Tammany Hall

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Tammany Hall
Tammany Hall logo crop.jpg
The Tammany Hall logo on its headquarters at Park Avenue South and 17th Street
Named afterTamanend (anglicized to "Tammany"), Lenapes' leader
Motto"Freedom Our Rock"[1]
FormationMay 12, 1789 (1789-05-12)
FounderWilliam Mooney
Founded atNew York City, New York
Dissolved1967; 51 years ago (1967)
Merger ofTammanies
TypeDemocratic pressure group
Legal statusDefunct
HeadquartersSeveral: last was in Madison Avenue at East 23rd Street, New York City
ServicesPatronage, initially for Irish immigrants
Aaron Burr (first)
J. Raymond Jones (last)
Key people
William M. Tweed, Fernando Wood, Richard Croker, Lewis Nixon, Carmine DeSapio
AffiliationsDemocratic Party

Tammany Hall, also known as the Society of St. Tammany, the Sons of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, was a New York City political organization founded in 1786 and incorporated on May 12, 1789, as the Tammany Society. It was the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in controlling New York City and New York State politics and helping immigrants, most notably the Irish, rise up in American politics from the 1790s to the 1960s. It typically controlled Democratic Party nominations and political patronage in Manhattan from the mayoral victory of Fernando Wood in 1854 and used its patronage resources to build a loyal, well-rewarded core of district and precinct leaders; after 1850 the great majority were Irish Catholics.

The Tammany Society emerged as the center for Democratic-Republican Party politics in the city in the early 19th century. After 1854, the Society expanded its political control even further by earning the loyalty of the city's rapidly expanding immigrant community, which functioned as its base of political capital. The business community appreciated its readiness, at moderate cost, to cut through red tape and legislative mazes to facilitate rapid economic growth. The Tammany Hall ward boss or ward heeler – "wards" were the city's smallest political units from 1786 to 1938 – served as the local vote gatherer and provider of patronage. By 1872 Tammany had an Irish Catholic "boss," and in 1928 a Tammany hero, New York Governor Al Smith, won the Democratic presidential nomination. However, Tammany Hall also served as an engine for graft and political corruption, perhaps most infamously under William M. "Boss" Tweed in the mid-19th century. By the 1880s, Tammany was building local clubs that appealed to social activists from the ethnic middle class.[2][3] In quiet times the machine had the advantage of a core of solid supporters and usually exercised control of politics and policymaking in Manhattan; it also played a major role in the state legislature in Albany.

Charles Murphy was the highly effective but quiet boss of Tammany from 1902–1924.[4] "Big Tim" Sullivan was the Tammany leader in the Bowery, and machine's spokesman in the state legislature.[5] In the early twentieth century Murphy and Sullivan promoted Tammany as a reformed agency dedicated to the interests of the working class. The new image deflected attacks and built up a following among the emerging ethnic middle class. In the process Robert F. Wagner became a powerful United States Senator, and Al Smith served multiple terms as governor and was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1928.[6][7]

Tammany Hall's influence waned from 1930 to 1945 when it engaged in a losing battle with Franklin D. Roosevelt, the state's governor (1928–33) and the United States president (1933–45). In 1932, Mayor Jimmy Walker was forced from office when his bribery was exposed. Roosevelt stripped Tammany of federal patronage. Republican Fiorello La Guardia was elected mayor on a Fusion ticket and became the first anti-Tammany mayor to be re-elected. A brief resurgence in Tammany power in the 1950s under the leadership of Carmine DeSapio was met with Democratic Party opposition led by Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Lehman, and the New York Committee for Democratic Voters. By the mid-1960s Tammany Hall ceased to exist.


Thomas Nast denounces Tammany as a ferocious tiger killing democracy. The image of a tiger was often used to represent the Tammany Hall political movement.


