Friday, November 2, 2012

Running for Governor

Mark Twain (1835–1910)
Reprinted in Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852–1890

The 1870 New York gubernatorial election pitted the Democratic incumbent, John T. Hoffman, against the Republican, Stewart Lyndon Woodford, a decorated Civil War veteran and former lieutenant governor. Previously the mayor of New York City (the last to become governor of the state), Hoffman was closely connected with Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall political machine and won the election with over 52% of the vote. Two years later, however, Hoffman would be drummed out of office after The New York Times ran a series of exposés on Tweed’s corrupting influence over regional politics and the embezzlement of tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

What’s not as well known about the 1870 election is Mark Twain’s brief entry into the race for governor—at least in an imaginative piece published shortly after the election. “Running for Governor” appeared as his monthly column for
Galaxy magazine and in the local Buffalo Express newspaper, and it was thereafter widely reprinted. (In some versions, the names of the major party candidates were changed to “John T. Smith” and “Blank J. Blank.”) It would not be the only time Twain mocked Governor Hoffman in his writing. The following year he published Mark Twain's (Burlesque) Autobiography and First Romance, which included illustrations that had nothing to do with the text: caricatures of various robber barons and politicians (including Hoffman) captioned with lines from the nursery rhyme “The House that Jack Built.” Two years later Twain had second thoughts about the book as a whole, considering it one of his lesser efforts, and had the plates destroyed.

A surprising consequence of Mark Twain’s column about his fictional candidacy for state governor is how, in recent decades, it perpetuated his fame in mainland China. Literary scholar Guiyou Huang writes: “ ‘Running for Governor’ was translated and filtered down into the high school textbooks throughout the country as a model piece of critical realism that exposes the so-called false democracy in a capitalist country. In other words, all high school graduates [in China] know who Mark Twain is.”


Notes: Page 491 contains several New York City historical references. The Five Points, a Tammany stronghold, was the slum district in the center of the most densely populated part of Manhattan. Kit Burns was the owner of a saloon and boxing ring on Water Street, which occasionally hosted sham “evangelical Christian” meetings run by John Allen, a notorious underworld criminal known as “The Wickedest Man in New York.”

A few months ago I was nominated for Governor of the great State of New York, to run against Stewart L. Woodford and John T. Hoffman, on an independent ticket. I somehow felt that I had one prominent advantage over these gentlemen, and that was, good character. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.

2 comments:

Harold Erasmus Harcourt said...

'Twas ever thus...

Anonymous said...

I wanted to say thanks to LOA for publishing such great stories every week. And of course this offers some comic relief during a very serious time. Balance.