mark twain on the united states as a Christian country


Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

MARK TWAIN seems to have had some­thing to say about any­thing and every­thing, and ex­cept for his be­lief that Will Shake­speare was not the au­thor of any­thing that bore his name, I tend to agree with the old cur­mud­geon about every­thing and anything—including his take on cer­tain cit­i­zens of these here United States as­suming that we all live in a “Chris­tian country.”

“ ‘In God We Trust.’ Now then, after that legend had re­mained [on our coins for] forty years or so, un­chal­lenged and doing no harm to any­body, the Pres­i­dent sud­denly ‘threw a fit’ the other day—as the pop­ular ex­pres­sion goes—and or­dered that re­mark to be re­moved from our coinage.

Mr. [An­drew] Carnegie granted that the matter was not of con­se­quence, that a coin had just ex­actly the same value without the legend as with it, and he said he had no fault to find with Mr.[Theodore] Roo­sevelt’s ac­tion, but only with his ex­pressed rea­sons for the act.











Car­i­ca­ture of Mr. Twain upon ar­riving in Eng­land to re­ceive an hon­orary schol­ar­ship in 1907. “Al­though I wouldn’t cross an ocean again for the price of the ship that car­ried me, I am glad to do it for an Ox­ford degree.”

The Pres­i­dent had or­dered the sup­pres­sion of that motto be­cause a coin car­ried the name of God into im­proper places, and this was a pro­fa­na­tion of the Holy Name. Carnegie said the name of God is used to being car­ried into im­proper places every­where and all the time, and that he thought the Pres­i­dent’s rea­soning rather weak and poor.

I thought the same, and said, ‘But that is just like the Pres­i­dent. If you will no­tice, he is very much in the habit of fur­nishing a poor reason for his acts while there is an ex­cel­lent reason staring him in the face, which he overlooks.’

There was a good reason for re­moving that motto: there was, in­deed, an unas­sail­ably good reason, in the fact that the motto stated a lie. If this na­tion has ever trusted in God, that time has gone by. For nearly half a cen­tury, al­most its en­tire trust has been in the Re­pub­lican Party and the dollar.

Mainly the dollar.

Hell is the only re­ally promi­nent Chris­tian com­mu­nity in any of the worlds.

I rec­og­nize that I am only making an as­ser­tion and fur­nishing no proof. I am sorry, but this is a habit of mine. Sorry also that I am not alone in it—everybody seems to have this disease.

Take an in­stance: the re­moval of the motto fetched out a clamor from the pulpit. Little groups and small con­ven­tions of cler­gymen gath­ered them­selves to­gether all over the country, and one of these little groups—consisting of twenty-two ministers—put up a prodi­gious as­ser­tion un­backed by any quoted sta­tis­tics and passed it unan­i­mously in the form of a res­o­lu­tion. The as­ser­tion, to wit, that this is a Chris­tian country.

Why, Carnegie, so is Hell. Those cler­gymen know that, inas­much as ‘Strait is the way and narrow is the gate, and few are they that enter in thereat’ [Matthew 7:14] has had the nat­ural ef­fect of making Hell the only re­ally promi­nent Chris­tian com­mu­nity in any of the worlds. But we don’t brag of this, and cer­tainly it is not proper to brag and boast that America is a Chris­tian country when we all know that cer­tainly five-sixths of our pop­u­la­tion could not enter in at the narrow gate.”

And that is the man who may be our greatest writer and wit, Mr. Mark Twain on the United States as a Chris­tian country . . .



The above state­ments were ap­par­ently dic­tated by Mark Twain in De­cember 1907, but went un­pub­lished in his life­time. They were gath­ered into the book Mark Twain In Erup­tion – Hith­erto Un­pub­lished Pages About Men And Events, edited by Bernard Au­gus­tine De Voto (Harper & Brother, 1940).

Mark Twain In Erup­tion is not fic­tion, his­tory, po­etry, or any­thing along that line. In sim­plest terms, it is au­to­bi­og­raphy, more au­to­bi­og­raphy. ‘More’ be­cause it is in fact a se­lec­tion made by Mr. De­Voto from the ma­te­rial Al­bert Bigelow Paine passed by in preparing his two-volume edi­tion of Mark Twain’s Au­to­bi­og­raphy (1924).

When Mark died in 1910, he left be­hind his mem­oirs in type­written form. Paine, as lit­erary ex­ecutor, went through them and picked out the por­tions he liked best or thought most ap­pro­priate for the public to read. He printed less than half of the type­script as Mark left it. Mr. De­Voto has added hun­dreds of inim­itable pages to what scholars would call the canon.

Specif­i­cally, he has added Mark’s sul­phurous com­ments on cer­tain people he knew—Theodore Roo­sevelt, Bret Harte, An­drew Carnegie, John D. Rock­e­feller, Marie Corelli, and a dozen more. He has added cer­tain ob­ser­va­tions on God and the Good Life that ev­i­dently were too strong for Paine’s stomach, and re­marks on pub­lishers and the pub­lishing busi­ness that would doubt­less have sounded scan­dalous once upon a time.

As he dic­tated the chap­ters of his mem­oirs he felt that he was blowing the gaff on half the se­crets of the world. As a matter of fact, what he was doing in­stead was giving out sparks and let­ting off steam.

In one pas­sage [De­Voto] has even ‘worked over the text to re­duce its vin­dic­tive­ness,’ al­though else­where it is stated flatly that ‘what is printed here is printed in Mark Twain’s own words.’

There is no need to be pietistic about Mark’s own words, but un­less they were ob­scene or in­de­cent (which Mr. De­Voto says they were not), or grossly li­belous (which they could scarcely be after an in­terval of thirty or forty years), why shouldn’t they be printed as they were found? What is this? Mark in erup­tion, or Mark Twain erupting by the copy­right owners’ and Mr. De­Vo­to’s leave?”

From a re­view by Ralph Thompson for the ‘Book of the Times’ sec­tion of The New York Times (No­vember 28, 1940).




I took some lib­er­ties with the punc­tu­a­tion given Mr. Twain’s words by his sec­re­tary (al­though no doubt Twain ap­proved them) to transfer the 19th cen­tury style of ex­pres­sion into a more con­tem­po­rary, 21st cen­tury mode.

Also, the few in­stances where I could find this com­plete quote on the In­ternet, the use of com­pleted quo­ta­tion marks seemed un­re­al­ized, so I used my own judg­ment to com­plete a state­ment where I saw fit. I also edited Mr. Thomp­son’s words a wee bit.




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