What This Country Needs is a Really
Good 5-Cent Cigar
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Herman B Wells Library
Indiana University Libraries - Bloomington
In 1908 Thomas Riley
Marshall won election as governor of Indiana. His victory in what was elsewhere
a generally Republican year brought him immediate attention from the Democratic
Party, which for a time looked at him as a potential presidential candidate. A
reasonably, although not exceptionally ambitious man, Riley gave some thought to
his chances for the nation's highest office, as did Thomas Taggart, a party
official whose support had helped make Riley governor; but Riley's prospects for
the presidencey dimmed, as they both knew, with the elections of 1910, a year of
democratic successes which saw other notable democrats, including Woodrow Wilson
of New Jersey, rise to prominence.
Riley's record as governor showed a progressive spirit, often at odds with the
legislature. He asked for bills to protect investors against watered stock in
corporations, to regulate insurance companies, to give health boards more
authority to prevent pollution, and to provide healthier conditions in tenement
houses. He proposed the auditing of public accounts by a State Board of
Accounts, a reform the legislature first resisted, then adopted. He was an
active governor whose "leadership was vigorous, especially after the 1910
election gave the Democrats majorities in both houses of the legislature.
Marshall's reforms included new taxes and regulation of railroads, telegraphs,
and telephone companies. New laws regulated employer's liabilities and limited
the use of child labor." (Davis, p. 577)
Although eager for certain reforms, Marshall's liberalism was moderate. He was,
as his biographers describe him, "a progressive with the brakes on." (Davis, p.
577). He did not favor women's suffrage (but then, Wilson opposed it, too, until
his daughters pestered him into reluctant support of the 19th amendment). He had
no desire to turn the functions of government, as he put it, into "either a
business asset or a guardianship over the incompetent, the ignorant and the
shiftless." (Thomas, p. 69) That comment, of course, cuts both ways. Marshall
was no friend of powerful vested interests and refused to allow his
administration to act as their servant. At the same time he had no inclination
to propose radical social legislation (although his Republican opponents
considered his programs unacceptably liberal) or to open the public purse to
To balance the ticket
and to win the electoral votes of Indiana, a swing state through most of its
history, the Democrats nominated Thomas R. Marshall for vice president at their
convention in 1912. Theodore Roosevelt's candidacy as a Bull Moose badly split
the Republican vote, and the Democrats carried the election. After a somewhat
rocky start, Marshall established himself as thoughtful, well-liked national
figure and made it his business to master, as so far as it is possible, the
arcana of presiding over the Senate. He ably filled in for Wilson during the
president's illness but consistently refused any notion of usurping Wilson's
For what, then, is Thomas Marshall best known? His solid record as
governor of an important midwestern state? His proposal of a new
constitution for Indiana that would curb the power of the judiciary which,
he believed correctly, tended to interfere with the business of the other
branches of government? His integrity? His service during the Wilson
administration? No, his career and its accomplishments are largely
forgotten. This, Calvin Davis writes, "is unfortunate, for even his
speeches, which included his wittiest remarks, were essays of substance
and ideas. His service as governor was distinguished. In his difficult
role as Wilson's vice president, he made few mistakes and conducted
himself with tact and grace." (Davis, p. 578) He is known, primarily
through dictionaries of quotations, for a flash of wit, his remark about a
five-cent cigar. "Literally millions of persons," Charles Thomas writes in
1939, "recall this quip, while scarcely thousands know that Marshall was
ever a progressive governor of Indiana." (Thomas, p.174) He continues,
"Many of Marshall's more serious-minded friends regret that his fame is
being peretuated through successive generations by the witty sally of the
moment. They would prefere to see emphasis placed on the statesmanship of
a governor whose administration brought many constructive laws, and on the
contributions of a vice-president who was dependable in time of need."
(Thomas, p. 174)
House, Wilson's advisor, spoke with the historian George S. Viereck and said of
Marshall, "Marshall was held too lightly. An unfriendly fairy godmother
presented him with a keen sense of humor. Nothing is more fatal in politics.
