Tammany Hall

views updated Jun 08 2018


TAMMANY HALL. Founded in May 1789 by William Mooney, the Society of Saint Tammany originally began as a fraternal organization that met to discuss politics at Martling's Tavern in New York City. Enthusiastically pro-French and anti-British, the Tammany Society became identified with Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party. By 1812 the society boasted some 1,500 members and moved into the first Tammany Hall at the corner of Frankfurt and Nassau streets. In the "labyrinth

of wheels within wheels" that characterized New York politics in the early nineteenth century, Tammany was the essential cog in the city's Democratic wheel, and carried New York for Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in the elections of 1828 and 1832.

The adoption by the state legislature in 1826 of universal white male suffrage and the arrival each year of thousands of immigrants changed the character of New York City and of its politics. Despite some early xenophobia, the Tammany leaders rejected the nativism of the Know-Nothing Party. Realizing the usefulness of the newcomers, they led them to the polls as soon as they were eligible to vote; in turn, the new voters looked to the local Democratic district leader as a source of jobs and assistance in dealing with the intricacies of the burgeoning city bureaucracy. Upon the election of Fernando Wood as mayor in 1854, city hall became and remained a Tammany fiefdom.

With the elevation of William Marcy Tweed to grand sachem of the Tammany Society in 1863, Tammany became the prototype of the corrupt city machine, and for a time its power extended to the state capital after Tweed succeeded in electing his own candidate, John Hoffman, governor. The corruption of the Tweed Ring was all pervasive. Tweed and his associates pocketed some $9 million, padding the bills for the construction of the infamous Tweed Courthouse in City Hall Park. The estimated amounts they took in graft, outright theft, real estate mortgages, tax reductions for the rich, and sale of jobs range from $20 million to $200 million. Tweed ended his spectacular career in jail, following an exposé of the ring by the New York Times and Harper's Weekly, whose famous cartoonist, Thomas Nast, lashed out at the boss week after week, depicting him in prison stripes and Tammany as a rapacious tiger devouring the city. "Honest" John Kelly turned Tammany into an efficient, autocratic organization that for several generations dominated New York City politics from clubhouse to city hall.

Kelly's successor as Tammany leader was Richard Croker, who was somewhat more in the Tweed mold; he took advantage of the smooth-running Kelly machine to indulge his taste for thoroughbred horses, fine wines, and high living. Croker initiated the alliance between Tammany and big business, but Charles Francis Murphy, his successor, perfected it. Contractors with Tammany connections built the skyscrapers, the railroad stations, and the docks. A taciturn former saloonkeeper who had been docks commissioner during the administration of Mayor Robert A. Van Wyck, Murphy realized that the old ways were no longer appropriate. He set about developing the so-called New Tammany, which, when it found it was to its advantage, supported social legislation; sponsored a group of bright young men like Alfred E. Smith and Robert Wagner Sr. for political office; and maintained control of the city by its old methods. Murphy died in 1924 without realizing his dream of seeing one of his young men, Al Smith, nominated for the presidency. Murphy was the last of the powerful Tammany bosses. His successors were men of little vision, whose laxity led to the Seabury investigation of the magistrates courts and of the city government.

In 1932, Mayor James J. Walker was brought up on corruption charges before Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt but resigned before he was removed from office. In retaliation the Tammany leaders refused to support Roosevelt's bid for the Democratic nomination for president, and tried to prevent Herbert H. Lehman, Roosevelt's choice as his successor, from obtaining the gubernatorial nomination. As a result, the Roosevelt faction funneled federal patronage to New York City through the reform mayor, Fiorello La Guardia (a nominal Republican). The social legislation of the New Deal helped to lessen the hold of the old-time district leaders on the poor, who now could obtain government assistance as a right instead of a favor. Absorption of most municipal jobs into civil service and adoption of more stringent immigration laws undercut the power base of the city machines. In the 1960s the New York County Democratic Committee dropped the name Tammany; and the Tammany Society, which had been forced for financial reasons to sell the last Tammany Hall on Union Square, faded from the New York scene.


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

Mandelbaum, Seymour J. Boss Tweed's New York. New York: Wiley, 1965.

Moscow, Warren. The Last of the Big-Time Bosses: The Life and Times of Carmine De Sapio and the Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall. New York: Stein and Day, 1971.

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

CatherineO'Dea/a. g.

See alsoCivil Service ; Corruption, Political ; Democratic Party ; Machine, Political ; Rings, Political ; Tammany Societies ; Tweed Ring .

