Pine Nuts: Mark Twain and impeachment |

Pine Nuts: Mark Twain and impeachment

Yesterday I stumbled onto an 1,800-word satire written by Mark Twain while in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 15, 1867.

Without otherwise editing, I abbreviated that priceless piece, inserted a paragraph from the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise of April 7, 1868 on the prospective impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, and tied the two together …

When I resigned the office of Page of the House of Representatives, the best men of the nation were alarmed for the welfare of the Republic. They visited me in my self-imposed exile and begged me to come to the rescue, and take again the helm of the ship of state. Thus importuned, I rejoined Mr. Johnson’s Administration as Doorkeeper of the Senate.

On the first morning of my occupation, I locked all the entrances to the Senate Chamber but one, and took my station there. Presently a gentleman approached, and tried to pass in. I stopped him, and said: “Well, sir, what do you want?”

“I want to go in, of course.”

“You want to go in. Who are you?”

“I am the President of the Senate.”

“Have you got your credentials along with you?”

He had them. Considering that he was the ringmaster of the circus, I let him in free. But I had trouble with the others. Some of them had no credentials, and had to stay out.

On the fourth day, in the midst of some solemn, sentimental bosh by the Chair, concerning one of the new Senators from Walrussia, who had lost his way in the wilds of his native land, and had nothing to eat for 18 days but an iceberg, I emerged from the impressive silence, and thundered forth:

“The Republicans show a disposition to quit talking about the impeaching of a President on stern principle for a contemptuous violation of law and his oath of office; they show a disposition to drop the high-moral ground that such a precedent must not be sent down to hamper posterity, and they already openly talk about the ‘impolicy’ of impeaching. It would be curious to hear a Court talking of the ‘impolicy’ of convicting a man for murder in the first degree. This everlasting compelling of honesty, morality, justice and the law to bend the knee to policy, is the rottenest thing in a republican form of government. It is cowardly, degraded and mischievous; and in its own good time it will bring destruction upon this broad-shouldered fabric of ours. I believe the Prince of Darkness could start a branch of hell in the District of Columbia (if he has not already done it), and carry it on unimpeached by the Congress of the United States, even though the Constitution were bristling with articles forbidding hells in this country. And if there were moneyed offices in it, Congress would take stock in the concern.”

The Sergeant-at-Arms was ordered to put me in my seat and keep me there.

I approach the last chapter in the sad record of my official career, culminating in a report of the Judiciary Committee, which they styled, “Articles of Impeachment against the Doorkeeper of the United States Senate.”

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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