Mark Twain on the American Flag


Speech on Municipal Corruption

Excerpt from New York Times (Jan. 5, 1901)

Not long ago we had two men running for the President. There was Mr. McKinley on one hand and Mr. Bryan on the other. If we'd have had an "Anti-Doughnut Party" neither would have been elected. I didn't know much about finance, but some friend told me that Bryan was all wrong on the money question, so I didn't vote for him. I knew enough about the Philippines to have a strong aversion to sending our bright boys out there to fight with a disgraced musket under a polluted flag, so I didn't vote for the other fellow. I've got that vote, and it's clean yet, ready to be used when you form your "Anti-Doughnut Party" that will want only the best men for the offices, no matter what party they belong to and which will solve all your political problems.


Human Nature Is Selfish

Excerpt from New York Herald (January 20, 1901), reporting an interview made on January 5.

"Now, I said a thing last night in a speech that I didn't mean to say. It just slipped out because I had been writing an article on the subject. I didn't intend to say it there."

It was in reference to the Presidential policy in the Philippines. I showed him the paragraph as reported in the daily papers.

"There it is, sure enough. Now, I don't believe in saying a thing that is an opinion but once, in one way, at one time and in one place, and I did not intend to say it last night, though I have substantially written about it, fully."

"You do not approve of the policy of the administration in the Philippines?" I asked indifferently.

"If we desire to become members of the international family let us enter it respectably, and not on the basis at present proposed in Manila. We find a whole heap of fault with the war in South Africa, and feel moved to hysterics for the sufferings of the Boers, yet we don't seem to feel so very sorry for the natives in the Philippines."

"Another phase of depravity," I suggested.

"That's it. Human nature is selfish, and it's only real noble for profit."


The Flag Is Not Polluted

From Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain: A Biography (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1912).

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 had 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 Philippines 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 concede 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.