Tammany Hall

views updated May 29 2018


Tammany Hall (or, the Executive Committee of the New York County Democratic Party) in the 1920s was the nation's most powerful political machine. It controlled New York City government, as it had with only brief interruptions since the days of the Tweed Ring (a group of corrupt politicans who dominated the Hall and New York City government in the 1860s.) It also dominated state politics, electing one of its own, Alfred E. Smith, as governor in 1918, 1922, 1924, and 1926. It even played a significant role in national Democratic Party politics: Smith captured the party's presidential nomination in 1928, and another Tammany graduate, Robert F. Wagner, sat in the U.S. Senate. However, after the death of its most able leader, Charles F. Murphy, in 1924, Tammany began a long decline. It was rent by internal squabbles, and population shifts to the other boroughs allowed the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens County Democratic organizations increasingly to assert their independence at Tammany's expense.

Tammany and the other party organizations did cooperate to elect James J. Walker mayor in 1925 and again in 1929. It was a disastrous choice. While "Gentleman Jimmy" played, his Tammany appointees looted the city. The electorate, which had been willing to overlook corruption and mismanagement in the booming 1920s, became more critical in the Depression. In response to mounting criticism, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Republican-controlled state senate launched three investigations of the Walker administration, all headed by Samuel Seabury. The inquiries uncovered sales of judgeships and extortion in the magistrates' courts, a district attorney's office that protected racketeers, and a pattern of citywide corruption that Walker knew of and tolerated. On the basis of these findings, Seabury recommended that Roosevelt remove the mayor from office in 1932.

At the 1932 national convention, angry Tammany chief John Curry led a delegation committed to Al Smith's presidential nomination and irreconcilably against Roosevelt's. Once Roosevelt triumphed, Tammany loyalists blocked a move to make the nomination unanimous. Later, candidate Roosevelt, eager to disassociate himself from Tammany's scandals, forced Walker's resignation. Even after Roosevelt's inauguration, Tammany did not follow the lead of most other urban Democratic machines and line up behind the president.

The Hall soon paid the price of its folly. The Roosevelt administration cut off all federal patronage, funneling it instead to Tammany's rivals, Bronx County Democratic Chairman Edward J. Flynn and Brooklyn County leader Frank Kelly. In 1933, a coalition of Republicans, anti-Tammany Democrats, and other reformers, disgusted by the Seabury revelations and Tammany's inability to handle the Depression-spawned fiscal and relief crises, organized the Fusion Party and elected Fiorello H. La Guardia mayor of New York City. La Guardia relentlessly cleared Tammany appointees from municipal posts, replacing them with people who were both Fusion backers and well qualified. By 1939, 74 percent of all city jobs were under civil service. Roosevelt wrote off Tammany and recognized in La Guardia an honest and progressive politician with whom he could work. Washington made it possible for La Guardia to build more public works and offer more services and jobs than the old political bosses ever could. The Works Progress Administration alone employed 700,000 city residents. To attract the votes of progressive Republicans, anti-Tammany Democrats, and independents for his own reelection in 1936, 1940, and 1944, and for La Guardia's in 1937 and 1941, Roosevelt gave his blessing to the establishment of the American Labor Party. In 1937 and 1941, the President endorsed La Guardia over his Democratic opponents.

Deprived of patronage, jobs, and money, the machine languished. By 1936, membership in Tammany clubs had declined by 70 percent. Its treasury was so empty by 1943 that it had to sell its headquarters to the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union. While it did help elect a string of Democratic mayors after La Guardia and briefly revived under the leadership of its first Italian boss, Carmine DeSapio, it never returned to its 1920s glory.



Blumberg, Barbara. The New Deal and the Unemployed: The View from New York City. 1979.

Connable, Alfred, and Edward Silberfarb. Tigers of Tammany: Nine Men Who Ran New York. 1967.

Eisenstein, Louis, and Elliot M. Rosenberg. A Stripe of Tammany's Tiger. 1966.

Flynn, Edward. You're the Boss: The Practice of American Politics. 1962.

Lankevich, George. American Metropolis: A History of New York City. 1998.

Savage, Sean J. Roosevelt: The Party Leader, 1932–1945. 1991.

Vos, Frank. "Tammany Hall." In The Encyclopedia of New York City, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson. 1991.

Barbara Blumberg

Tammany Hall

views updated May 21 2018

Tammany Hall

A veteran of the American Revolution (1775–83) named William Mooney founded the Tammany Society in New York in 1789. The name came from a Delaware chief, Tamanend, who supposedly developed a friendship with William Penn (1644–1718), an American statesman.

By 1800, the Tammany Society was a powerful political machine (unofficial political system based on behind-the-scenes control and favors given and collected, usually between politicians and big business). In 1830, the society's headquarters were established in a New York City building that became known as Tammany Hall. From that point on, the society itself was referred to by the same name.

In the mid-1800s, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants arrived in New York City searching for religious freedom, food, and steady work. They were a loyal group, willing to use any means necessary to get what they needed, and had what many believed to be a natural propensity for politics. Tammany Hall membership came to include many Irish, who were willing to give their votes in exchange for food and money.

