper would go on call­ing me so to the very end.]

By this time anony­mous let­ters were get­ting to be an impor­tant part of my mail mat­ter. This form was common

How about that old woman you kiked of your premis­es which was beg­ing. POL. PRY.

And this:

There is things which you Have done which is unbe­knowens to any­body but me. You bet­ter trot out a few dots, to yours tru­ly, or you’ll hear through the papers from — HANDY ANDY.

This is about the idea. I could con­tin­ue them till the read­er was sur­feit­ed, (over­ly sat­is­fied) if desirable.

Short­ly the prin­ci­pal Repub­li­can jour­nal con­vict­ed” me of whole­sale bribery, and the lead­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic paper nailed” an aggra­vat­ed case of black­mail­ing to me.

[In this way I acquired two addi­tion­al names: Twain the Filthy Cor­rup­tion­ist” and Twain the Loath­some Embracer.”]

By this time there had grown to be such a clam­or for an answer” to all the dread­ful charges that were laid to me that the edi­tors and lead­ers of my par­ty said it would be polit­i­cal ruin for me to remain silent any longer. As if to make their appeal the more imper­a­tive, the fol­low­ing appeared in one of the papers the very next day:

BEHOLD THE MAN! – The inde­pen­dent can­di­date still main­tains silence. Because he dare not speak. Every accu­sa­tion against him has been amply proved, and they have been indorsed and rein­dorsed by his own elo­quent silence, till at this day he stands for­ev­er con­vict­ed. Look upon your can­di­date, Inde­pen­dents! Look upon the Infa­mous Per­jur­er! The Mon­tana Thief! The Body-Snatch­er! Con­tem­plate your incar­nate Delir­i­um Tremens! Your Filthy Cor­rup­tion­ist! Your Loath­some Embrac­er! Gaze upon him – pon­der him well – and then say if you can give your hon­est votes to a crea­ture who has earned this dis­mal array of titles by his hideous crimes, and dares not open his mouth in denial of any one of them!

There was no pos­si­ble way of get­ting out of it, and so, in deep humil­i­a­tion, I set about prepar­ing to answer” a mass of base­less charges and mean and wicked false­hoods. But I nev­er fin­ished the task, for the very next morn­ing a paper came out with a new hor­ror, a fresh malig­ni­ty, and seri­ous­ly charged me with burn­ing a lunatic asy­lum with all its inmates, because it obstruct­ed the view from my house. This threw me into a sort of pan­ic. Then came the charge of poi­son­ing my uncle to get his prop­er­ty, with an imper­a­tive demand that the grave should be opened. This drove me to the verge of dis­trac­tion. On top of this I was accused of employ­ing tooth­less and incom­pe­tent old rel­a­tives to pre­pare the food for the foundling’ hos­pi­tal when I was war­den. I was waver­ing — waver­ing. And at last, as a due and fit­ting cli­max to the shame­less per­se­cu­tion that par­ty ran­cor (ill feel­ing) had inflict­ed upon me, nine lit­tle tod­dling chil­dren, of all shades of col­or and degrees of ragged­ness, were taught to rush onto the plat­form at a pub­lic meet­ing, and clasp me around the legs and call me PA!

I gave it up. I hauled down my col­ors and sur­ren­dered. I was not equal to the require­ments of a guber­na­to­r­i­al cam­paign in the state of New York, and so I sent in my with­draw­al from the can­di­da­cy, and in bit­ter­ness of spir­it signed it, Tru­ly yours, once a decent man, but now

MARK TWAIN, L.P., M.T., B.S., D.T., F.C., and L.E.”

(This sto­ry was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Galaxy Mag­a­zine in Decem­ber, 1870, short­ly after the New York guber­na­to­r­i­al race between John T. Hoff­man, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic incum­bent, and Stew­art Lyn­don, a Repub­li­can. Accord­ing to Library of Amer­i­ca, the sto­ry was wide­ly reprint­ed there­after often with the can­di­dates names changed to John T. Smith and Blank J. Blank (as they are here). Inter­est­ing­ly, the sto­ry was also taught exten­sive­ly to Chi­nese school chil­dren (for decades) fol­low­ing the estab­lish­ment of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic in 1949. Accord­ing to this arti­cle from the New York Times, its depic­tion of democ­ra­cy as a decep­tion made it pop­u­lar and Teach­ers were instruct­ed to empha­size the anti-cap­i­tal­ist mes­sage of the sto­ry pri­or to any con­sid­er­a­tions of the story’s style or form.”)

Mark Twain (18351910) was an Amer­i­can humorist, satirist, social crit­ic, lec­tur­er and nov­el­ist. He is most remem­bered for The Adven­tures of Huck­le­ber­ry Finn and The Adven­tures of Tom Sawyer. He wrote this sto­ry in 1870.
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