House Speaker Champ Clark recalls Mark Twain, “prince of lobbyists.”

LOC _ Champ Clark, W.H. Taft, Jos. G. Cannon, Ex. Gov. Samuel W. McCallMark Twain was born some two or three miles west of the Ninth Congressional District of Missouri, which I represent. He was reared jam up against the north end of it, in the city of Hannibal, which now has a Mark Twain hotel, a Mark Twain monument, and a Mark Twain museum.

It so happened that some years before his death I was top Democrat on the Committee on Patents which has jurisdiction over trade-marks and copyrights, as well as next to top Democrat on the great Committee on Foreign Affairs. In December, 1903, I gave up both those assignments to go on the Ways and Means Committee.

Twain and I had never seen each other, but because we were both Missourians from the same neck of the woods, and because he thought that I was still top Democrat on patents, in January 1904, he wrote to me stating that he wanted a bill passed giving to authors a perpetual copyright. I answered, explaining that the Congress would never enact any such law – also stating that the Congress would be willing to help the authors out, and outlining what I considered possible as to improvements in that regard. I suggested that he employ a good lawyer to work out a bill containing my suggestions, as I did not have time to do it. He followed my advice, and the bill was duly prepared, and finally with some immaterial amendments placed upon the statute-book, making more liberal arrangements as to copyrights, thereby largely enhancing their value.

In February he wrote me that he was coming to Washington to lobby for the bill, and he proved to be the prince of lobbyists. He came to my office as soon as he arrived. After a few minutes’ conversation he said that he wanted to see the members of the Committee on Patents, to talk to them about his bill, which seemed to be near his heart. As I had only one room, and Mr. Speaker Cannon had three or four, I borrowed one his stenographer’s rooms on the ground floor and sent a page up into the House to notify certain members that Mark Twain was below and desired to converse with them. They came gladly – in fact, first and last they nearly all came, and for two days Twain held his court – talking all the time – and such talk! He talked about steamboating on the Mississippi, about his experiences in Nevada, California, and the Sandwich Islands, about lecturing, writing books, about his travels in far lands, about getting rich and going broke, about the prominent people he had met – in short, about almost everything and everybody – but always wound up by arguing in favor of his bill. On the morning of the second day there was a blinding snow-storm in Washington, and Twain blossomed out in a flannel suit, white as the snow, while all the world wondered. For a week his eccentricity in dress was the talk not only of the town, but of the whole country. He was written up and cartooned in ever ambitious paper. His white flannels were the resounding theme of every tongue. Incidentally his bill was universally discussed. For that cunningly devised caper he must have received a million dollars’ worth of free advertising for his copyright bill. Not content with that, he wrote Mr. Speaker Cannon, a humorous note, asking permission to address the House – which the Speaker could not grant, as the rules of the House absolutely forbid the Speaker from even entertaining such a motion. I feel certain that if Twain had addressed the House he would have secured the perpetual copyright for which he longed.

It is said that for years he nursed an ambition to be a member of the House, as did John Lawrence Sullivan. Most assuredly both would have added to the gaiety of the nations.

Some moths after his death there was a great meeting in Carnegie Hall, New York, to pay tribute to his memory. That great hall was crowded to the ceiling. Dr. William Dean Howells presided, made a splendid opening speech, and most gracefully and graciously introduced the other speakers who were Joseph H. Choate, Henry van Dyke, George W. Cable, Mr. Speaker Cannon, Henry Watterson, and myself. I take it that no such funeral speeches have ever been delivered since the confusion of tongues at the Tower of Babel. For three mortal hours we did nothing but crack jokes and tell anecdotes about Twain. The chances are ten to one that that was the sort of tribute to his memory that he would have desired had he been consulted. However that may be, the vast audience enjoyed it, and at 11 P.M., after the manner of Oliver Twist, cried for more.

Source:

Clark, Champ. My Quarter Century of American Politics, Volume 2. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1920,  p. 23 – 25

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