The Tammany Society, also known as the Society of St. Tammany, the Sons of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, was founded in New York on May 12, 1789, originally as a branch of a wider network of Tammany Societies, the first having been formed in Philadelphia in 1772.[8] The society was originally developed as a club for "pure Americans".[9] The name "Tammany" comes from Tamanend, a Native American leader of the Lenape. The society adopted many Native American words and also their customs, going so far as to call its hall a wigwam. The first Grand Sachem, as the leader was titled, was William Mooney, an upholsterer of Nassau Street.[10]

By 1798, the society's activities had grown increasingly political. High ranking Democratic-Republican Aaron Burr saw Tammany Hall as an opportunity to counter Alexander Hamilton's Society of the Cincinnati and developed it into a political machine.[9] Eventually Tammany emerged as the center of Democratic-Republican Party politics in the city.[10] Burr used Tammany Hall influence in the election of 1800, in which he was elected Vice President of the United States. Many historians believe that without Tammany, President John Adams might have won New York State's electoral votes and won reelection.[11]

Early cases of political corruption involving Tammany Hall came to light during the group's feud with local politician Dewitt Clinton. The feud began in 1802 after Clinton accused Aaron Burr of being a traitor to the Democratic-Republican Party.[12] Clinton's uncle, George Clinton was jealous of Burr's achievements and positions. However George was too old to compete with young Aaron Burr, and so he left it to his nephew to topple Burr.[12] In 1803, Clinton left the United States Senate and became Mayor of New York City.[13] As mayor, Clinton enforced a spoils system and appointed his family and partisans to positions in the city's local government.[13] Tammany Hall soon realized its influence over the local political scene was no match for that of Clinton,[13] in part because Burr's support among New York City's residents greatly faded after he shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.[14] Tammany continued to support him for a time,[14] but eventually pressure from the public persuaded the organization to no longer affiliate themselves with Burr.[14]

In December 1805, Dewitt Clinton reached out to supporters of Burr in order to gain enough support to resist the influence of the powerful Livingston family.[14] The Livingston family, led by former New York City mayor Edward Livingston, backed New York Governor Morgan Lewis which presented a significant challenge to Clinton.[15] The Tammany Hall Sachems agreed to meet with him in secret, on February 20, 1806.[15] and agreed under the condition that the Clintons would once again acknowledge Aaron Burr as a Democratic-Republican, and stop using "Burrism" as a reason to object to their ideas.[12] The Clintons readily agreed to conditions, but had no plans on honoring those conditions. When the Sachems caught wind of this, the feud between Tammany Hall and Clinton continued.[14]

Tammany Hall afterwards became a locally organized machine dedicated to stopping Clinton and Federalists from rising to power in New York;[16] However, local Democratic-Republicans began to turn against Tammany Hall.[17] In the years covering 1806-1809, because of public demand, the local Common Council was forced to crack down on Tammany Hall. The resulting investigations found that a number of Tammany Officials were guilty of embezzlement and illegal activity.[18] For example, one official, Benjamin Romaine was found guilty of using his power to acquire land without paying. He was then removed from his office of City Comptroller[15] due to public demand, despite the Council being controlled by Democrat-Republicans.[15] Following the disclosures, the Federalists won control of the state legislature and the Democratic-Republican Party barely maintained control of the local government in New York City.[19] However, Tammany Hall did not learn their lesson,[14] and instead of fixing the problem of corruption, Wortman, one of the chief powers at the time, created a committee consisting of one member from each ward that would investigate and report in general meetings who were friends, or enemies.[17]

During the years between 1809-1810, the feud between Tammany Hall, and Clintonites intensified, as each party threw attacks at each other.[17] One of the Clintonites, James Cheetham, set about this by writing about Tammany and its corrupt activities, using his position as State Printer and publishing his work on American Citizen.[20] However, Tammany Hall did not take lightly to these activities, and managed to remove Cheetham from his position of State Printer.[20] However, at the same time, Clinton decided to try and cooperate with Tammany Hall in order to create a state dominated by Democrat-Republicans. In an attempt to successfully persuade Tammany Sachems, he pulled his support for Cheetham, who was his protege at the time.[14] Cheetham's loss of Clinton's support angered him, and he responded by releasing details of Tammany and Clinton's attempts at cooperating to control the state.[14] On September 18, 1810, James Cheetham died after an attack that was possibly Tammany-related.[14]

