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Lawmakers seek to honor Mark Twain

December 7, 2011 | 10:31 am

Marktwain
Mark Twain didn’t seem to think much of Congress. (""It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress," he wrote.)

But that isn’t stopping lawmakers from seeking to honor Twain by creating a commemorative coin to raise money for organizations dedicated to preserving the author’s legacy.

The Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act would require that a surcharge from commemorative coin sales be divided between the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Conn.; the Mark Twain Project at the Bancroft Library of UC Berkeley; the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, in New York and the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Mo.

Twain has special significance to the Senate. He once worked as a senatorial secretary.

A "down-on-his-luck" Twain needed a salary and a place to finish writing his first book and went to work for Nevada Sen. William Stewart, according to the Senate historian's office.

"Twain’s Senate-staff tenure was brief. He upset the senator’s landlady by smoking his malodorous cigars in bed; he forged the senator’s frank on personal letters; and he responded to constituent mail with characteristic irreverence.''

Senate historian Donald Ritchie noted in an interview that Twain wrote in an essay, "My Late Senatorial Secretaryship" that he left the Senate job because his boss was displeased with his responses to constituents.

"One town wanted a post office and he wrote back, why do you need a post office? None of you can read anyhow. What you need is a good jail,'' Ritchie said. "Sen. Stewart, when he found out about this, said, 'You’re ruining me.'"

“People of all ages from every corner of the globe seek to learn from Twain’s literary works, wisdom, and wit each day," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. "This bill commemorates his cultural and historic legacy and empowers those organizations most committed to preserving it.”

A similar bill has been introduced in the House, with bipartisan support.

Under the legislation, the U.S. Mint would produce, for a limited time, $1 silver and $5 gold coins. The design should be "emblematic of the life and legacy of Mark Twain," the legislation says. The bills have been sent to House and Senate committees.

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-- Richard Simon in Washington

Photo: Mark Twain. Credit: Associated Press

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