SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
This week they’re dropping like flies. Time to replenish the ranks. A Harper’s writer declares his candidacy to be President of the United States:
I have pretty much made up my mind to run for
President. What the country
wants is a candidate
who cannot be injured by
investigation of his past
history so that the enemies
of the party will be unable
to rake up anything against him that nobody
ever heard of before. If you know the worst
about a candidate to begin with, every attempt
to spring things on him will be checkmated.
Now I am going to enter the field with an
open record. I am going to own up in advance
to all the wickedness I have done, and if any
Congressional committee is disposed to prowl
around my biography in the hope of discovering
any dark and deadly deed that I have
secreted, why–let it prowl.
In the first place, I admit that I treed a
rheumatic grandfather of mine in the winter
of 1850. He was old and inexpert in climbing
trees, but with the heartless brutality that is
characteristic of me I ran him out of the front
door in his nightshirt at the point of a shotgun
and caused him to bowl up a maple
tree, where he remained all night, while I
emptied shot into his legs. I did this because
he snored. I will do it again if ever I have
another grandfather. I am as inhuman now as
I was in 1850.
I candidly acknowledge that I ran away at
the battle of Gettysburg. My friends have
tried to smooth over this fact by asserting that
I did so for the purpose of imitating Washington,
who went into the woods at Valley
Forge for the purpose of saying his prayers. It
was a miserable subterfuge. I struck out in a
straight line for the Tropic of Cancer because
I was scared. I wanted my country saved, but
I preferred to have somebody else save it.
I entertain that preference yet. If the bubble
reputation can be obtained only at the cannon’s
mouth, I am willing to go there for it,
provided the cannon is empty. If it is loaded,
my immortal and inflexible purpose is to get
over the fence and go home.
My invariable practice in war has been to
bring out of every fight two-thirds more men
than when I went in. This seems to me to
be Napoleonic in its grandeur.
My financial views are of the most decided
character, but they are not likely, perhaps, to
increase my popularity with the advocates of
inflation. I do not insist upon the special
supremacy of rag money or hard money. The
great fundamental principle of my life is to
take any kind I can get.
The rumor that I buried a dead aunt under
my grapevine was correct. The vine needed
fertilizing, my aunt had to be buried, and
I dedicated her to this high purpose. Does
that unfit me for the Presidency?
The Constitution of our country does not
say so. No other citizen was ever considered
unworthy of this office because he enriched
his grapevines with his dead relatives. Why
should I be selected as the first victim of an
I admit, also, that I am not a friend of the
poor man. I regard the poor man, in his
present condition, as so rnuch wasted raw
material. Cut up and properly canned, he
might be made useful to fatten the natives
of the Cannibal Islands and to improve our
export trade with that region. I shall recommend
legislation upon the subject in my first
message. My campaign cry will be: “Desiccate
the poor workingman; stuff him into
These are about the worst parts of my
record. On them I come before the country.
If my country don’t want me, I will go back
again. But I recommend myself as a safe man
–a man who starts from the basis of total
depravity and proposes to be fiendish to the
–Mark Twain, June 15, 1879.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”