Between the years 1809 and 1815, Tammany Hall slowly revived itself by accepting immigrants and by secretly building a new wigwam to hold meetings whenever new Sachems were named.[21] The Democratic-Republican Committee, a new committee which consisted of the most influential local Democratic Republicans, would now name the new Sachems as well.[22] When Dewitt Clinton decided to run for president in 1811, Tammany Hall immediately accused Clinton of treason to his party, as well as attempting to create a family aristocracy. Even though New York State went to Clinton the following year, republicans could not help but see Clinton's actions as exactly what Tammany had accused them of being. With this most republicans in New York City turned from Clinton. When Tammany Hall put itself in support for the War in 1812, many others who supported the war joined Tammany Hall.[23] In fact, during this time, because of its successful establishing on political views, Tammany Hall was able to grow stronger, and even gain support from Federalists members who supported the war.[24] During this time we see Tammany Hall's earliest application of its most notable technique- turning support away from opposing parties, and rewarding newly joined members.[24] This was the case for Federalists who joined Tammany Hall. Tammany Hall managed to gain power, as well as reduce Clinton and his followers to just a small fraction.[25] In 1815, Tammany Hall grand sachem John Ferguson defeated Dewitt Clinton and was elected mayor. In 1817, however, Clinton with his success on the Erie Canal project gained so much popularity, that despite his weak position after the War, and Tammany's immense efforts, once again became Governor of New York and Tammany Hall again, fell.[26] Another factor leading to Clinton's popularity, was his patronage to the immigrants. The origins of Tammany Hall were based on representing "pure" or "native" Americans. This mean that the Hall totally dismissed the immigrants, such as the Irish. In 1817, April 24, discontent for this treatment led to a huge riot during a Tammany general committee session.[26] Tammany Hall soon began to accept Irish immigrants as members and eventually became dependent on them to maintain viability as a political force.[27] Until his death in 1828, Clinton would remain Governor of New York, with the exception of the two-year-period 1823–1824, and Tammany Hall's influence waned.

During the 1828 U.S. presidential election, Tammany Hall leaders met with Democratic candidate Andrew Jackson and agreed to endorse him after he promised to give them control over the allocation of some federal jobs.[28] After he was elected president, Jackson fulfilled his promise.[28] After 1829, Tammany Hall became the city affiliate of the Democratic Party, controlling most of the New York City elections afterwards.[29] In the 1830s the Loco-Focos, an anti-monopoly and pro-labor faction of the Democratic Party, became Tammany's main opposition by appealing to workingmen. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, the Society expanded its political control even further by earning the loyalty of the city's ever-expanding immigrant community, which functioned as a base of political capital.

The Tammany Hall "ward boss" served as the local vote gatherer and provider of patronage.[30] During the 1840s, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants arrived in New York City to escape the Great Irish Potato Famine and Tammany saw its power grow greatly.[31]

Tammany Ring by Thomas Nast; "Who stole the people's money?" / "'Twas him."

Immigrant support[edit]

Tammany Hall's electoral base lay predominantly with New York's burgeoning immigrant constituency, which often exchanged political support for Tammany Hall's patronage. In pre-New Deal America, the extralegal services that Tammany and other urban political machines provided often served as a rudimentary public welfare system. At first, in the latter 1810s, immigrants were not allowed membership in Tammany Hall.[32] However, after protests by Irish militants in 1817, and the invasion of several of their offices, Tammany Hall realized the potential influence Irish immigrants would have in the city. By the 1820s, Tammany Hall was accepting Irish immigrants as members of the group.[32]

However, Irish immigrants became even more influential during the mid 1840s to early 1850s. With the potato famine in Ireland, by 1850, more than 130,000 immigrants from Ireland lived in New York City.[32] Since the newly arrived immigrants were in deep poverty, Tammany Hall provided them with employment, shelter, and even citizenship sometimes.[33] For example, the group gave men looking for work referrals, and legal aid to those who needed it. Tammany Hall would also provide food and financial aid to families with sick or injured breadwinners.[32] In an example of their involvement in the lives of citizens, in the course of one day, Tammany figure George Washington Plunkitt assisted the victims of a house fire; secured the release of six "drunks" by speaking on their behalf to a judge; paid the rent of a poor family to prevent their eviction and gave them money for food; secured employment for four individuals; attended the funerals of two of his constituents (one Italian, the other Jewish); attended a Bar Mitzvah; and attended the wedding of a Jewish couple from his ward.[34] Tammany Hall took full advantage of the surplus in Irish immigrants to create a healthy relationship to gather more votes. By 1855, 34 percent of New York City's voter population was composed of Irish immigrants, and many Irish men came to dominate Tammany Hall. With this, Tammany Hall started its career as the powerful political machine we associate it with today.

