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Was Twain an Abolitionist?

Mark Twain, rascal, abolitionist

Was Twain an abolitionist?

This question–the best one I’ve ever received on the reference desk–referred to Mark Twain. The questioner was a student in High School about to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the first time.

The short answer is yes. Twain was an ardent abolitionist and supporter of emancipation, in addition to being a supporter of women’s rights.

Huckleberry Finn, in my opinion, would be proof enough if there was nothing else available, but the issue of slavery made its way into many of his other works, such as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Consider the following quote:

…the “poor whites” of our South who were always despised, and frequently insulted, by the slave lords around them, and who owed their base condition simply to the presence of slavery in their midst, were yet pusillanimously ready to side with the slave lords in all political moves for the upholding and perpetuating of slavery, and did also finally shoulder their muskets and pour out their lives in an effort to prevent the destruction of that very institution which degraded them. And there was only one redeeming feature connected with that pitiful piece of history; and that was, that secretly the “poor white” did detest the slave lord, and did feel his own shame. That feeling was not brought to the surface, but the fact that it was there and could have been brought out, under favoring circumstances, was something–in fact it was enough; for it showed that a man is at bottom a man, after all, even if it doesn’t show on the outside.

Or this, as quoted in a letter from Clara Gabrilowitsch in a letter to the New York Herald Tribune:

Our Civil War was a blot on our history, but not as great a blot as the buying and selling of Negro souls.

If you’ve had a chance to read Mark Twain’s autobiography–the enormous volume one being all that is currently available–there are many more examples.

As I find more during my readnig I will be returning to this page to add them.

Mark Twain was an abolitionist. I wish I could have met him.

If you’re looking for a good place to start with his non-fiction, I highly recommend The Innocents Abroad.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sfjalar/


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