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Rings, Political


RINGS, POLITICAL. A political ring is a comparatively small group of persons, usually headed by a political boss, organized to control a city, county, or state, and primarily interested in deriving there from large personal monetary profit. Political rings became particularly notorious in American politics during the second half of the nineteenth century.

The Tweed Ring of New York City was the most famous political ring of all time. As a young man on the New York Board of Aldermen in 1851, William Tweed joined a ring, known as the "Forty Thieves," whose purpose was to gain personal profit from the improper granting of franchises. As a member of the Board of Supervisors, Tweed belonged to several short-lived rings that stole rather moderately from the public. The famous political ring that bears his name, and that for boldness has probably never been surpassed, was organized in 1869 and composed of Tweed, Mayor A. Oakey "O. K." Hall, Comptroller Richard "Slippery Dick" Connolly, and Peter B. "Brains" Sweeny. In the early 1870s, the machinations of the Tweed Ring came to light and Tweed himself served time in prison.

Although less notorious than the Tweed Ring, the Philadelphia Gas Ring actually exerted greater political influence but indulged in less peculation. Whereas the Tweed Ring came to grief within three years of its founding, the Gas Ring wielded great political power from 1865 until 1887. Similar rings developed in Saint Louis, Minneapolis, and San Francisco, among other cities. During the twentieth century the term "political machine" replaced "political ring" in common usage.


Callow, Alexander B., Jr. The Tweed Ring. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Josephson, Matthew. The Politicos, 1865–1896. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1963.

Mandelbaum, Seymour J. Boss Tweed's New York. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1990.

HaroldZink/a. g.

See alsoCivil Service ; Corruption, Political ; Gilded Age ; Machine, Political .

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