Tammany Hall also served as a social integrator for immigrants by familiarizing them with American society and its political institutions and by helping them become naturalized citizens. One example was the naturalization process organized by William M. Tweed. Under Tweed's regime, "naturalization committees" were established. These "committees" were made up primarily of Tammany politicians and employees, and their duties consisted of filling out paperwork, providing witnesses, and lending immigrants money for the fees required to become citizens. Judges and other city officials were bribed and otherwise compelled to go along with the workings of these committees.[35] In exchange for all these benefits, immigrants assured Tammany Hall they would vote for their candidates.[29] By 1854, the support which Tammany Hall received from immigrants would firmly establish the organization as the leader of New York City's political scene.[29] With the election of Fernando Wood, the first person to be supported by the Tammany Hall machine,[32] as mayor in 1854, Tammany Hall would proceed to dominate The New York City political arena until Fiorello La Guardia's mayoralty after the election of 1934.[29]

William M. Tweed, known as "Boss" Tweed, ran an efficient and corrupt political machine based on patronage and graft.

Tweed regime[edit]

Tammany's control over the politics of New York City tightened considerably under Tweed. In 1858, Tweed utilized the efforts of Republican reformers to rein in the Democratic city government to obtain a position on the County Board of Supervisors (which he then used as a springboard to other appointments) and to have his friends placed in various offices. From this position of strength, he was elected "Grand Sachem" of Tammany, which he then used to take functional control of the city government. With his proteges elected governor of the state and mayor of the city, Tweed was able to expand the corruption and kickbacks of his "Ring" into practically every aspect of city and state governance. Although Tweed was elected to the State Senate, his true sources of power were his appointed positions to various branches of the city government. These positions gave him access to city funds and contractors, thereby controlling public works programs. This benefitted his pocketbook and those of his friends, but also provided jobs for the immigrants, especially Irish laborers, who were the electoral base of Tammany's power.[36]

According to Tweed biographer Kenneth D. Ackerman:

It's hard not to admire the skill behind Tweed's system ... The Tweed ring at its height was an engineering marvel, strong and solid, strategically deployed to control key power points: the courts, the legislature, the treasury and the ballot box. Its frauds had a grandeur of scale and an elegance of structure: money-laundering, profit sharing and organization.[37]

Under "Boss" Tweed's dominance, the city expanded into the Upper East and Upper West Sides of Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge was begun, land was set aside for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, orphanages and almshouses were constructed, and social services – both directly provided by the state and indirectly funded by state appropriations to private charities – expanded to unprecedented levels. All of this activity, of course, also brought great wealth to Tweed and his friends. It also brought them into contact and alliance with the rich elite of the city, who either fell in with the graft and corruption, or else tolerated it because of Tammany's ability to control the immigrant population, of whom the "uppertens" of the city were wary.

It was therefore Tammany's demonstrated inability to control Irish laborers in the Orange riot of 1871 that began Tweed's downfall. Campaigns to topple Tweed by The New York Times and Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly began to gain traction in the aftermath of the riot, and disgruntled insiders began to leak the details of the extent and scope of the Tweed Ring's avarice to the newspapers.

Tweed was arrested and tried in 1872. He died in Ludlow Street Jail, and political reformers took over the city and state governments.[36] Following Tweed's arrest, Tammany survived but was no longer controlled just by Protestants and was now dependent on leadership from bosses of Irish descent.[27]

Puck cartoon by Frederick Burr Opper: "Lots of hunters after a very sick tiger" (1893)

1870–1900 [edit]

Tammany did not take long to rebound from Tweed's fall. Reforms demanded a general housecleaning, and former county sheriff "Honest John" Kelly was selected as the new leader. Kelly was not implicated in the Tweed scandals, and was a religious Catholic related by marriage to Archbishop John McCloskey. He cleared Tammany of Tweed's people, and tightened the Grand Sachem's control over the hierarchy. His success at revitalizing the machine was such that in the election of 1874, the Tammany candidate, William H. Wickham, unseated the unpopular reformist incumbent, William F. Havemeyer, and Democrats generally won their races, delivering control of the city back to Tammany Hall.[38]

1886 mayoral election[edit]

