Positively 4th St: Polk and Grant and Twain and me, oh, my!
By Tim Bowden
Apr 3, 2021
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James K Polk (PotUS 1845-49), or rather his wife Sarah, was quite the home organizer.  She simply fired all the White House staff when he took over the office, and repopulated the entire quarters and residence with their slaves, thus saving the nation much in salaries and themselves the expense of feeding the work force. Win/win.

“It isn’t true we are all equal,” she was known to observe during one of their moments of leisure in their new hacienda. “For just look at the darkies out working in the hot sun while we sit here in this comfortable palace.”

There were measures which threatened their peace, however. Laws prevented the free expression of enterprise in the North, where slavery was prohibited by such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and so the only direction of expansion had to be west. Thus a war with Mexico was implemented by Polk in order to win land for future slave states to match the growth in the North. We are the partial results of the strategy.

One who fought as an NCO in that war with Mexico wrote of it in words I did not understand, being a product of Texas history as taught in Our Town. “It was first and last a move to acquire slave states for the union.” 

U S Grant eventually did his part to end the scourge, as the supreme leader of the Grand Army of the Potomac. Then he became a not very effective PotUS. Then he was dying from cancer of the jaw caused by years of sucking on them horrible stogies.

Enter Mark Twain. He observed the leader in pain of terminal illness with poverty for his family pending. So he mentored the old General in producing his memoir. It was the first such treatise from a President, and, as Jimmy Carter observed while contemplating his own such, the best ever.  The family was provided for.

“Courage is the resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” - Mark Twain.

Mark knew fear. He was on a paddle wheeler at the beginning of the Civil War, floating on the Mississippi, when shelled by a Union battery onshore. He said he wanted to remain at his post and man his station but duty called him down in the hold to the boiler. He was then called upon to perform what he was sure we all would agree was an excellent retreat, being as he had no experience in the maneuver and had to attack the project all alone.

And so those who fought with and against Grant saw horror and pain and privation and death, and for their trouble Mississippi and Alabama were retained by the Union (remember the object of the war from the North was solely and simply the retention of the Union as it stood), thanks be to God, while Mark Twain gifted us with Roughing It and The Innocents Abroad and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and those works, separately and together, were, to paraphrase another southern writer, worth any number of Georgias. 


I was also an exile to the far west, only one event which partially inspired it was not the shelling of my position, but it did involve Mark Twain.

There was this bookshop, briefly, on Fourth Street, and I was through the good graces of my mama and step-daddy allowed to run it, which involved mostly writing letters on the old Woodstock behind the counter and greeting the few guests, two of which were a young couple who came by from time to time.  Call them Charlie and Miranda. 

To surprise and delight them, I used their names in an ad in the Daily Favorite in the form of a letter from her to him, which went like, “I’m sorry, Charlie, but I really cannot go out with someone who thinks Mark Twain is a Berlin passenger train. Maybe drop by Modern Times books?

Charlie did indeed drop by soon after. He approached with another friend, and they were more stealthy than he had been. He asked about the ad, then said, “We’re gonna find out who placed it” and told me Miranda’s father would be visiting. Eventually I learned the objection was the rumor that Mark Twain was an atheist. The father did drop by and threatened me indeed.  “I’ll kick your butt all over this town and you know I can do it, too!”

They were Christians, I guess you’d say,  and they did not care to be associated with Mark Twain, who definitely wasn’t. Follow this? Christians were threatening me with physical harm for linking them, however indirectly, to an  unholy association.

I hope we all have found peace by now. Mark Twain did, and so did U S Grant, and I have, and may all the Christians in this little story achieve the same serenity, remaining in holy fellowship forever.  God bless us every one.



Positively 4th St is a journal of a roadway which once was, and all who passed over it more than a few times, and what became of them and how it did them and who they were and what they became.