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Journalist, author of The American Language
H. L. Mencken

Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken (12 September 1880 – 29 January 1956) was an American journalist, satirist, cultural critic and scholar of American English. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians and contemporary movements. His satirical reporting on the Scopes trial, which he dubbed the "Monkey Trial", also gained him attention.


Mencken, H. L. (1880-1956), by Rod L. Evans, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Henry Louis (H. L.) Mencken, 'The Sage of Baltimore,' left school in 1899 to become a reporter for the city's Morning Herald and later served as drama critic, city editor, and then managing editor of the Evening Herald. So famous and influential was he in the age before TV that a prominent contemporary, the journalist Walter Lippmann, called him 'the most powerful influence on this whole generation of educated people.' Indeed, most Mencken admirers today may not be libertarians, but are instead appreciators of his impressive literary and journalistic skills.

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12 Sep 1880, Henry Louis Mencken, in Baltimore, Maryland


29 Jan 1956, in Baltimore, Maryland


Laissez Faire Books
Mencken (1880-1956) was among the wittiest American individualists of the 20th century. He achieved an incredible output, contributing chapters to 20 books, producing about 30 books on his own, turning out thousands of newspaper columns and writing perhaps 100,000 letters--an estimated 10 million words altogether. He wrote about literature, politics, food, health, sports, music and many other subjects. He spoke out again and again for individual liberty.


The American Mercury, Editor, 1924-1933

Web Pages

Advocates for Self-Government - Libertarian Education: H. L. Mencken - Libertarian
Biography (from Laissez Faire Books), picture and quote
Mencken's most endearing volumes are his first three volumes of autobiography, Happy Days (1940), Heathen Days (1941) and Newspaper Days (1943). They tell the story of this independent-minded, Baltimore lad who was determined to pursue his own happiness and usually found it. He loved many things, including his wife, beer, Beethoven and Gilbert & Sullivan.
H. L. Mencken -
Links to essays, columns and other resources about Mencken