The mayoral election of 1886 was a seminal one for the organization. Union activists had founded the United Labor Party (ULP), which nominated political economist Henry George, the author of Progress and Poverty, as its standard-bearer. George was initially hesitant about running for office, but was convinced to do so after Tammany secretly offered him a seat in Congress if he would stay out of the mayoral race. Tammany had no expectation of George being elected, but knew that his candidacy and the new party were a direct threat to their own status as the putative champions of the working man.[39]

Having inadvertently provoked George into running, Tammany now needed to field a strong candidate against him, which required the cooperation of the Catholic Church in New York, which was the key to getting the support of middle-class Irish-American voters. Richard Croker, Kelly's right-hand man, had succeeded Kelly as Grand Sachem of Tammany, and he understood that he would also need to make peace with the non-Tammany "Swallowtail" faction of the Democratic Party to avoid the threat that George and the ULP posed, which was the potential re-structuring of the city's politics along class lines and away from the ethnic-based politics which has been Tammany's underpinning all along. To bring together these disparate groups, Croker nominated Abram Hewitt as the Democratic candidate for mayor. Not only was Hewitt the leader of the Swallowtails, but he was noted philanthropist Peter Cooper's son-in-law, and had an impeccable reputation. To counter both George and Hewitt, the Republicans put up Theodore Roosevelt, the former state assemblyman.[40]

Tammany Hall decorated for the 1868 Democratic National Convention

In the end, Hewitt won the election, with George out-polling Roosevelt, whose total was some 2,000 votes less than the Republicans had normally received. Despite their second-place finish, things seemed bright for the future of the labor political movement, but the ULP was not to last, and was never able to bring about a new paradigm in the city's politics. Tammany had once again succeeded and survived. More than that, Croker realized that he could utilize the techniques of the well-organized election campaign that ULP had run. Because Tammany's ward-heelers controlled the saloons, the new party had used "neighborhood meetings, streetcorner rallies, campaign clubs, Assembly District organizations, and trade legions – an entire political counterculture"[41] to run their campaign. Croker now took these innovations for Tammany's use, creating political clubhouses to take the place of the saloons and involving women and children by sponsoring family excursions and picnics. The New Tammany appeared to be more respectable, and less obviously connected to saloon-keepers and gang leaders, and the clubhouses, one in every Assembly District, were also a more efficient way of providing patronage work to those who came looking for it; one simply had to join the club, and volunteer to put in the hours needed to support it.[42]

Hewitt turned out to be a terrible mayor, due to his personality defects and his nativist views, and in 1888 Tammany ran Croker's hand-picked choice, Hugh J. Grant, who became the first New York-born Irish-American mayor. Grant allowed Croker free run of the city's contracts and offices, creating a vast patronage machine beyond anything Tweed had ever dreamed of, a status which continued under Grant's successor, Thomas Francis Gilroy. With such resources of money and manpower – the entire city workforce of 1,200 was essentially available to him when needed – Croker was able to neutralize the Swallowtails permanently. He also developed a new stream of income from the business community, which was provided with "one stop shopping": instead of bribing individual office-holders, businesses, especially the utilities, could go directly to Tammany to make their payments, which were then directed downward as necessary; such was the control Tammany had come to have over the governmental apparatus of the city.[43]

Croker mended fences with labor as well, pushing through legislation which addressed some of the inequities which had fueled the labor political movement, making Tammany once again appear to be the "Friend of the Working Man" – although he was careful always to maintain a pro-business climate of laissez-faire and low taxes. Tammany's influence was also extended once again to the state legislature, where a similar patronage system to the city's was established after Tammany took control in 1892. With the Republican boss, Thomas Platt, adopting the same methods, the two men between them essentially controlled the state.[44]

1894 mayoral election[edit]

A bird's-eye-view map of New York and Brooklyn (1893), titled "A Cinch. Says Boss Croker to Boss McLaughlin: "Shake!"
(The boss of Tammany Hall in New York, Richard Croker, and the boss of the Brooklyn political machine, Hugh McLaughlin, reach across the East River to shake hands in cooperation).

