Mark Twain - What Did Mark Twain Write About Slavery?

Statue of Mark Twain sitting on a bench
Mitch Diamond

Question: 

What did Mark Twain write about slavery? What was his view on slaves? How did Mark Twain's background influence his perceptions on African Americans? Was Mark Twain a racist?

Answer:

Mark Twain - His Background

Mark Twain grew up in Missouri, a slave state. His father was a judge, but he was also traded in slaves at times. His uncle, John Quarles, owned 20 slaves; so Mark Twain witnessed the practice of slavery first-hand whenever he spent summers at his uncle's place.



When he was still a young boy, Mark Twain witnessed the brutal murder of a slave in his home town of Hannibal by the slave's owner, who killed the man with a thrown rock for "merely doing something awkward."

Mark Twain - Views on Slavery

  • In a 1853 letter, Mark Twain wrote: "I reckon I had better black my face, for in these Eastern states, n***s are considerably better than white people."
  • In 1872, Mark Twain wrote to William Dean Howells about "Roughing It": "I am as uplifted and reassured by it as a mother who has given birth to a white baby when she was awfully afraid it was going to be a mulatto."
  • In his autobiography, Mark Twain wrote: "The class lines were quite clearly drawn and the familiar social life of each class was restricted to that class."
  • In 1904, Mark Twain wrote in his notebook: "The skin of every human being contains a slave."
  • In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Mark Twain wrote: "The blunting effects of slavery upon the slaveholder's moral perceptions are known and conceded the world over; and a privileged class, an aristocracy, is but a band of slaveholders under another name."
  • In "The Lowest Animal," Mark Twain wrote: "Man is the only Slave. And he is the only animal who enslaves. He has always been a slave in one form or another and has always held other slaves in bondage under him in one way or another. In our day he is always some man's slave for wages, and does that man's work, and this slave has other slaves under him for minor wages, and they do his work. The higher animals are the only ones who exclusively do their own work and provide their own living."
     

    Read more about Mark Twain and his views on slavery in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.