Government

How Mark Twain Lobbied a Little Girl on Behalf of an Ambassador

Mark Twain proclaimed himself to be politically neutral. Using the terminology of the day, he was a “Mugwump.” This allowed him a convenient excuse when people asked him to use his celebrity status to lobby for political causes. There was one notable exception to his hands-off approach, however. That was the time he reached out for help from the youngest resident of the White House — an 18-month-old girl.

The year was 1893. Grover Cleveland had just been elected to his second non-consecutive term as President of the United States. As always occurs with a change of administrations, most of those who held appointed government jobs expected to be replaced. One of them was Frank Mason, consul-general in Frankfort, Germany.

Grover, Ruth, and Ellen Cleveland, 1893.

When Mark Twain learned of Mason’s pending dismissal from office, he was deeply concerned. He had met Mason during his European travels and respected the man greatly. As troubling as this news was, he couldn’t quite bring himself to break his self-imposed rule and make a request directly to the President. Instead, he wrote to another occupant of the White House.

Ruth Cleveland was the daughter of Grover and Frances Cleveland. Born October 3, 1891, she was not yet 2 years old when she moved with her parents to the White House. Although too young to realize it, Ruth was a celebrity. It had been a long time since a President brought a young child with him to the Executive Mansion. The press referred to her as “Baby Ruth,” a name that would later be attached to a candy bar.

The mail regularly delivered gifts to Baby Ruth from an adoring public. One day, instead of a gift, there was a letter addressed to her from the most famous author in the United States. It read:

My dear Ruth,

I belong to the Mugwumps, and one of the most sacred rules of our order prevents us from asking favors of officials or recommending men to office, but there is no harm in writing a friendly letter to you and telling you that an infernal outrage is about to be committed by your father in turning out of office the best Consul I know (and I know a great many) just because he is a Republican and a Democrat wants his place.

The letter continued with a description of Mason’s record of service and qualifications for office. It then said,

I can’t send any message to the President, but the next time you have a talk with him concerning such matters I wish you would tell him about Captain Mason and what I think of a Government that so treats its efficient officials.

The details of how Ruth approached her father about this peculiar request have been lost to history. The method must have been effective, however. A short time later, Twain received a response to his letter. The identity of Ruth’s secretary was not disclosed, but the handwriting on the page was unmistakably that of President Grover Cleveland:

Miss Ruth Cleveland begs to acknowledge the receipt of Mr. Twain’s letter and say that she took the liberty of reading it to the President, who desires her to thank Mr. Twain for her information, and to say to him that Captain Mason will not be disturbed in the Frankfort Consulate. The President also desires Miss Cleveland to say that if Mr. Twain knows of any other cases of this kind he will be greatly obliged if he will write him concerning them at his earliest convenience.

It is doubtful that any business in Washington, D.C. was ever handled as effectively as when it was done through the intervention of an 18-month-old little girl.


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