What This Country Needs is a Really
Good 5-Cent Cigar

Jeffrey Graf
Reference Services Department
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 experimentation.

      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 official position.

      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)

      Colonel Edward 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.)

      Although 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 length.

      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)

      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 Senate.
"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)
      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:
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.]

Brown continues:
      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.]
      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.]
      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.

      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.

      The 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 remains.

      Beyond the cigar, there is more quotable Marshall:

On politics:
"All I ever got out of politics was to lose my home."
(NY Tribune)

On being right and being wrong:
"The time when I am liable to be wholly wrong is when I know that I am absolutely right."
(NY Tribune)

On politics:
"I do not talk politics between campaigns and afterward I regret what I said in them."
(NY Tribune)

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:
Marshall telegraphed 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 Republicans:
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:
"I had to do it, steal or resign."
(Thomas, p. 191)

On the vice-presidency:
"I've got the best job I've ever had now; no responsibilities."
(Thomas, p. 220)

On the wealthy, property rights and a government policy of protective tariffs that enabled individuals to accumulate fortunes:
"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)

On Democrats:
"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 American independence."
(Marshall, p. 125-126)

On politics:
"The 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 debate:
"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:
"If you 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."
(Marshall, p. 230)

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)

On Henry Cabot Lodge and the animosity between him and President Wilson:
"Did Lodge 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."
(Marshall, p. 368)

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 him."
(Tally, p. 221. Undocumented)

On envy:
Marshall played 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 Constitution:
"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)

On voting:
"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)

On Indiana:
"It has 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 Union."
(Marshall, p. 39-40)


Bartlett, 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. 576-578.

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, 2006.

Tally, Steve. Bland Ambition. San Diego; New York; London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.

"'Tom' Marshall -- Humorist." Literary Digest. June 20, 1925. p. 45-46.

Thomas, Charles M. Thomas Riley Marshall: Hoosier Statesman. Oxford, OH: Mississippi Valley Press, 1939.

Viereck, 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