Mark Twain’s letter to Joseph Cannon [December 7, 1906]

LOC _ Champ Clark, W.H. Taft, Jos. G. Cannon, Ex. Gov. Samuel W. McCallA copyright bill was coming up in Washington and a delegation of authors went down to work for it. Clemens was not the head of the delegation, but he was the most prominent member of it, as well as the most useful. He invited the writer to accompany him, and elsewhere I have told in detail the story of that excursion, [1] which need be but briefly touched upon here.

His work was mainly done aside from that of the delegation. They had him scheduled for a speech, however, which he made without notes and with scarcely any preparation. Meantime he had applied to Speaker Cannon for permission to allow him on the floor of the House, where he could buttonhole the Congressmen. He was not eligible to the floor without having received the thanks of Congress, hence the following letter:

To Hon. Joseph Cannon, House of Representatives:

Dec. 7, 1906

DEAR UNCLE JOSEPH, – Please get me the thanks of the Congress  – not next week but right away. It is very necessary. Do accomplish this for your affectionate old friend right away; by persuasion, if you can, by violence if you must, for it is imperatively necessary that I get on the floor for two or three house and talk to the members, man by man, in behalf of the support, encouragement and protection of one of the nation’s most valuable assets and industries – its literature. I have arguments with me, also a barrel, with liquid in it.

Give me a chance. Give me the thanks of Congress. Don’t wait for others; there isn’t time. I have stayed away and let Congress alone for seventy-one years and I am entitled to thanks. Congress knows it perfectly well, and I have long felt hurt that this quite proper and earned expression of gratitude has been merely felt by the House and never publicly uttered. Send me an order on the Sergeant-at-Arms quick, When shall I come? With love and a benediction.

Mark Twain.

This was mainly a joke. Mark Twain did not expect any “thanks,” but he did hope for access to the floor, which once, in an earlier day, had been accorded him. We drove to the Capitol and he delivered his letter to “Uncle Joe” by hand. “Uncle Joe” could not give him the privilege of the floor; the rules had become more stringent. He declared that they would hang him if he did such a thing. He added that he had a private room down-stairs, where Mark Twain might establish head-quarters, and that he would assign his colored servant, Neal, of long acquaintanceship with many of the members, to pass the word that Mark Twain was receiving.

The result was a great success. All that afternoon members of Congress poured into the Speaker’s room and in an atmosphere blue with tobacco smoke, Mark Twain talk the gospel of copyright to his heart’s content.

The bill did not come up for passage that session, but Mark Twain lived to see his afternoon’s lobbying bring a return. In 1909, Champ Clark, and those others who had gathered around him that afternoon, passed a measure that added fourteen years to the copyright term.


Mark Twain’s Letters, Vol. II. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1917. p. 801 – 802

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