Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
The Two “Reigns of Terror”
(From “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”)

By Mark Twain

(It is not generally realized that America’s most beloved humorist was deeply stirred by the sight of social injustice, and many times went out of his way to give voice to his feelings. His recently published biography shows that influences were at work during his lifetime to repress him, and it would seem that such influences are still active after his death. It was found impossible to obtain the publishers’ permission to quote a passage of 176 words, which was to have appeared at this place in the Anthology. The passage in question is from the thirteenth chapter of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” It points out that there were two “Reigns of Terror” in France; that the evils of the “minor Terror,” that of the Revolution, have been made much of, although they lasted only a few months, and caused the death of only ten thousand persons; whereas there was another, “an older and real Terror,” which had lasted a thousand years, and brought death to hundreds of millions of persons. We consider it horrible that people should have their heads cut off, but we have not been taught to see the horror of the life-long death which is inflicted upon a whole population by poverty and tyranny)
THERE were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.  1

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