When Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter in April 1861,
thousands of patriotic southerners rushed to enlist for the
Confederate cause. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who grew up in the
border state of Missouri in a slave-holding family, was among them.
Clemens, who later achieved fame as the writer Mark Twain, served
as second lieutenant in a Confederate militia, but only for two
weeks, leading many to describe his loyalty to the Confederate
cause as halfhearted at best. After all, Mark Twain's novel The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) and his numerous speeches
celebrating Abraham Lincoln, with their trenchant call for racial
justice, inspired his crowning as "the Lincoln of our
In The Reconstruction of Mark Twain, Joe B. Fulton challenges
these long-held assumptions about Twain's advocacy of the Union
cause, arguing that Clemens traveled a long and arduous path,
moving from pro-slavery, secession, and the Confederacy to
pro-union, and racially enlightened. Scattered and long-neglected
texts written by Clemens before, during, and immediately after the
Civil War, Fulton shows, tout pro-southern sentiments critical of
abolitionists, free blacks, and the North for failing to enforce
the Fugitive Slave Act. These obscure works reveal the dynamic
process that reconstructed Twain in parallel with and response to
events on American battlefields and in American politics.
Beginning with Clemens's youth in Missouri, Fulton tracks the
writer's transformation through the turbulent Civil War years as a
southern-leaning reporter in Nevada and San Francisco to his
raucous burlesques written while he worked as a Washington
correspondent during the impeachment crises of 1867--1868. Fulton
concludes with the writer's emergence as the country's
satirist-in-chief in the postwar era. By explaining the
relationship between the author's early pro-southern writings and
his later stance as a champion for racial justice throughout the
world, Fulton provides a new perspective on Twain's views and on
his deep involvement with Civil War politics.
A deft blend of biography, history, and literary studies, The
Reconstruction of Mark Twain offers a bold new assessment of the
work of one of America's most celebrated writers.
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