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



The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
- Autobiographical dictation, 30 June 1907. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2 (University of California Press, 2013)

political cartoon
From MINNEAPOLIS TRIBUNE, 14 February 1901.
Bottom caption: "Better quit your foolin', Mark, and go back and work at your trade."

An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.
- A Tramp Abroad

The new political gospel: public office is private graft.
- More Maxims of Mark, Johnson, 1927

Moralist in disguise

"Moralist in disguise"
Illustration from AMERICAN EXAMINER
magazine published shortly after
Clemens' death in 1910.
From the Dave Thomson collection.

Yes, you are right -- I am a moralist in disguise; it gets me into heaps of trouble when I go thrashing around in political questions.
- Letter to Helene Picard,
22 Feb 1902

When politics enter into municipal government, nothing resulting therefrom in the way of crimes and infamies is then incredible. It actually enables one to accept and believe the impossible...
- Letter to Jules Hart, 17 December 1901

Look at the tyranny of party -- at what is called party allegiance, party loyalty -- a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes -- and which turns voters into chattles, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their masters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible texts and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master.
- "The Character of Man," inserted in autobiographical dictation 23 January 1906. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 (University of California Press, 2010)

To lodge all power in one party and keep it there is to insure bad government and the sure and gradual deterioration of the public morals.
- Autobiographical dictation, 24 January 1906. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1 (University of California Press, 2010)

I was an ardent Hayes man, but that was natural, for I was pretty young at the time, I have since convinced myself that the political opinions of a nation are of next to no value, in any case, but that what little rag of value they posess is to be found among the old, rather than among the young.
- Autobiographical dictation, 4 February 1907. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2 (University of California Press 2013)

I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.
- Autobiographical dictation, 12 September 1907. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3 (University of California Press, 2015)

In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.
- Autobiographical dictation, 10 July 1908. Published in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3 (University of California Press, 2015) of the first achievements of the legislature was to institute a ten-thousand-dollar agricultural fair to show off forty dollars' worth of pumpkins in -- however, the Territorial legislature was usually spoken of as the "asylum".
- Roughing It

...when you are in politics you are in a wasp's nest with a short shirt-tail, as the saying is.
- "The Chronicle of Young Satan"

1980 Presidential campaign button

[In the Galaxy Magazine]: I shall not often meddle with politics, because we have a political Editor who is already excellent and only needs to serve a term or two in the penitentiary to be perfect.
- Mark Twain, a Biography

political cartoon

All large political doctrines are rich in difficult problems -- problems that are quite above the average citizen's reach. And that is not strange, since they are also above the reach of the ablest minds in the country; after all the fuss and all the talk, not one of those doctrines has been conclusively proven to be the right one and the best.
- "The Privilege of the Grave," Who Is Mark Twain?


WHO IS MARK TWAIN? available from
contains the full text of "The Privilege of the Grave"

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