Directory of Mark Twain's maxims, quotations, and various opinions:



And at the fag-end of the procession was a long double file of the proudest, happiest scoundrels I saw yesterday--niggers. Or perhaps I should say "them damned niggers," which is the other name they go by now. They did all it was in their power to do, poor devils, to modify the prominence of the contrast between black and white faces which seems so hateful to their white fellow-creatures, by putting their lightest colored darkies in the front rank, then glooming down by some unaggravating and nicely graduated shades of darkness to the fell and dismal blackness of undefiled and unalloyed niggerdom in the remote extremity of the procession. It was a fine stroke of strategy--the day was dusty and no man could tell where the white folks left off and the niggers began. The "damned naygurs"--this is another descriptive title which has been conferred upon them by a class of our fellow-citizens who persist, in the most short-sighted manner, in being on bad terms with them in the face of the fact that they have got to sing with them in heaven or scorch with them in hell some day in the most familiar and sociable way, and on a footing of most perfect equality.
- "Mark Twain on the Colored Man," Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, July 1865

The idea of making negroes citizens of the United States was startling and disagreeable to me, but I have become reconciled to it; and being reconciled to it, and the ice being broken and the principle established, I am ready now for all comers. The idea of seeing a Chinaman a citizen of the United States would have been almost appalling to me a few years ago, but I suppose I can live through it now.
- "The Treaty with China," New York Tribune, August 4, 1868, p. 1-2.

...on every sin which a colored man commits, the just white man must make a considerable discount, because of the colored man's antecedents. The heirs of slavery cannot with any sort of justice, be required to be as clear and straight and upright as the heirs of ancient freedom. And besides, whenever a colored man commits an unright action, upon his head is the guilt of only about one tenth of it, and upon your heads and mine and the rest of the white race lies fairly and justly the other nine tenths of the guilt.
- Letter to Karl Gerhardt, May 1, 1883 reprinted in Selected Writings of an American Skeptic, Victor Doyno

The people that's always the most anxious for to hang a nigger that hain't done just right, is always the very ones that ain't the most anxious to pay for him when they've got their satisfaction out of him.
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Clemens and John T. Lewis

Sam Clemens and John T. Lewis

Mrs. Clemens has said a bright thing. A drop letter came to me asking me to lecture here for a Baptist church debt. I began to rage as usual over the exceedingly cool wording of the request, when Mrs. Clemens said "I think I know that church; & if so, this preacher is a colored man--he doesn't know how to write a polished letter--how should he?"
My manner changed so suddenly & so radically that Mrs. C. said: "I will give you a motto, & it will be useful to you if you will adopt it: "Consider every man colored till he is proved white."
It is dern good I think.
- Letter to William Dean Howells, September 17, 1884

I was a playmate to all the niggers, preferring their society to that of the elect, I being a person of low-down tastes from the start, notwithstanding my high birth, and ever ready to forsake the communion of high souls if I could strike anything nearer my grade.
- "Jane Lampton Clemens"

I do not believe I would very cheerfully help a white student who would ask a benevolence of a stranger, but I do not feel so about the other color. We have ground the manhood out of them, & the shame is ours, not theirs, & we should pay for it.
- Letter to Francis Wayland, December 24, 1885

Even if the Jews have not all been geniuses, their general average of intelligence and intellectuality is far above our general average--and that is one of our reasons for wishing to drive them out of the higher forms of business and the professions. It is the swollen envy of pigmy minds--meanness, injustice. In the case of the Negro it is of course very different. The majority of us do not like his features, or his color, and we forget to notice that his heart is often a damned sight better than ours.
- quoted by Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch in My Husband Gabrilowitsch

Our Civil War was a blot on our history, but not as great a blot as the buying and selling of Negro souls.
- quoted by Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch in letter to New York Herald Tribune, November 19, 1941

banner logo

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search