Society of St. Tammany

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The Society of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, originated in New York City in the late 1780s. During the Revolution, Tammany Societies, so called in honor of a mythical Delaware Indian chief, Tamamend, had appeared in Philadelphia and elsewhere to spread patriotism and republicanism and as a counter to more elitist organizations like the Society of the Cincinnati. When its early aspirations to become a national organization withered after independence, the society came to be associated most closely with New York. The first Tammany Society appeared in the city in 1786 or 1787 but attracted few recruits until 1789, when John Pintard, a merchant, and William Mooney, an upholsterer, assumed its leadership. Initially a fraternal order dedicated to the preservation of the art and natural history of the United States and the commemoration of the country's history, the society came to see itself as a bulwark of republicanism and democracy against aristocracy. Modest initiation fees and annual dues ensured a broad membership. Artisans and mechanics made up the bulk of members by the mid-1790s, but the organization also included lawyers and merchants. In keeping with its Indian motif, the society was organized into "braves" and "tribes," who elected a board of directors made up of thirteen "sachems." They, in turn, selected a grand sachem, a position held first by William Mooney and then by William Pitt Smith. The Society held monthly meetings where members debated current events over dinner and drinks; supported local charities; and, in Indian regalia, marched in parades celebrating patriotic holidays.

As partisanship intensified in the early 1790s, the society's political activities grew. The city's artisans and laborers became disenchanted with Federalism and gravitated to the emerging Democratic Republicans. During the debates over the French Revolution, Tammany sided with France, organizing pro-French demonstrations in New York in 1793 and 1794 and denouncing the Jay Treaty the following year. In 1795 Federalist members withdrew when the society refused to endorse Washington's denunciation of the new Democratic Societies, leaving the Republicans in control. Over the next decade, pro-Jefferson Tammany Societies were revived in several states, but in most places they retained their fraternal character and were rarely a major political force.

Tammany's emergence as a political organization dates from the intense factionalism of New York politics in the early nineteenth century. By 1807 the supporters of Aaron Burr, known as Martling Men because they met at Martling's Tavern, had gained control and turned Tammany into a base of opposition to DeWitt Clinton. For more than a decade thereafter, New York politics revolved around the struggle between Clintonians and Tammanyites. In 1812 the society moved to the corner of Nassau and Frankfort Streets, the home of Tammany Hall until 1868. By 1820 Tammany had allied with Martin Van Buren's Bucktails against Clinton. Together they successfully pushed for state constitutional reform and universal male suffrage and built the political organization that carried New York for Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party in 1828. Despite scandals and internal divisions in the 1830s and beyond, by mid-century Tammany Hall was well on its way to becoming one of the most formidable political machines in American history.

See alsoDemocratic Republicans; New York City; Patriotic Societies .


Burrows, Edwin G., and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Mushkat, Jerome. Tammany: The Evolution of a Political Machine, 1789–1865. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1971.

Myers, Gustavus. The History of Tammany Hall. 2nd ed. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1917.

L. Ray Gunn

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Society of St. Tammany

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Society of St. Tammany