Albert Jay Nock: A Gifted Pen for Radical Individualism, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Mar 1997
Biographical essay, including Nock's early life, editorship of The Freeman (1920-1924), and notable books and essays
The influential editor and author H. L. Mencken declared: "What publicist among us, indeed, writes better than Nock? ..." ... Back in New York, Nock became a good friend of H.L. Mencken, the maverick who edited American Mercury. "There is no better companion in the world than Henry," Nock exulted after one Manhattan dinner. "I admire him, and have the warmest affection for him. I was impressed afresh by his superb character—immensely able, unselfconscious, sincere, erudite, simple-hearted, kindly, generous, really a noble fellow if ever there was one in the world."
The Anatomy of the State, by Murray N. Rothbard, Rampart Journal of Individualist Thought, Jun 1965
Examines several attributes of the State, including how it maintains and grows itself and how it deals with other States
Mencken vividly maintained: "The average man, whatever his errors otherwise, at least sees clearly that government is something lying outside him and outside the generality of his fellow men—that it is a separate, independent, and hostile power, only partly under his control, and capable of doing him great harm ... What lies behind all this ... is a deep sense of the fundamental antagonism between the government and the people it governs. It is apprehended ... as a separate ... corporation, mainly devoted to exploiting the population for the benefit of its own members ..."
The Bathtub, Mencken, and War, by Wendy McElroy, The Freeman, Sep 1999
Relates the story behind a Mencken essay, written during the First World War, to mock and show contempt for contemporary "journalists who blithely reported fiction as fact" and subsequent (eight years later) articles confessing to the hoax
Mencken was an established and respected newspaperman. He had started his career as a reporter for the Baltimore Morning Herald in 1899, becoming city editor in 1904. In 1906 he began his long association with the Baltimore Sun ... Near the end of 1916 he traveled as a reporter to the eastern front to cover the hostilities, but the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Germany and America forced him to return ... His book on the position of women in society, In Defense of Women, was issued in 1918. And the first edition of Mencken's magnum opus, The American Language, emerged in 1919.
Related Topics: War, World War I
UpdThe battle to make America wet again, by Nicholas A. Snow, 8 Mar 2017
Recounts how the 18th Amendment (ratified January 1919) and National Prohibition Act were repealed (in December 1933), particularly through the efforts of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR)
There were, of course, wet detractors from the start. Journalist H.L. Mencken often derided Prohibition in his articles; sarcastically quipping that "a Prohibitionist is the sort of man one couldn't care to drink with, even if he drank." In 1925, Mencken summed up the record of Prohibition to that point: "There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished."
Related Topics: Children, Prohibition, Voting
Henry Hazlitt, by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., 1998
Biographical and bibliographical essay
In the early thirties, the literary set also turned against H.L. Mencken, founding editor of American Mercury, because of his opposition to the New Deal. When Mencken decided to turn the journal over to a new editor, he named Hazlitt, calling him the "only competent critic of the arts that I have heard of who was at the same time a competent economist, of practical as well as theoretical training." And, Mencken added, "he is one of the few economists in human history who could really write."
H.L. Mencken: An Appreciation, by Roy Childs
Short note written for Laissez Faire Books, including a Mencken quote
H.L. Mencken was born in Baltimore on September 12, 1880 ... Writer, editor, critic, newspaperman, philologist--he was a phenomenon! His whirlwind prose reflected his zest for life with a style never matched before or since. He has had imitators but never an equal. Mencken has been called 'the joyous libertarian,' but there is so much more to Mencken than politics -- or even his sense of humor. Whether he is writing on American letters or Italian music, Jack Dempsey or Mark Twain, his was a perspective that stood alone. ... He's the most provocative writer you'll ever encounter.
H.L. Mencken: The Soul Behind the Sass, by Thomas Hazlett, Reason, Dec 1987
Review of the second edition of Disturber of the Peace: The Life of H.L. Mencken by William Manchester
Has there ever, in any metropolis or recess of Christendom, lived a more enchanting man than H.L. Mencken? Henry Louis Mencken managed to give birth to better than 30 finely honed books, covering the gamut: poetry, drama, literature, philosophy, religion, politics, government, war, the arts, sex. He rivals Walter Lippmann as America's preeminent 20th-century journalist; he is alone at the top among the epoch's essayists and satirists. Mencken's pen savaged all that was Great and Bogus in America: the cads in Washington, the Babbitts on main street; the archmorons in the pulpits.
H. L. Mencken, America's Wittiest Defender of Liberty, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Sep 1995
Biographical essay, highlighting Mencken's tenure at the Baltimore Sun, the books he authored, the founding and his work at the American Mercury monthly and his brief relationship with Sara Haardt
During the first half of the twentieth century, H. L. Mencken was the most outspoken defender of liberty in America. He spent thousands of dollars challenging restrictions on freedom of the press. He boldly denounced President Woodrow Wilson for whipping up patriotic fervor to enter World War I, which cost his job as a newspaper columnist ... Though intensely controversial, Mencken earned respect as America's foremost newspaperman and literary critic ... Someday, hopefully more people will appreciate Mencken's vital role in nourishing a love for liberty during some of America's darkest decades.
H. L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian, by Murray N. Rothbard, New Individualist Review, 1962
Examines the themes and style in Mencken's writings, mainly from selected pieces in A Mencken Chrestomathy
It is typical of American Kultur that it was incapable of understanding H. L. Mencken. And it was typical of H. L. Mencken that this didn't bother him a bit; in fact, quite the contrary, for it confirmed his estimate of his fellow-countrymen ... That a man of ebullient wit can be, in a sense, all the more devoted to positive ideas and principles is understood by very few ... This was and still is the common fate of H. L. Mencken ... Mencken had other qualities, too: enormous gusto, a sparkling wit, ... a zest for the dramatic events of the everyday world that made him a born journalist.
Honesty among Thieves, by Michael Tennant, 30 Jul 2008
Discusses the case of a Minnesota college student who was prosecuted for offering his vote for sale on eBay (for a $10 minimum), and comparing that to the "gigantic" monetary and benefits promises made by both candidates Obama and McCain
"Government," wrote H.L. Mencken, "is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods." That is, the government owns nothing that it did not first steal from the people it rules, and its officials obtain and retain power by doling out these stolen goods to their constituents. ... The election, in Mencken's apt phrase, is indeed "an advance auction sale of stolen goods," and most voters will indeed be selling their votes to the highest bidder.
Related Topics: Barack Obama, Voting
The New Deal Made Them 'Right', by Damon Root, Cato Policy Report, Sep 2009
Discusses how various "prominent liberals" (Mencken, John T. Flynn, Al Smith, Burton K. Wheeler and Nock) found themselves categorized on the political right as a consequence of their opposition to Roosevelt's New Deal
A self-described "lifelong Democrat," Mencken voted for Roosevelt in 1932 and voiced cautious support for the New Deal's first stirrings ... As America's most famous political journalist for several decades, Mencken routinely championed the individual against the collective, siding with the imprisoned antiwar socialist Eugene V. Debs, with the embattled high school science teacher John Scopes, and with the thankless American taxpayer, the sort "who feels that he is being mulcted in an excessive amount for services that, in the main, are useless to him, and that, in substantial part, are downright inimical to him."
Rand, Ayn (1905-1982), by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical and bibliographical essay, also examining Rand's relationships with several leading thinkers
[Rand's] first novel, We the Living, published in 1936, focused on the conflict between the individual and the state ... Around this time, Rand began corresponding with several leading American proponents of individualism. In the early 1930s, she wrote to H. L. Mencken, whom she regarded "as the foremost champion of individualism" in America, and she quickly identified herself as "a young and very humble brother-in-arms" of Mencken's libertarian cause.


