The Waldorf Astoria’s grand ballroom, the evening of December 12, 1900, was packed to the doors with a fashionable audience come to hear a young British journalist tell of his adventures in the Boer War. There had been protests by distinguished New Yorkers, who refused, in sympathy for the South Africans, to attend—and the controversy was much in people’s minds when the toastmaster, Mark Twain, age 65, rose to introduce Winston Churchill, age 26:
For years I have been a self-appointed missionary, and have wrought zealously for my cause—the joining together of America and the Motherland in bonds of friendship, esteem, and affection,—an alliance of the heart which should permanently and beneficently influence the political relations of the two countries. Wherever I have stood before a gathering of Americans or Englishmen, in England, India, Australia or elsewhere, I have urged my mission, and warmed it up with compliments to both countries and pointed out how nearly alike the two peoples are in character and spirit; and have shown how America, the refuge of the homeless, the hunted, the oppressed, throws wide her hospitable doors to all that suffer and can put up $50 admission, except the Chinese; and how England, mother of human liberty, uttered that great word, “the slave that sets his foot upon English soil is free” and with her strong hand made that gospel good in every acre of that vast Empire whose dominions girdle the globe; and how manfully America has stood up for human rights everywhere, and helped to force China to admit the foreigner when she didn’t want him, and to let him in free when she wanted to charge him $50 if he was a harmless Christian or kill him if he was a missionary; and how unselfishly England has wrought for the open door for all; and how nobly and how piously America also has stood for that same open door in all cases where it wasn’t her own: and how generous we have been, and how generous England has been in not requiring fancy rates for extinguished missionaries, the way Germany does, but willing to take produce for them—fire-crackers and tea—while Germany has to have territory and cash, and monuments and any other loot that’s in reach—and memorial churches, and has thus made true change of heart and regeneration, and the other details of German trinity so expensive that China won’t be able to afford German missionaries any more till she gets in better shape financially: and how self-respectingly England and America have refrained from imitating German bluster, German rapacity, the mailed fist with a burglar’s jimmy in it, and the investing mouth above it which alternately chortles bargain-counter piety and “no quarter” according to the state of the market; and how nobly (and shamefacedly) we both stood timorously by at Port Arthur and wept sweetly and sympathizingly and shone while France and Germany helped Russia to rob the Japanese; and how gallantly we went to the rescue of poor Cuba, friendless, despairing, borne down by centuries of bitter slavery, and broke off her chains and set her free; with approving England at our back, facing disgruntled Europe, and in her friendly eye a warning and the light of battle.
Yes, as missionary I have sung this song of praise and still sing it. Although I think England sinned in getting into a war in South Africa which she could have avoided without loss of credit or dignity—just as I think we have sinned in crowding ourselves into a war in the Philippines on the same terms.
Mr. Churchill will tell you about the war in South Africa, and he is competent—he fought and wrote through it himself. And he made a record there which would be a proud one for a man twice his age. By his father he is English, by his mother he is American —to my mind the blend which makes the perfect man. We are now on the friendliest and pleasantest terms with England. Mainly through my missionary efforts I suppose: and I am glad. We have always been kin: kin in blood, kin in religion, kin in representative government, kin in ideals, kin in just and lofty purposes; and now we are kin in sin, the harmony is complete, the blend is perfect, like Mr. Churchill himself.
I have the honor to present him to you.