Many politicians destroy themselves by their wit. Wit makes enemies. It stirs up
the hornets. Marshall made friends, not enemies. But they looked at him as a
jester." (Viereck, p. 45.)
hardly a jester, Marshall seems to have been unable to resist his own impish
sense of humor, and occasionally his wit is a bit more barbed than homey. Even
the relatively mild five-cent cigar quip has a certain kick to it. An
experienced orator himself, Marshall recognized bloviation when he heard it, and
he understood the immemorial, if not pathological, desire of senators (among
other politicians) to tell the nation what it needs, often at intemperate
Four accounts give in some
detail the story of Marshall's cigar remark:
On one occasion pretty nearly all the
speakers were giving their views of "what this county needs." Mr. Marshall
listened to many versions of the nation's need. Suddenly he bent over the
thronelike desk of the President of the Senate and whispered audibly to Rose,
the Assistant Secretary of the Senate: "Rose, what this country needs is a
really good 5-cent cigar." (Knappen, p. 1)
At least the story of Marshall and the
five-cent-cigar sentence is not apocryphal. There is unusual agreement
concerning this story on the part of those who were in or near the Senate when
the Vice-President made the statement. He was presiding, and Senator Joe Bristow
of Kansas was making a long speech, enumerating the needs of the country. It was
a period of relaxation, typical of the United States Senate on such occasions.
After one of the perorational passages in Senator Bristow's speech, the
presiding officer leaned over and spoke to one of the secretaries of the Senate
in a voice that easily carried to nearby persons. It is difficult to be certain
of the exact order of the words in a sentence that was not immediately written
down, but Marshall probably said, "What this country needs is a really good five
cent cigar." (Thomas, p. 174-175; in his notes Thomas cites interviews with
James D. Preston, former superintendent of the Senate Press Gallery and Louis
Ludlow, former Washington correspondent, in July 1937.)
During the eight years of his
Vice-Presidency in the two Wilson administrations, and correlatively, as
President of the Senate, he had many an opportunity to demonstrate his ready,
kindly wit. Once the Senate was indulging itself with an endless, tiresome
symposium of oratory as to the welfare of the nation. Senator after senator got
up, delivered himself of his views as to what would cure the ills of the body
politic. Mr. Marshall was patience itself. But one Senator, more verbose than
any of his colleagues, went on and one and one. Finally Mr. Marshall leaned over
to the Secretary of the Senate and said in a voice which must have reached the
loquacious speaker: "What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar!"
(Literary Digest, p. 45; reporting the words of George Buchanan Fife in the New
York Evening World)
In his dissertation on Thomas Marshall John E. Brown recounts the story of a Bristow speech.
"During One of them," he writes, "the story goes, he was expounding on the needsof the country.
He talked about the need in industry, in finance, in agriculture, in labor and so on and on. At
this point in the story, the tradition varies. One varient reads:
Having glimpsed what lay deep in his character, the public looked
differently at his humorous sayings, which took on significance from the
sidelights they threw upon the man. His best-known remark was made
apropos a speech in the Senate by Senator Joseph Bristow of Kansas.
Mr. Bristow was telling what was the matter with the country
and what the country needed. Apparently in Mr. Bristow's view, the country
was in a bad way and needed many things. Sitting in the Vice President's
rostrum, Mr. Marshall leaned over to Henry Rose, assistant clerk of the
"Henry," he said, "what this country needs is a good five-cent cigar."
The remark was widely published and Mr. Marshall was deluged with
boxes of cigars. (Oulahan)
After listening an hour of more, the vice President called one of the Seators to take over the
Vice President's chair, and preside over the Senate, while he took a rest in the cloakroom.
So, pulling out a cigar from his vest pocket, Marshall clled the secretary of the Sentate, Henry
Rose to his side, and remarked to him: "Henry, Joe hasn't hit it yet. What this country really
needs is a good five-cent cigar." A Fred Kelly, the leading newspaper columnist of that day, printed
the remark which will live longer, perhaps, than any other of the many and deep moral sentiments that Marshall uttered during
his interesting lifetime."
(Brown, 189) [Purportedly related by the Vice President's secretary, Mark Thistlewaite, to the
editor of the Pathfinder: America's Oldest News Weekly, April 18, 1942, p. 1.]
