It was a political year, and he generally had something to say on matters municipal, national, or international; and he spoke out more and more freely, as with each opportunity he warmed more righteously to his subject.
At the dinner given to him by the St. Nicholas Club he said, with deep irony:
Gentlemen, you have here the best municipal government in the world, and the most fragrant and the purest. The very angels of heaven envy you and wish they had a government like it up there. You got it by your noble fidelity to civic duty; by the stern and ever watchful exercise of the great powers lodged in you as lovers and guardians of your city; by your manly refusal to sit inert when base men would have invaded her high places and possessed them; by your instant retaliation when any insult was offered you in her person, or any assault was made upon her fair fame. It is you who have made this government what it is, it is you who have made it the envy and despair of the other capitals of the world--and God bless you for it, gentlemen, God bless you! And when you get to heaven at last they'll say with joy, "Oh, there they come, the representatives of the perfectest citizenship in the universe show them the archangel's box and turn on the limelight!"
Those hearers who in former years had been indifferent to Mark Twain's more serious purpose began to realize that, whatever he may have been formerly, he was by no means now a mere fun-maker, but a man of deep and grave convictions, able to give them the fullest and most forcible expression. He still might make them laugh, but he also made them think, and he stirred them to a truer gospel of patriotism. He did not preach a patriotism that meant a boisterous cheering of the Stars and Stripes right or wrong, but a patriotism that proposed to keep the Stars and Stripes clean and worth shouting for. In an article, perhaps it was a speech, begun at this time he wrote:
We teach the boys to atrophy their independence. We teach them to take their patriotism at second-hand; to shout with the largest crowd without examining into the right or wrong of the matter-- exactly as boys under monarchies are taught and have always been taught. We teach them to regard as traitors, and hold in aversion and contempt, such as do not shout with the crowd, & so here in our democracy we are cheering a thing which of all things is most foreign to it & out of place--the delivery of our political conscience into somebody else's keeping. This is patriotism on the Russian plan.
Howells tells of discussing these vital matters with him in "an upper room, looking south over a quiet, open space of back yards where," he says, "we fought our battles in behalf of the Filipinos and Boers, and he carried on his campaign against the missionaries in China."
Howells at the time expressed an amused fear that Mark Twain's countrymen, who in former years had expected him to be merely a humorist, should now, in the light of his wider acceptance abroad, demand that he be mainly serious.
But the American people were quite ready to accept him in any of his phases, fully realizing that whatever his philosophy or doctrine it would have somewhat of the humorous form, and whatever his humor, there would somewhere be wisdom in it. He had in reality changed little; for a generation he had thought the sort of things which he now, with advanced years and a different audience, felt warranted in uttering openly. The man who in '64 had written against corruption in San Francisco, who a few years later had defended the emigrant Chinese against persecution, who at the meetings of the Monday Evening Club had denounced hypocrisy in politics, morals, and national issues, did not need to change to be able to speak out against similar abuses now. And a newer generation as willing to herald Mark Twain as a sage as well as a humorist, and on occasion to quite overlook the absence of the cap and bells.