Mark Twain’s Take in 1881 on the American Experiment

This is from Mark Twain's PLYMOUTH ROCK AND THE PILGRIMS, 
a speech he gave almost thirty years after Frederick 
Douglass's famous Fourth of July speech in 1852. A 
different sort of man, but the criticism leveled is just 
as vehement and, apparently, just as necessary as it was 
three decades and a devastating civil war earlier. 
The group he is addressing is some sort of sons of 
Plymouth Rock society.


…My first American ancestor, gentlemen, was an Indian—an early Indian.
Your ancestors skinned him alive, and I am an orphan. Not one drop of
my blood flows in that Indian’s veins today. I stand here, lone and
forlorn, without an ancestor. They skinned him! I do not object to that,
if they needed his fur; but alive, gentlemen-alive! They skinned him

Mark_Twain by  Abdullah Frères, 1867

Mark_Twain by Abdullah Frères, 1867

alive—and before company! That is what rankles. Think how he must have
felt; for he was a sensitive person and easily embarrassed. If he had
been a bird, it would have been all right, and no violence done to his
feelings, because he would have been considered “dressed.” But he
was not a bird, gentlemen, he was a man, and probably one of the most
undressed men that ever was. I ask you to put yourselves in his place.
I ask it as a favor; I ask it as a tardy act of justice; I ask it in the
interest of fidelity to the traditions of your ancestors; I ask it
that the world may contemplate, with vision unobstructed by disguising
swallow-tails and white cravats, the spectacle which the true New
England Society ought to present. Cease to come to these annual orgies
in this hollow modern mockery—the surplusage of raiment. Come in
character; come in the summer grace, come in the unadorned simplicity,
come in the free and joyous costume which your sainted ancestors
provided for mine.

Later ancestors of mine were the Quakers William Robinson, Marmaduke
Stevenson, et al. Your tribe chased them out of the country for their
religion’s sake; promised them death if they came back; for your
ancestors had forsaken the homes they loved, and braved the perils of
the sea, the implacable climate, and the savage wilderness, to acquire
that highest and most precious of boons, freedom for every man on
this broad continent to worship according to the dictates of his own
conscience—and they were not going to allow a lot of pestiferous
Quakers to interfere with it. Your ancestors broke forever the chains
of political slavery, and gave the vote to every man in this wide land,
excluding none!—none except those who did not belong to the orthodox
church. Your ancestors—yes, they were a hard lot; but, nevertheless,
they gave us religious liberty to worship as they required us to
worship, and political liberty to vote as the church required; and so
I the bereft one, I the forlorn one, am here to do my best to help you
celebrate them right.

The Quaker woman Elizabeth Hooton was an ancestress of mine. Your people
were pretty severe with her you will confess that. But, poor thing! I
believe they changed her opinions before she died, and took her into
their fold; and so we have every reason to presume that when she died
she went to the same place which your ancestors went to. It is a great
pity, for she was a good woman. Roger Williams was an ancestor of mine.
I don’t really remember what your people did with him. But they banished
him to Rhode Island, anyway. And then, I believe, recognizing that this
was really carrying harshness to an unjustifiable extreme, they took
pity on him and burned him. They were a hard lot! All those Salem
witches were ancestors of mine! Your people made it tropical for them.
Yes, they did; by pressure and the gallows they made such a clean deal
with them that there hasn’t been a witch and hardly a halter in our
family from that day to this, and that is one hundred and eighty-nine

The first slave brought into New England out of Africa by your
progenitors was an ancestor of mine—for I am of a mixed breed, an
infinitely shaded and exquisite Mongrel. I’m not one of your sham
meerschaums that you can color in a week. No, my complexion is the
patient art of eight generations. Well, in my own time, I had acquired
a lot of my kin—by purchase, and swapping around, and one way and
another—and was getting along very well. Then, with the inborn
perversity of your lineage, you got up a war, and took them all away
from me. And so, again am I bereft, again am I forlorn; no drop of my
blood flows in the veins of any living being who is marketable….

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