Another variant lets Marshall remain in his Senate chair; he reacts, leans over and makes his
remark to John Crockett, chief clerk of the Senate.
(Brown, p. 190)["Indiana's Masonic Governors," The Indiana Freemason, August, 1962, n.p.;
Thomas, p. 175.]
Only Thomas and Oulahan and Brown
identify the speaker during whose discourse Marshall made his pawky
observation. If they are right, the remark dates between March of 1913 and
March of 1915, the years when the senatorial term of Joseph Bristow and
Marshall's service as presiding officer of the senate overlapped. Although
hardly alone in knowing what was best for the country, Bristow, an ardent
Republican progressive, may well have provoked the cigar comment. According to
Walt Mason, a Kansas humorist, he "had a deadly serious nature," and "his
earnestness is almost tragic; and humor is to him a mere theory, unsupported by
facts, and consequently unworthy of consideration." (Dean, p. 575). The earnest
Bristow, "distinguished for his zeal and industry" (Dean, p. 575), in character
so unlike Marshall himself, seems a perfect candidate for the immediate object
of the vice president's witty rebuke.
Still another finds him blocks away at the Willard Hotel, his residence for most of his years in
Washington. The cigars in that ornate nineteenth century dwelling were so expensive that their
price "caused the salty Indianan to come forward with that epic statement about the nation's need
for a nickel smoke."
(Brown, p. 190)[Eskew, Garnett L., Willard's of Washington: the Epic of a Capital Caravansary.
New York: Coward-McCann, 1954, p. 200.]
The cigar remark was not original with Marshall. He never claimed it was. Fred Kelly suggested
the quip originated with Kin Hubbard. In his biography of Hubbard, the creator of Abe Martin,
Kelly tells the story of Hubbard's courtship of Josephine Jackson whom he married in 1905 Her
father was not keen on a newspaper cartoonist as a husband for his daughter. When he finally
relented, Hubbard offered his soon-to-be father-in-law a cigar.
It was a happy moment for Kin when Mr. Jackson thanked him in a friendly way for a cigar.
"What this country needs," remarked Kin, embarassed as well as pleased, "is a good five cent
cigar," a comment that he used in a differnt form soon afterward for an Abe Marin. The idea
became famous over the world when it wa expressed years later by Vice president Tom Marshall,
an ardent Kin Martin fan. (Kelly, 1952. p. 12)
The remark, however, appears well befor 1905. The Yale Book of Quotations cites the Hartford
Courant of September 22, 1875: "What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar - New
York Mail. Other earlier sources include
The New Orleans Times of September 25, 1875 which reads under the headline "Personalities":
The Danbury News isn't a dead journal yet by any means, but continues, at intervals, to
hit the nail on the head with astonishing force and precision. It says: What this country really
needs is a good five cent cigar. The Saturday Evening Post of October 16, 1875 under "Facetiae"
reports: The Danbury News says: "What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar."
It is safe to wager ten to one that the editor's wife enertains an entirely different opinion.
quotation first appears in Familiar Quotations with its eleventh edition
(1937) which cites the quip as "What this country needs is a good five-cent
cigar" and also observes: "Remark to John Crockett, Chief Clerk of the United
States Senate" (Bartlett, p. 714). Other sources report the same variation of
wording. In Marshall's own recollections a caption beneath a photograph reads
"What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar." (Marshall, caption facing p.
244). Mencken gives the same version (Mencken, p. 181). The Literary
Digest, among others, offered a different variant: "What this country really
needs is a good five-cent cigar." (Literary Digest, p. 45) The "really"
comes and goes, and sometimes gets displaced, but the heart of the comment
Beyond the cigar, there is more
"All I ever got out of politics
was to lose my home."
On being right and being
"The time when I am liable to be wholly wrong is when I know that I am
"I do not talk
politics between campaigns and afterward I regret what I said in them."
On the city and the country:
"I am a son of the Middle West.
To the people of New York I appear to be provincial, although it may be safely
stated that anything is provincial to which one is unaccustomed. The first
Westerner who heard a man paged in a New York hotel was doubtless just as much
amused as the New York girl who came to Indiana and laughed when she heard the
farmers' wives paging their cows."