Tammany Hall elected its first New York City mayor in 1855, and for the next seventy years, the city government would be dominated by Tammany politicians. One of its most infamous, William Marcy “Boss” Tweed (1823–1878) never became mayor, but was considered the most influential person in the city. Tweed essentially controlled any mayor in office, and appointed so many of his friends to political positions in New York City that in 1870, he was able to pass a charter allowing him and his friends—known as the Tweed Ring—to control the city treasury.

Tweed's crimes were many. He and his cronies faked leases on city-owned buildings, padded bills with charges for repairs that never happened, and bought overpriced goods and services from suppliers controlled by the ring. All in all, they managed to steal between $30 million and $200 million from the city between 1865 and 1871.

Tweed's most notorious deed was the construction of the New York County Courthouse, begun in 1861. In one example of the corruption involved, he paid a carpenter $360,751 (equal to $4.9 million in modern value) for one month's worth of work. But the courthouse had very little woodwork throughout its rooms. Three tables and forty chairs cost $179,729 (equal to $2.5 million). A plasterer received $133,187 (equal to $1.82 million) for two days' work. These laborers were friends of Tweed. Tweed himself profited from a financial interest in the quarry that provided the marble for the courthouse.

Tweed also controlled the Democratic Party of New York City. By 1870, he was appointed commissioner of public works. This position

gave him even greater opportunity to steal the city's money. Tweed also organized the development of City Hall Park. His original estimate for the project was $350,000. By the time he had completed the job, spending had escalated to $13 million.

On July 21, 1871, the New York Times published some of the contents of New York County's financial records. When the public realized that Tweed was paying his friends $41,190 for a broom and $7,500 for a thermometer, an investigation ensued. In 1873, Tweed was arrested, found guilty of corruption, and sentenced to twelve years behind bars. He served only two years but was rearrested almost upon release. New York sued him for $6 million. Tweed died in a New York prison on April 12, 1878.

Tammany Hall remained corrupt and powerful into the twentieth century, and it was not until the 1930s that it lost its influence under a reform-minded mayor, Fiorello La Guardia (1882–1947). Mayor John V. Lindsay (1921–2000) put an end to Tammany Hall in the 1960s.

Tammany Hall

views updated May 29 2018


Political machines have traditionally wielded influence in U.S. society, and one of the most

notorious was Tammany Hall in New York. Controlled by the democratic party, the power of Tammany Hall grew to such an extent that its members dominated New York government for nearly two centuries.

Founded by William Mooney in 1789, Tammany Hall was originally a fraternal and patriotic organization first called the Society of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order. The name Tammany evolved from Tamanend, a legendary Delaware Indian chief, and the members of Tammany Hall used many Indian words to designate their various titles. Each trustee was a sachem, and the presiding officer was a grand sachem; the only person to receive the honor of great grand sachem was a president of the United States. The member who served as secretary was known as a scribe, and the building that housed the Tammany meetings was called a wigwam.

From these innocent beginnings, Tammany Hall grew into a political force. Affiliates of the organization actively participated in politics in the early nineteenth century. In 1812 the association moved into the first Tammany Hall with a membership of approximately fifteen hundred members. By 1821 the association was receiving widespread support in New York City. Unfortunately Tammany Hall was also gaining a reputation for corruption, control, and subterfuge.

In 1854 Tammany Hall member Fernando Wood was elected mayor of New York City. From then until 1933, City Hall was dominated almost exclusively by Tammany Hall.

The most corrupt and infamous member of Tammany Hall was William Marcy Tweed, called "Boss" Tweed. He served as a state senator in 1868 and, with his followers, known as the Tweed Ring, dominated state government and defrauded New York City of millions of dollars.

The corruption continued under subsequent Tammany Hall leaders, such as "Honest John" Kelly, Richard F. Croker, and Charles F. Murphy. By 1930, however, Samuel Seabury had begun to direct revealing inquiries against the city magistrates' courts. These investigations led to the downfall of Tammany Hall and the resignation of incumbent mayor James J. Walker in 1932. Fiorello LaGuardia was elected mayor in 1933, and an anti-Tammany Hall era began. The once-powerful Tammany Hall machine was resurrected briefly in the 1950s by politician Carmine DeSapio but never regained the stronghold in New York politics that it once enjoyed.

further readings

Allen, Oliver E. 1993. The Tiger: The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Tammany Hall

views updated May 14 2018

Tammany Hall Democratic Party organization in New York City. It evolved from the fraternal and patriotic order of St Tammany, which was founded in 1789, and rapidly became the focal point of resistance to the Federal Party. By 1865, Tammany Hall, under William ‘Boss’ Tweed, had become the most important voice of the Democratic Party in the city and was synonymous with the organized corruption of urban politics.

Tammany Hall

views updated May 14 2018

Tammany Hall in the US, a powerful organization within the Democratic Party that was widely associated with corruption. Founded as a fraternal and benevolent society in 1789, it came to dominate political life in New York City in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before being reduced in power by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the early 1930s.