WACO, TX — In the wake of the unveiling of a commemorative stamp depicting iconic author Mark Twain, a Baylor University scholar says there was more to anti-racist Twain than most people know — including a stint as a Confederate soldier and a boyhood in which he believed that slavery was right and righteous.
Twain, the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, grew to condemn slavery, but as a young man he was a second lieutenant in the Confederate militia. That lasted only for two weeks, but he was Southern-leaning in his early writings, and a Nevada governor once referred to him as “a damn secessionist,” said Joe Fulton, an award-winning English professor at Baylor.
The new stamp was issued June 25.
Fulton said that Twain “mustered in and blustered out of the war early,” using that experience to champion southern culture and values in writings in the 1850s and 1860s. Even in a 1901 speech celebrating the anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, although Twain said he did not regret the result of the war, “We (Confederates) believed in those days we were fighting for the right — and it was a noble fight, for we were fighting for our sweethearts, our homes, and our lives.”
What Twain witnessed during and after the Civil War turned him into a skeptic of “truth, justice and the American way” for the rest of his life, says Fulton in his new book, The Reconstruction of Mark Twain: How a Confederate Bushwhacker Became the Lincoln of Our Literature.
“The war was the defeat of everything Twain had grown up believing,” Fulton said. “While he was growing up, he had learned from the pulpit that slavery was ‘right, righteous and sacred.’”
Scholars recently criticized the revised edition about Huck Finn’s adventures, which left out the “n-word,” as whitewashing classic literature that reflected the language of its time. But they have glossed over Twain’s Southern-leaning writings in the 1850s and 1860s, Fulton said.
“That’s partly because they’re difficult to locate, scattered in dozens of books and never reprinted,” said Fulton, who uncovered the writings in archives. “They don’t fit in with the image of the mature Twain.”
After the war, Twain was “angry at the North for the destruction of the South, angry at his upbringing, angry at the hypocrisy of the American government for using idealism to destroy the South — but then not honestly reconstructing the South or the North.”