New Episode of American Vandal Explores Origins of Police Departments in San Francisco & Charleston



During the mid-1860s, Mark Twain waged a prolonged and inflammatory media war against the San Francisco Police. By some accounts his campaign led directly to the replacement of the SFPD’s longtime Chief, Martin Burke, as well as to broader reforms which were later adopted by departments across the nation. During the same years Twain was excoriating the SFPD, his future publicist, James Redpath, was participating in the occupation and reconstruction of Confederate Charleston. From Redpath’s perspective, the prosperity of Charleston after the Civil War depended upon annihilating the institutions of its past, including the police force which had been formed explicitly to patrol and punish the enslaved population.

In this episode, derived from the final lecture in the Fall 2020 season of the Trouble Begins Series, Matt Seybold uses Twain and Redpath as lenses for comparing the history of policing in two U.S. cities, separated by nearly 3,000 miles, as well as by contrasting demographics, economies, and cultural institutions. Seybold is Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, as well as resident scholar at the Center for Mark Twain Studies, editor of MarkTwainStudies.org, and host of The American Vandal Podcast. His work is undoubtedly familiar to regular visitors to this site. He is also co-editor of the Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018) and a 2019 special issue of American Literary History on “Economics & Literary Studies in the New Gilded Age.” Find out more about his recent publications at MattSeybold.com

The content of this episode can also be consumed as a video lecture via our YouTube channel.

If you are interested in learning more about James Redpath, check out the first episode of The American Vandal, in which Dr. Seybold discusses an earlier period of Redpath’s career, during which he participated in Bleeding Kansas and developed his skills as a publicist representing Marion Harland and John Brown.

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