In 1894, Tammany suffered a setback when, fueled by the public hearings on police corruption held by the Lexow Committee based on the evidence uncovered by the Rev. Charles Parkhurst when he explored the city's demi monde undercover, a Committee of Seventy was organized by Council of Good Government Clubs to break the stranglehold that Tammany had on the city. Full of some of the city's richest men – J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Abram Hewitt and Elihu Root, among others – the committee supported William L. Strong, a millionaire dry-goods merchant, for mayor, and forced Tammany's initial candidate, merchant Nathan Straus, co-owner of Macy's and Abraham & Straus, from the election by threatening to ostracize him from New York society. Tammany then put up Hugh Grant again, despite his being publicly dirtied by the police scandals. Backed by the Committee's money, influence and their energetic campaign, and helped by Grant's apathy, Strong won the election handily, and spent the next three years running the city on the basis of "business principles", pledging an efficient government and the return of morality to city life. The election was a Republican sweep statewide: Levi Morton, a millionaire banker from Manhattan, won the governorship, and the party also ended up in control of the legislature.[45]

Still, Tammany could not be kept down for long, and in 1898 Croker, aided by the death of Henry George – which took the wind out of the sails of the potential re-invigoration of the political labor movement – shifted the Democratic Party enough to the left to pick up labor's support, and pulled back into the fold those elements outraged by the reformers' attempt to outlaw Sunday drinking and otherwise enforce their own authoritarian moral concepts on immigrant populations with different cultural outlooks. Tammany's candidate, Robert A. Van Wyck easily outpolled Seth Low, the reform candidate backed by the Citizens Union, and Tammany was back in control. Its supporters marched through the city's streets chanting, "Well, well, well, Reform has gone to Hell!"[46]

All politics revolved around the Boss. 1899 cartoon from Puck.

Despite occasional defeats, Tammany was consistently able to survive and prosper. Under leaders such as Charles Francis Murphy and Timothy Sullivan, it maintained control of Democratic politics in the city and the state.

20th century[edit]

Machine politics versus the reformers[edit]

The politics of the consolidated city from 1898 to 1945 revolved around conflicts between the political machines and the reformers. In quiet times the machines had the advantage of the core of solid supporters and usually exercised control of city and borough affairs; they also played a major role in the state legislature in Albany. Tammany for example from the 1880s onward built a strong network of local clubs that attracted ambitious middle-class ethnics.[47][48] In times of crisis however, especially in the severe depressions of the 1890s and the 1930s, the reformers took control of key offices, notably the mayor's office. The reformers were never unified; they operated through a complex network of independent civic reform groups, each focused its lobbying efforts on its own particular reform agenda. The membership included civic minded, well-educated middle-class men and women, usually with expert skills in a profession or business, who deeply distrusted the corruption of the machines.[49] Consolidation in 1898 multiplied the power of these reform groups, so long as they could agree on a common agenda, Such as consolidation itself.[50]

There was no citywide machine. Instead Democratic machines flourished in each of the boroughs, with Tammany Hall in Manhattan the most prominent. They typically had strong local organizations, known as "political clubs", as well as one prominent leader often called "the boss". Charles Murphy was the highly effective but quiet boss of Tammany Hall from 1902–1924.[51] "Big Tim" Sullivan was the Tammany leader in the Bowery, and the machine's spokesman in the state legislature.[52] Republican local organizations were much weaker, but they played key roles in forming reform coalitions. Most of the time they looked to Albany and Washington for their sphere of influence.[53][54] Seth Low, the president of Columbia University, was elected the reform mayor in 1901. He lacked the common touch, and lost much of his working class support when he listened to dry Protestants eager to crack down on the liquor business.[55][56]

From 1902 until his death in 1924, Charles Francis Murphy was Tammany's boss. Murphy wanted to clean up Tammany's image, and he sponsored progressive era reforms benefiting the working class through his two protégés, Governor Al Smith and Robert F. Wagner. Ed Flynn, a protégé of Murphy who became the boss in the Bronx, said Murphy always advised that politicians should have nothing to do with gambling or prostitution, and should steer clear of involvement with the police department or the school system.[57]

A new challenge to Tammany came from William Randolph Hearst, a powerful newspaper publisher who wanted to be president. Hearst was elected to Congress with Tammany support, was defeated for mayor after a bitter contest with Tammany, and won Tammany support for his unsuccessful quest for the governorship of New York. Hearst did manage to dominate Tammany mayor John F. Hylan (1917–25), but he lost control when Smith and Wagner denied Hylan renomination in 1925. Hearst then moved to California.[58]

La Guardia in, Tammany out: 1933 to 1945[edit]

