Mark Twain, Autobiography

Even [Twichell] and I could see that there was sense in that, and we [said,]

That is a very good thing to do and we’ll do it. [Not vote Blaine for President]

On [election day] we went to the polls and consummated our hellish design. [At that time the voting was public]. Any spectator could see how a man was voting—and straightway this crime was known to the whole community. This double crime,—in the eyes of the community. To withhold a vote from Blaine was bad enough, but to add to that iniquity by actually voting for the Democratic candidate was criminal to a degree for which there was no [adequate] language discoverable in the dictionary.

From that day forth, for a good while to come, [Twichell’s] life was a good deal of a burden to him. To use a common expression, his congregation “soured” on him, and he found small pleasure in the exercise of his clerical office—unless perhaps he got some healing for his hurts, now and then, through the privilege of burying some of those people of his. It would have been a benevolence to [bury] the whole of them, I think, and a profit to the community. But if that was [Twichell’s] feeling about it, he was too charitable in his nature and too kindly to expose it. He never said it to me, and I think that if he would have said it to any one, I should have been the one.

[[Twichell] had most seriously damaged himself with his congregation. He had a young family to support. It was a large family already, and it was growing. It was becoming a heavier and heavier burden every year—but his salary remained always the same. It became less and less competent to keep up with the domestic drain upon it, and if there had ever been any prospect of increasing this salary, that prospect was gone now. It was not much of a salary. It was four thousand dollars. He had not asked for more, and it had not occurred to the congregation to [page 319] offer it. Therefore his vote for Cleveland] was a distinct disaster to him. That exercise of his ostensible great American privilege of being free and independent in his political opinions and [actions,] proved a heavy calamity. But the [Reverend] Francis Goodwin continued to be respected as before—that is publicly; privately he was damned. But publicly he had suffered no harm. Perhaps it was because the public approval was not a necessity in his case. His father was worth seven [millions, and] was old. [The Reverend Francis] was in the line of [promotion, and] would soon inherit.

As far as I was myself concerned, I did not need to worry. I did not draw my living from Hartford. It was quite sufficient for my needs. Hartford’s opinion of me could not affect [it;] and besides it had long been known among my friends that I had never voted a straight ticket, and was therefore so accustomed to crime that it was unlikely that disapproval of my conduct could reform me—and maybe I wasn’t worth the trouble anyway.

By and by, about a couple of months later, New [Year’s] Eve arrived, and with it the annual meeting of Joe’s congregation and the annual sale of the pews.

Joe was not quite present. It was not etiquette for him to be within hearing of the [business-talks] concerning the church’s affairs. He remained in the seclusion of the church parlor, ready to be consulted if that should be necessary. The congregation was present in full force; every seat was occupied. The moment the house was called to order, a member sprang to his feet and moved that the connection between [Twichell] and the church be dissolved. The motion was promptly seconded. [Here,] and there, and yonder, all over the house, there were calls of “Question! Question!” But [Mr. Hubbard, a [middle-aged] man, a wise and calm and collected man, business manager and part owner of the Courant], rose in his place and proposed to discuss the motion before rushing it to a vote. The substance of his remarks was this,—(which I must put in my own language, of course, as I was not there).

“Mr. [Twichell] was the first pastor you have ever had. You have never wanted another until two months ago. You have had no fault to find with his ministrations as your pastor, but he has suddenly become unfit to continue them because he is unorthodox in his politics, according to your views. Very well, he [was] fit; he has become unfit. He [was] valuable; his value has passed away, apparently—but only apparently. His highest value remains—if I know this congregation. When he assumed this pastorate this region was an outlying district, thinly inhabited, its real estate worth next to nothing. Mr. [Twichell’s] personality was a magnet which immediately began to draw population in this direction. It has continued to draw it from that day to this. As a result, your real estate, almost valueless in the beginning, ranges now at very high prices. Reflect, before you vote upon this resolution. The church in West Hartford is waiting upon this vote with deep solicitude. That congregation’s real estate stands at a low figure. What they are anxious to have now above everything else, [under God,] is a [price-raiser]. Dismiss Mr. [page 320] [Twichell] to-night, and they will hire him to-morrow. Prices there will go up; prices here will go down. That is all. I move the vote.”

[Twichell] was not dismissed. That was twenty-two years ago. It was [Twichell’s] first pulpit after his consecration to his vocation. He occupies it yet, and has never had another. The [fortieth anniversary] of his accession to it was celebrated by that congregation and its descendants a couple of weeks ago, and there was great enthusiasm. [Twichell] has never made any political mistakes since. His persistency in voting right has been an exasperation to me these many years, and has been the cause and inspiration of more than one vicious letter from me to him. But the viciousness was all a pretense. I have never found any real fault with him for voting his infernal Republican ticket, for the reason that situated as he was, with a large family to support, his first duty was not to his political conscience but to his family conscience. A sacrifice had to be made; a duty had to be performed. His very first duty was to his family, not to his political conscience. He sacrificed his political [independence,] and saved his family by it. In the circumstances, this was the highest loyalty, and the best. If he had been a Henry Ward Beecher it would not have been his privilege to sacrifice his political conscience, because in case of dismissal a thousand pulpits would have been open to him, and his family’s bread secure. In [Twichell’s] case, there would have been some risk—in fact, a good deal of risk. That he, or any other expert, could have raised the prices of real estate in West Hartford is, to my mind, exceedingly doubtful. I think Mr. Hubbard worked his imagination to the straining point when he got up that scare that night. I believe it was safest for [Twichell] to remain where he was if he could. He saved his family, and that was his first duty, in my opinion.

In this country there are perhaps eighty thousand preachers. Not more than twenty of them are politically independent—the rest cannot be politically independent. They must vote the ticket of their congregations. They do it, and are justified. They themselves are mainly the reason why they have no political independence, for they do not preach political independence from their pulpits. They have their large share in the fact that the people of this nation have no political independence."