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Mark Twain in DC: Humor at Congressional Copyright Hearings

Discover the story of Mark Twain's visit to DC in December of 1906 as he testified before Congress on copyright hearings. His testimony was sprinkled with humor to lighten the mood of the committee. Read the article to find out more!
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Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) date unknown (Library of Congress)
Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) date unknown (Library of Congress)

The creator of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn was in our city back in December 1906 to participate in the copyright hearings before Congress. The Washington Post mentioned them in in their “People Met in Hotel Lobbies” section.

“I should like to talk to you, but I have just retired and am bound for sleep,” said Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, at the Willard last night. Mr. Clemens had just arrived from New York, and had gone immediately to his room after registering.

“I never felt better,” he declared. “I came here to attend the copyright hearings which take place at the Congressional Library to-morrow and Saturday. Don’t ask me anything about copyrights. I don’t know much about them, but I suppose I’ll learn when I get before the committee.”

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A distinguished party accompanied Mr. Clemens, among them being William Dean Howells, Albert B. Paine, Victor Herbert, Nathan Burkam, Leo Feist, Jay Witmark, and John Philip Sousa.

Clemens’ testimony was sprinkled with humor to lighten the mood of the congressional committee as reported on December 8th.

Washington, Dec. 6.–Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) brought to a close with laughter a day or argumentative strife over the terms of the Copyright bill, now the subject of hearings before the Senate and House Committees on Patents.

“I like that extension from the present limit of the life of copyright from 42 years to the life of the author and 50 years thereafter, he said. I think that ought to satisfy any reasonable author, because it will take care of his children. Let the grandchildren take care of themselves. It will satisfy me because it will enable me to take care of my daughters. After that I don’t care. I have long been out of the struggle, independent of it and indifferent to it.”

“It is not objectionable to me,” he continued, “that all the trades and industries of the United States are in the bill and protected by it. I should like to have the oyster culture added, and anything else that might need protection. I have no ill feeling. I think it a just and righteous measure and should like to see it passed.”

Mr. Clemens added:

“My copyrights produce to me a great deal more money than I can spend. However, if I did not have them I could take care of myself. I know half a dozen trades and if those ran out I would invent a half dozen others. But for my daughters, I hope Congress will extend to them the charity which they have failed to get from me.”

I imagine it was quite a site to see Clemens’ testimony, but nothing compares to the absurdities of a recent celebrity testimony on the Hill. Humorous, but borderline disrespectful.

Mark Twain with pipe in 1906 (Wikipedia)
Mark Twain with pipe in 1906 (Wikipedia)
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