In 1932, the machine suffered a dual setback when Mayor James Walker was forced from office by scandal and reform-minded Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president of the United States. Tammany Hall leader John F. Curry and Brooklyn political boss John H. McCooey had joined forces to support Al Smith's candidacy.[59] Roosevelt and his lead campaign manager James Farley stripped Tammany of federal patronage, which had been expanded under the New Deal—and passed it instead to Ed Flynn, boss of the Bronx who had kept his district clean of corruption.[60] Roosevelt helped Republican Fiorello La Guardia become mayor on a Fusion ticket, thus removing even more patronage from Tammany's control. La Guardia was elected in 1933.[61] After becoming mayor, LaGuardia reorganized the city cabinet with non-partisan officials and sought to develop a clean and honest city government.[61]

As mayor, LaGuardia successfully led the effort to have a new city charter adopted which would mandate a proportional representation method of electing members of the City Council. The measure won on a referendum in 1936.[61] After the new charter went into effect in 1938, the ward system which had allowed only a small number of people to serve on the City Council since 1686 ceased to exist, and the new 26-member New York City Council now had certain functions governed by the Board of Estimate.[62] La Guardia's appointees filled the board of magistrates and virtually every other long-term appointive office, and the power of Tammany Hall had now been reduced to a shadow of what it once was.[61] In 1937, LaGuardia became the first anti-Tammany "reform" Mayor to ever be re-elected in the city's history[61] and was again re-elected in 1941 before retiring in 1945.[61] His extended tenure weakened Tammany in a way that previous reform mayors had not.[61]

Tammany depended for its power on government contracts, jobs, patronage, corruption, and ultimately the ability of its leaders to control nominations to the Democratic ticket and swing the popular vote. The last element weakened after 1940 with the decline of relief programs like WPA and CCC that Tammany used to gain and hold supporters. Congressman Christopher "Christy" Sullivan was one of the last "bosses" of Tammany Hall before its collapse.

Criminal issues[edit]

Manhattan District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey also got longtime Tammany Hall boss Jimmy Hines convicted of bribery in 1939[9] and sentenced to 4–8 years.[63] The loss of Hines would serve as a major blow to Tammany, as he had given the political machine strong ties to the city's powerful organized crime figures since the 1920s.[64] A few years prior, Dewey also had powerful mobster and strong Tammany ally Lucky Luciano convicted of racketeering and sentenced to 30–50 years;[65] however, Luciano was still able to maintain control of the powerful Luciano crime family from prison until his sentence was commuted to deportation to Italy in 1946.[66] Several Tammany Hall officials affiliated with Hines and Luciano were also successfully prosecuted by Dewey.[65]

Indian Summer, 1950s[edit]

Tammany never recovered, but it staged a small-scale comeback in the early 1950s under the leadership of Carmine DeSapio, who succeeded in engineering the elections of Robert F. Wagner, Jr., an outspoken liberal Democrat,[67] as mayor in 1953 and W. Averell Harriman as state governor in 1954, while simultaneously blocking his enemies, especially Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. in the 1954 race for state Attorney General. Unlike previous Tammany "bosses", however, DeSapio had promoted himself as a reformer and always made his decisions known to the public.[68] The fact that DeSapio was of Italian descent also demonstrated that Tammany was no longer dominated by Irish-American politicians.[68] Under DeSapio's leadership, the nationality of Tammany Hall's leaders diversified.[68] However, DeSapio's close ties with the city's lead mobster Frank Costello, Luciano's self-appointed successor,[66] helped establish him as a corrupt figure.[68] During DeSapio's reign, Costello was the main person who influenced the decisions made by Tammany Hall officials.[68]

