Mark Twain’s Speeches

Author: Mark Twain  | Date: 1906


On the evening of May 14, 1908, the alumni of the College of the City of New York celebrated the opening of the new college buildings at a banquet in the Waldorf-Astoria. Mr. Clemens followed Mayor McClellan.

I AGREED when the Mayor said that there was not a man within hearing who did not agree that citizenship should be placed above everything else, even learning.

Have you ever thought about this? Is there a college in the whole country where there is a chair of good citizenship? There is a kind of bad citizenship which is taught in the schools, but no real good citizenship taught. There are some which teach insane citizenship, bastard citizenship, but that is all. Patriotism! Yes; but patriotism is usually the refuge of the scoundrel. He is the man who talks the loudest.

You can begin that chair of citizenship in the College of the City of New York. You can place it above mathematics and literature, and that is where it belongs.

We used to trust in God. I think it was in 1863 that some genius suggested that it be put upon the gold and silver coins which circulated among the rich. They didn’t put it on the nickels and coppers because they didn’t think the poor folks had any trust in God.

Good citizenship would teach accuracy of thinking and accuracy of statement. Now, that motto on the coin is an overstatement. Those Congressmen had no right to commit this whole country to a theological doctrine. But since they did, Congress ought to state what our creed should be.

There was never a nation in the world that put its whole trust in God. It is a statement made on insufficient evidence. Leaving out the gamblers, the burglars, and the plumbers, perhaps we do put our trust in God after a fashion. But, after all, it is an overstatement.

If the cholera or black plague should come to these shores, perhaps the bulk of the nation would pray to be delivered from it, but the rest would put their trust in the Health Board of the City of New York.

I read in the papers within the last day or two of a poor young girl who they said was a leper. Did the people in that populous section of the country where she was- did they put their trust in God? The girl was afflicted with the leprosy, a disease which cannot be communicated from one person to another.

Yet, instead of putting their trust in God, they harried that poor creature, shelterless and friendless, from place to place, exactly as they did in the Middle Ages, when they made lepers wear bells, so that people could be warned of their approach and avoid them. Perhaps those people in the Middle Ages thought they were putting their trust in God.

The President ordered the removal of that motto from the coin, and I thought that it was well. I thought that overstatement should not stay there. But I think it would better read, "Within certain judicious limitations we trust in God," and if there isn’t enough room on the coin for this, why, enlarge the coin.

Now I want to tell a story about jumping at conclusions. It was told to me by Bram Stoker, and it concerns a christening. There was a little clergyman who was prone to jump at conclusions sometimes. One day he was invited to officiate at a christening. He went. There sat the relatives- intelligent-looking relatives they were. The little clergyman’s instinct came to him to make a great speech. He was given to flights of oratory that way- a very dangerous thing, for often the wings which take one into clouds of oratorical enthusiasm are wax and melt up there, and down you come.

But the little clergyman couldn’t resist. He took the child in his arms, and, holding it, looked at it a moment. It wasn’t much of a child. It was little, like a sweet-potato. Then the little clergyman waited impressively, and then: "I see in your countenances," he said, "disappointment of him. I see you are disappointed with this baby. Why? Because he is so little. My friends, if you had but the power of looking into the future you might see that great things may come of little things. There is the great ocean, holding the navies of the world, which comes from little drops of water no larger than a woman’s tears. There are the great constellations in the sky, made up of little bits of stars. Oh, if you could consider his future you might see that he might become the greatest poet of the universe, the greatest warrior the world has ever known, greater than Caesar, than Hannibal, than- er- er" (turning to the father)- "what’s his name?"

The father hesitated, then whispered back: "His name? Well, his name is Mary Ann."


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Chicago: Mark Twain, "Education and Citizenship.," Mark Twain’s Speeches Original Sources, accessed February 7, 2023,

MLA: Twain, Mark. "Education and Citizenship." Mark Twain’s Speeches, Original Sources. 7 Feb. 2023.

Harvard: Twain, M, 'Education and Citizenship.' in Mark Twain’s Speeches. Original Sources, retrieved 7 February 2023, from