About “Mark Twain in Washington”

Just eighteen years old, journalist Samuel Clemens’s first dispatch from Washington was composed in February 1854. He would return to the city after the Civil War as “Mark Twain,” a Westerner on the make as secretary to a Nevada Senator. With other newspaperman, such as George Alfred Townsend, Twain formed the informal ‘Washington Syndicate’ which wired news from the capital city all over the country. While we know Twain as a humorist, novelist, and outspoken anti-imperialist, we don’t know Mark Twain as a “Washington Correspondent”, which he was in the late 1860s.

While in Washington he received his first book contract to write what would become The Innocents Abroad, a collection of his first Holy Land and European travels. The ways of Washington would quickly erode whatever remained of Twain’s innocence and belief in the American system. In 1873 he would publish his first novel, The Gilded Age, which took Washington City to task; its title would subsequently define an era of American history. Twain would go on to become the most popular writer the country with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn published in 1885. He was a frequent presence in Washington to lecture, visit with the president, and lobby members of Congress. On one of his last visits in 1906 Twain testified in his now infamous white suit about protecting the integrity of his work with a new copyright law.

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