The Declaration of Independence in American, 7 Nov 1921
Originally "Essay in American"; reprinted in The American Language, third edition, 1923; includes a preface explaining why the original Declaration is "quite unintelligible" to the average current-day (1920's) American
All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, me and you is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain't got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time whichever way he likes, so long as he don't interfere with nobody else. That any government that don't give a man them rights ain't worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of government they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter.
Grover Cleveland - Hero of the Day, The American Mercury, Jan 1933
Biographical profile published by The Daily Objectivist; excerpted from H. L. Mencken's review of Grover Cleveland: a Study in Courage (1932) by Allan Nevins
We have had more brilliant Presidents than Cleveland, and one or two who were considerably more profound, but we have never had one, at least since Washington, whose fundamental character was solider and more admirable. ... He got on in politics, not by knuckling to politicians, but by scorning and defying them, and when he found himself opposed in what he conceived to be sound and honest courses, not only by politicans but by the sovereign people, he treated them to a massive dose of the same medicine. No more self-sufficient man is recorded in modern history.
Related Topic: Grover Cleveland
The Land of the Free, The Baltimore Sun, 12 Jan 1925
Relates the story of Italian-American newspaper owner Carlo Tresca and his travails for daring to criticize the Italian Fascists
Carlo Tresca is the proprietor of a small Italian paper in New York, by name Il Martello. He runs to Liberal ideas, and when the Fascisti came into power in his native country, and began Ku Kluxing their opponents, he denounced them in his paper, and called upon the Italians in America to repudiate them ...
So far, indeed, but eight persons in all the United States have gone to Tresca's aid. Four are Italian-American politicians. One is a Liberal pastor. Two are old and battle-scarred libertarians ...The eighth is La Sanger ... No one else will take any interest in the case.

Cartoons and Comic Strips

Museum of Aging, by Thaves, Frank and Ernest, 5 Apr 2015
The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.


The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken
    by Terry Teachout, 2002
Partial contents: Birth of a Burgeois, 1880-1899 - Reporter and Editor, 1899-1906 - Columnist and Critic, 1906-1914 - At the Smart Set, 1915-1918 - Becoming a Legend, 1918-1923 - At the American Mercury, 1924-1928

Books Authored

The American Language: An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 1919
Partial contents: The Two Streams of English - The Materials of the Inquiry - The Beginnings of American - The Period of Growth - The Language Today - American and English - The Pronunciation of American - American Spelling - The Common Speech
A Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949
Partial contents: Homo Sapiens - Types of Men - Women - Religion - Morals - Crime and Punishment - Death - Government - Democracy - Americans - The South - History - Statesmen - American Immortals - Odd Fish - Economics - Pedagogy - Pscychology - Science
A New Dictionary of Quotations: On Historical Principles from Ancient and Modern Sources
    by H. L. Mencken (editor), 1942
This book is based upon a collection of quotations begun in 1918 or thereabout for my own use. Its purpose was to keep track of sayings that, for one reason or another, interested me and seemed worth remembering, but that, also for one reason or another, were not in the existing quotation-books. The collection grew steadily, helped by the contributions of friends who knew of it, and there arose inevitably the notion that it might be worth printing.
The Vintage Mencken
    by Alistair Cooke (Compiler), H. L. Mencken (Author), 1955
Partial contents: Introduction to the Universe - The Baltimore of the Eighties - Adventures of a Y.M.C.A. Lad - Text for Newspaper Days - First Appearance in Print - Recollections of Notable Cops - Theodore Dreiser - Gore in the Caribbees - Pater Patriae


H. L. Mencken Interview, 30 Jun 1948
Recording made at the request of the Library of Congress; interviewed by Donald Kirkley who was an editor for The Baltimore Sun and first met Mencken in 1920

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "H. L. Mencken" as of 7 Feb 2016, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.