Liberals love to use the above quote by Mark Twain as singular proof that Mr. Twain was more than a little sympathetic to the liberal cause, and that were he alive today, he would not approve of the Tea Party and the current grassroots patriotic parties that have sprouted up to combat the current administrations neo-fascist agenda. They couldn’t be more wrong in the use of this quote by America’s most famous writer and social commentator.
“‘Liberals’ of Twain’s day were ‘European liberals’ — free market capitalists who believed in the natural rights of man, as John Locke, Edmund Burke, and Adam Smith did. It was only later (in the late 19th century) that socialists usurped the term ‘liberal’ for themselves, for use as a smokescreen of confusion to mask their activities.” – Bruce Tanis
To answer the question of what Mark Twain meant when he said what is quoted here, you have to remember what was going on in our country at the time he made this statement. The Civil War was raging, and as we all know from our high school US History classes, the root cause of the American Civil War was the issue of slavery, and the question of whether new states admitted to the union would be slave or free.
The Missouri Compromise passed in 1820 made a rule that prohibited slavery in states from the former Louisiana Purchase — latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes north, except in the Missouri territory. Missouri became a state a year after the Missouri Compromise was enacted. During the Mexican War (1846-48), conflict arose over what would happen with the new territories that the US expected to gain upon victory.
David Wilmot proposed the Wilmot Proviso in 1846, which would ban slavery in the new lands. However, this was shot down after much debate. The Compromise of 1850 was created by Henry Clay and others to deal with the balance between slave and Free states, northern and southern interests. One of the provisions was the Fugitive Slave Act. Another issue that further increased tensions was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. It created two new territories that would allow the states to use Popular Sovereignty to determine whether they would be free or slave.
The real problems began to occur in Kansas where pro-slavery Missourians began to pour into the state to help force it to become a pro-slavery state. The Missouri invaders were called “Border Ruffians”. Problems came to a head with civil violence at Lawrence, Kansas. The fighting that occurred coined the phrase, “Bleeding Kansas.“ The fighting even erupted onto the floor of the U.S. Senate when anti-slavery proponent Charles Sumner was beat over the head by South Carolina’s Senator Preston Brooks during heated debate on the Senate floor.
These measures were stopgaps at best, and were destined to bring the Union closer to war with the South, which at the time seemed more and more likely with every passing day.
However, like liberals take great joy in pointing out, those that were considered liberals back then were really the conservatives, and the conservatives were the liberals. The context of the time in which the quote was spoken is of paramount importance to understanding the ‘why’ of it all. Mark Twain was speaking out against slavery, and those conservative democrats who were, at the time, driving the country headlong into civil war with their refusal to allow the abolishment of slavery.
Think about this. At the time, Democrats were the ‘conservatives.’
The Southern Democrats were trying to conserve their ownership of slaves, which is what in that instance made them conservatives, but it ran contrary to the natural rights recognized by the Constitution. Conservatives always try to conserve something that is theirs to conserve. Royalists are also conservatives, in that they try to conserve the rule of monarchs. Today’s American conservatives are trying to conserve traditional European liberalism, the Constitution and the liberties and freedoms recognized as unalienable by it, along with the American way of life. Why? Because only the Constitution limits government power and only the Constitution stands between us and all forms of tyranny that results from unbridled power.
Republicans, who were considered the liberals (radicals) of the day — who wanted to ensure that all men are equal and free — were the real freethinkers of the time. Mark Twain would have never supported the agenda President Obama is currently forcing upon the American people, and to say or insinuate as much is purely leftist, revisionist history.
Mark Twain was a staunch believer in the God-given rights of the rugged individual, and the rights of the individual states over the federal government. The original quote by Mark Twain is clearly being taken out of context, making the liberal perspective on this question moot. It is safe to say that Mark Twain would have abhorred, and would have naturally railed against the current Democrat Party’s incremental destruction of our constitutional rights and freedoms under this tyrannical presidency of Barack Obama, just as Twain vigorously argued against the southern Democrats before, during, and after the American Civil War.
It was in Twain’s nature to ferret out deceit and untrustworthiness in government enthusiastically, as evidenced by his numerous writings on the subject of political and social corruption throughout his long, distinguished career. Along with Will Rogers, Mark Twain is our most beloved social and political commentator, and their collective muses help guide our principles on social and political moral character, even today.