(Thomas, p. 194)
On beliefs and
the Democratic Party:
"There are a great many things I believe that I know
are not so; for instance I believe the Democratic party is always right."
(Thomas, p. 36)
On the Vice-Presidency:
Governor Calvin Coolidge, his possible successor as vice-president, after
Coolidge's nomination at the 1920 Chicago Republican Convention: "Please accept
my sincere sympathy."
(Thomas, p. 240)
On Democrats and
Marshall's father and grandfather were devoted Democrats. A
Methodist preacher, whose church they attended, threatened to remove them from
the roll of the congregation if they continued to vote the Democratic ticket.
"My grandfather, as a fiery Virginian, announced that he was willing to take his
chance on hell, but not on the Republican party."
(Marshall, p. 71)
On receiving compensation for addresses while vice-president:
to do it, steal or resign."
(Thomas, p. 191)
"I've got the best job I've ever had now; no
(Thomas, p. 220)
On the wealthy, property rights
and a government policy of protective tariffs that enabled individuals to
"I believe in vested rights but not in vested wrongs."
(Thomas, p. 148)
Adjourning the senate:
"...adjourned sine deo."
Instead of concluding with the usual words "adjourned sine die," Marshall on
this occasion clearly said, "adjourned sine deo." The official record in its
dignity states that the Senate was adjourned sine die, but the press gallery was
unanimous in hearing the adjournment "without God" instead of "without day."
(Thomas, p. 168)
On the Senate:
Upon his retirement from the
Vice-Presidency, Marshall paid his compliments to the senate in the remark, "I
have been in the cave of winds. I need a rest."
(Literary Digest, p. 45)
On politics and politicians:
"The important thing, you know, in
public life is that those who know nothing are placed in the seats of the
mighty. The wise men remain at home and discuss public questions on the end of
street cars and around barber shops."
(Thomas, p. 173)
"Democrats, like poets, are born, not made."
(Hicks, p. 331)
On the Fourth of July orator:
"Then comes the orator of the day. I
see him now -- tall, gaunt, clean shaved, wearing a Prince Albert coat that
reaches below his knees, and a white bow tie that hitches with a clasp at the
back and has the inherent viciousness in it to seek, from time to time, to climb
up and rest itself on his left ear. Indeed, it is questionable whether his
oratorical effort or his effort to keep his neck-tie on, occupied most of the
distinguished gentleman's time. What all he said I do not know. It has passed
into the limbo of forgetfulness, save this portion of it which still abides in
my memory: "Methinks I hear the tramp, tramp of the Pilgrim Fathers as the march
from Plymouth Rock to 'Fennell' Hall to sign the Declaration of Independence."
It was the end. We vociferously cheered him, and then we nominated him and
elected him as our representative in the next General Assembly of Indiana. We
felt that we had a champion who would be true to the great principles of
(Marshall, p. 125-126)
real amusement of those earlier days was not golf or mah jong. It was local
politics. It was played by everybody with the zest of a confirmed gambler."
(Marshall, p. 129)
On running for Congress:
Importuned to run for
Congress, Marshall refused on the grounds that he "might be elected."
(Hicks, p. 330)
On campaign speeches:
Marshall bragged that he
had made one hundred sixty-nine speeches throughout Indiana during his strenuous
campaign for governor in 1908. His wife, he admits, corrected him. "What you
mean to say is that you made one speech one hundred sixty-nine times, in the
state of Indiana."
(Marshall, p. 166)
On the Senate and Senate
"As far as I know it is the only legislative body in the world that
has no power to bring debate to a close save by unanimous consent. Like
Tennyson's brook, the words flow on forever..."
(Marshall, p. 293)
On the importance and danger of being vice-president:
"No one was
ever crazy enough to shoot at a vice-president."
(Marshall, p. 201)
On being pointed out by guides while in his senate office:
look at me as a wild animal, be kind enough to throw peanuts at me; but if you
are really desirous of seeing me, come in and shake hands."
