The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War (Hispanic Division, Library of Congress)

Mark Twain



Although born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the author adopted what is one of the most famous pen names in literature, Mark Twain, from a Mississippi river slang phrase. Twain is famous as an author, satirist, essayist, newspaper contributor, and lecturer. He wrote about a myriad of topics, ranging from life along the Mississippi River, detailed in famous works such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1872) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), to a collection of essays written while abroad, to political essays. Twain was an influential writer of his time and remains so today. During the Spanish-American War, Twain became a fervent anti-imperialist, even joining the Anti-Imperialist League. His sentiments about the war and the war in the Phillippines were published nationwide.

Works of related interest

  • Twain, Mark. Mark Twain's Autobiography.
  • Paine, Albert Bigelow (ed). Mark Twain's Letters. New York: Harper & Bros., 1917. LCCN: 17-30756 r94.
  • Zwick, Jim (ed). Mark Twain's weapons of satire: anti-imperialist writings on the Philippine-American War. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1992.


From the New York Herald, October 15, 1900:

I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with he Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Phillippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do

I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which had addressed ourselves.

But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Phillippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. . .

It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

A Boston Herald transcript of a speech he gave in 1900 began thus:

Oh, you have been doing many things in this time that I have been absent; you have done lots of things, some that are well worth remembering, too. Now, we have fought a righteous war since I have been gone, and that is rare in history--a righteous war is so rare that it is almost unknown in history; but by the grace of that war we set Cuba free, and we joined her to those three or four free nations that exist on this earth; and we started out to set those poor Filipinos free too, and why, why, why that most righteous purpose of ours has apparently miscarried I suppose I never shall know.

In a 1906 essay about the Moro massacre in the Phillippines, which was not published until after his death, Twain criticized the military:

General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been, "Kill or capture those savages." Apparently our little army considered that the "or" left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it had been for eight years in our army out there--the taste of Christian butchers.

In a February 1901 article titled, "To the Person Sitting in Darkness," he continued to criticize the U.S.:

There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . .

True, we have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have bought a Shadow from an enemy that hadn't it to sell; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America's honor and blackened her face before the world. . .

And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one--our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.

And another essay on the American flag, also from 1901:

I am not finding fault with this use of our flag; for in order not to seem eccentric I have swung around, now, and joined the nation in the conviction that nothing can sully a flag. I was not properly reared, and the illusion that a flag was a thing which must be sacredly guarded against shameful uses and unclean contacts, lest it suffer pollution; and so when it was sent out to the Phillippines to float over a wanton war and a robbing expedition I supposed it was polluted, and in an ignorant moment I said so. But I stand corrected. I conceded and acknowledge that it was only the government that sent it on such an errand that was polluted. Let us compromise on that. I am glad to have it that way. For our flag could not well stand pollution, never having been used to it, but it is different with the administration.

Back to top

World of 1898 Home | Introduction | Chronology | Index | Bibliography | Literature | Maps | American Memory

Library of Congress Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian ( June 22, 2011 )
Legal | External Link Disclaimer