Samuel Langhorn Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) and Franklin Delano Roosevelt don’t seem to have especially much in common except for the fact that they are both as American as apple pie – which, true to form, is actually a British concoction. Both have cool nicknames (“Mark Twain” and “FDR”), both died in the same month (April 21, 1910 and April 12, 1945) and both were members of the Masonic Order. The ball’s in your court, Dan Brown.
What the two gentlemen really had in common was their overwhelming quotability. For instance, ask your grandmother or grandfather what they remember about December 7th, 1941. Chances are you’ll hear something like this:
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941-a date which will live in infamy-the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
Everyone from the WWII generation remembers FDR’s words. Hell, practically everyone from our generation knows them.
Of course, no FDR biography would be complete without the following quote: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” With these words, uttered during his 1933 inaugural address, Roosevelt set a tone of optimism that would come to define his subsequent, let’s see, FOUR terms. FDR quotes had a way of making people feel warm and fuzzy, which was not half bad considering that in 1933, 2 million people were homeless, 1 in 4 were jobless, farmers were running on 40% of their income prior to the crash of 1929, and 2/3 of state banks were closed. No wonder Roosevelt decided to keep his polio on the down-low.
While FDR may have been able to convince you to follow him through hell on a lightning bolt, Twain makes you want to pull up a chair, pull out a bottle of… “root” beer, and exchange some absolutely ridiculous stories. Take, for example, the incident where Twain was believed to be drowned:
“You can assure my Virginia friends that I will make an exhaustive investigation of this report that I have been lost at sea. If there is any foundation for the report, I will at once apprise the anxious public. I sincerely hope that there is no foundation for the report, and I also hope that judgment will be suspended until I ascertain the true state of affairs.”
Of course, swapping stories isn’t what makes a man famous for eternity. Twain was a keen observer as well as a great orator, and humor was his remedy for all social ills:
“There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.”
Twain’s most famous work is the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has earned the rank of THE classic American novel not merely because of its witty narration, but also because of its strong moral undercurrent. Huck Finn candidly discusses racism while at the same time making you want to tie four logs together and float down the Mississippi. Being smart, funny, belligerent, and foul-mouthed can only take a person so far; Mark Twain quotes demonstrate that he was also uniquely in touch with reality, and never hesitated to call things as he saw them.