Mark Twain And The American Presidents

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The Mark Twain House and Museum presented 'Mark Twain and the American Presidents,' a discussion on the nation's foremost observer of politics.

The talk was held Aug. 14 at the Whiton Auditorium.

Twain's razor wit eviscerated the culture and the political forces of the Gilded age. Mallory Howard, the museum's assistant curator, and Jason Scappaticci led the talk.

Much like in Twain's time, the current political establishment is held in slight regard, now the target of social media, where armies of armchair pundits post or tweet keen or sharp as marble comments about the nation's political class.

Scappaticci referred to Twain by his real name, Samuel Clemens, who claimed Hartford as his home and where the museum resides. He said while Clemens sided with the Republicans often, he "did not hesitate to vote Democratic."

Scappaticci said Clemens likely would be an independent voter today, repelled by both parties.

"Today's Republican Party would largely be unrecognizable to Sam (Clemens)," he said. "He would have voted for who he thought was a better man or woman, as the case may be."

Howard spoke about Clemens' unabashed fear of war, determined not to face loaded canons. His treatise on being a candidate harped on being honest with the electorate, flaws and all.

"I wanted my country saved, but I wanted somebody else to save it," wrote Clemens about his brief and unheroic experiences in the Civil War.

Scappaticci began with the country's first president, George Washington, who claimed he could not tell a lie.

Clemens said, "I am different from Washington, I have a higher, grander standard of principle. While Washington could not lie, I could lie but I won't."

He wrote often about Washington, a string of parodies.

Andrew Jackson was president when Clemens was born in 1835. Jackson rose to prominence after defeating the British during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. The battle was fought weeks after a peace treaty was signed between the American and British forces.

Snail paced communications delayed news of the treaty to Jackson and his army.

"If we had the cable telegraph in those days, this blood would not have been spilled, those lives would not have been wasted and, better still, Jackson would probably never have become president," wrote Clemens.

Scappaticci speculated Clemens disapproved of Jackson's fiscal policies, especially when it came to the Bank of the United States. Jackson opposed signing a new charter for the congressionally chartered bank.

The Clemens family was affected greatly by the unstable banking environment caused by Jackson's decision. Clemens also despised Jackson's spoil system, whereby the president appointed an army of loyalist and "party hacks" into government jobs.

Howard spoke of a young Clemens, who navigated the Mississippi in 1860. Eventually, Clemens would head west, exploring Nevada and California. An admirer of President Abraham Lincoln, Clemens openly supported a second term for the president.

However, Clemens remained silent about Lincoln's assassination.

He struck up a friendship with actor Edwin Booth in 1873, the brother of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. The Booth family was well-known in the theater world. Clemens eventually joined a committee that sought to honor Lincoln's legacy.

Howard and Scappaticci also examined Clemens' relationships and feelings about presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt, who the satirist found boorish and bullying.

Clemens held Cleveland in high regard.

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