On the vice-presidency:
"There is, in the Senate wing of the
Capitol, a bust of each of the vice-presidents of the United States. Why they
have been erected there, is not for me to say. I have always felt, however, that
it was a sort of promise from each one to the American people that this was the
last bust on which he would ever go."
(Marshall, p. 232)
Cabot Lodge and the animosity between him and President Wilson:
object to anybody getting between him and the sun?"
(Marshall, p. 298)
On great men:
"I have sometimes thought that great men are the bane
of civilization; that they are the real cause of all the bitterness and
contention which amounts to anything in the world."
(Marshall, p. 363)
On the vice-presidency:
"The standing joke of the country is that the
only business of the vice-president is to ring the White House bell every
morning and ask what is the state of health of the president."
On the vice-presidency:
Marshall compared the vice-president to
a person in a cataleptic state. "He cannot speak; he cannot move; he suffers no
pain; and yet he is perfectly conscious of everything that is going on about
(Tally, p. 221. Undocumented)
little part in the Democratic National Convention in 1924; he did offer a
comment when interviewed by reporters a few days before the Convention assembled
in New York. "Envy is the bane of mankind. When you find out you can't get
something for yourself, don't try to worry about someone else getting it."
(Thomas, p. 240)
On the Constitution:
A great admirer of the
original constitution, Marshal observed that "it's got so it is as easy to amend
the Constitution of the United States as it used to be to draw a cork."
(Literary Digest, p. 45)
On the Constitution, concerning the rules
of the Senate, which Marshall believed in direct contravention of the
"Having known the Constitution when it was young and vigorous
and able to take care of itself, now, in its old age and neglect, I feel
constrained to speak a kind word about it."
(Thomas, p. 171)
"If you think I would not make a good Governor of Indiana, it is your
duty to vote against me. If you think I would make a good Governor, it is your
duty to vote for me."
(Montgomery, p. 156)
perhaps had no towering mountain peaks, but it has surely furnished as many
first-grade second-class men in every department of life as any state in the
(Marshall, p. 39-40)
John. Familiar Quotations. Boston: Little, Brown, 1937. 11th Edition.
Brown, John E. Woodrow Wilson's Vice President: Thomas R. Marshall and the Wilson
Administration 1913-1921. Ph. D. Dissertation. Ball State University. 1970.
Davis, Calvin D. "Marshall, Thomas Riley." American National
Biography. Vol. 14. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. p.
Dean, Virgil W. "Bristow, Joseph Little."
American National Biography. Vol. 3. New York;Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1999. p. 573-575.
"Facetiae," Saturday Evening Post. October 16, 1875.
Hicks, John Donald. "Marshall, Thomas Riley."
Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. 6, Pt. 2. New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1933, 1961. p. 330-331.
Kelly, Fred C. The life and Times of Kin Hubbard, Creator of Abe Martin. New York:
Farrar, Stauss and Young, 1952.
Knappen, Theodore M. "For Once
the Limelight Shines on a Vice-President of the U.S." New York Tribune,
January 4, 1920. Section VII, p. 1.
Marshall, Thomas Riley.
Recollections of Thomas R. Marshall, Vice-President and Hoosier Philosopher;
A Hoosier Salad. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1925.
Mencken, H. L.
A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles from Ancient and
Modern Sources. New York: Knopf, 1942.
Montgomery, Keith S. "Thomas
R. Marshall's Victory in the Election of 1908." Indiana Magazine of
History. Vol. LIII, 1957. p. 146-166.
Oulahan, Richard V. "Marshall's Part in the Wilson Drama," New York
Timems, June 7, 1925. p. XX4.
"Personalities." New Orleans Times. September 25, 1875.
Shapiro, Fred. (Editor) The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press,
Tally, Steve. Bland
Ambition. San Diego; New York; London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.
"'Tom' Marshall -- Humorist." Literary Digest. June 20, 1925. p.
Thomas, Charles M. Thomas Riley Marshall: Hoosier
Statesman. Oxford, OH: Mississippi Valley Press, 1939.
George S. The Strangest Friendship in History; Woodrow Wilson and Colonel
House. New York: Liveright, 1932.
Indiana Notes and Queries.
March 18, 2000. Revised October 9, 2008