By 1956, however, Costello, who was convicted of tax evasion in 1954 and now controlled the Luciano family from prison, was engaged in a major power struggle with fellow associate Vito Genovese and his grip on power greatly weakened.[66] In 1957, Costello was released from prison after winning an appeal but officially abandoned his role as head of the Luciano family following a failed assassination attempt.[66] In 1958, DeSapio's "reform" image was severely damaged after he ran his own candidate for Senate, Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan.[68] New Yorkers now saw DeSapio as an old-time Tammany Hall boss, and Hogan would lose the Senate election to Republican Kenneth Keating;[68] Republican Nelson Rockefeller would also be elected Governor the same year.[68] Democrats who once praised De Sapio now excoriated him.[68] In 1961, Wagner won re-election by running a reformist campaign that denounced his former patron, DeSapio, as an undemocratic practitioner of Tammany machine politics.[68] Eleanor Roosevelt organized a counterattack with Herbert H. Lehman and Thomas K. Finletter to form the New York Committee for Democratic Voters, a group dedicated to fighting Tammany. In 1961, the group helped remove DeSapio from power. The once mighty Tammany political machine, now deprived of its leadership, quickly faded from political importance, and by 1967 it ceased to exist; its demise as the controlling group of the New York Democratic Party was sealed when the Village Independent Democrats under Ed Koch wrested away control of the Manhattan party.


Note: There were two distinct entities: the Tammany Society, headed by a Grand Sachem elected annually on May 23; and the Tammany Hall political machine headed by a "boss". The following list names the political bosses, as far as could be ascertained.

170 Nassau Street in 1893
Tammany Hall on East 14th Street between Third Avenue and Irving Place in Manhattan, New York City (1914). The building was demolished c.1927.
The former Tammany Hall building at 17th Street and Park Avenue South, across from Union Square, housed a theatre and a film school until renovations commenced in 2016.


In its very early days, the Tammany Society met in the back rooms of various taverns, most often in Barden's Tavern on Broadway near Bowling Green.[72] These back rooms served as unofficial campaign headquarters on election days.[73]

In 1791, the society opened a museum designed to collect artifacts relating to the events and history of the United States. Originally presented in an upper room of City Hall, it moved to the Merchant's Exchange when that proved to be too small. The museum was unsuccessful, and the Society severed its connections with it in 1795.[74]

Then, in 1798, the Society moved to more permanent and spacious quarters, the "Long Room" of "Brom" Martling's Tavern, at Nassau Street and Spruce Street, near where City Hall is today. Tammany controlled the space, which it dubbed "The Wigwam", and let other responsible political organizations it approved of use the room for meetings. This space became commonly known as "Tammany Hall".[72]

Their new headquarters had limitations as well as advantages, and in 1812 Tammany moved again, this time to a new five-story $55,000 building it built at the corner of Nassau and Frankfort Streets, just a few blocks away. The new Tammany Hall had a large room that could accommodate up to 2,000 people for political and social events, and the rest of the building was run as a hotel. The Society was to remain there for 55 years.[75]

By the 1860s, Tammany under Tweed had much greater influence – and affluence, so new headquarters was deemed desirable. The cornerstone for the new Tammany headquarters was laid on July 14, 1867, at 141 East 14th Street between Third Avenue and Fourth Avenues (the building at Nassau and Frankfort was sold to Charles Dana and his friends, who bought a newspaper, The Sun, and moved it there[76]).

When the leaders of the Society found that they had not raised enough funds, and needed $25,000 more, a meeting was held at which $175,000 was immediately pledged.[77] The new Wigwam was completed in 1868. It was not just a political clubhouse:

Tammany Hall merged politics and entertainment, already stylistically similar, in its new headquarters. ... The Tammany Society kept only one room for itself, renting the rest to entertainment impresarios: Don Bryant's Minstrels, a German theater company, classical concerts and opera. The basement – in the French mode – offered the Café Ausant, where one could see tableaux vivant, gymnastic exhibitions, pantomimes, and Punch and Judy shows. There was also a bar, a bazaar, a Ladies' Cafe, and an oyster saloon. All this – with the exception of Bryant's – was open from seven till midnight for a combination price of fifty cents.[78]

The building had an auditorium big enough to hold public meetings, and a smaller one that became Tony Pastor's Music Hall, where vaudeville had its beginnings.[79] The structure was topped off by a large-than-life statue of Saint Tammany.[77]

In 1927 the building on 14th Street was sold, to make way for the new tower being added to the Consolidated Edison Company Building. The Society's new building, in Manhattan on East 17th Street and Union Square East, was finished and occupied by 1929.[80] When Tammany started to lose its political influence, and its all-important access to graft, it could no longer afford to maintain the 17th Street building, and in 1943 it was bought by a local affiliate of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Tammany left, and its leaders moved to the National Democratic Club on Madison Avenue at East 33rd Street, and the Society's collection of memorabilia went into a warehouse in the Bronx.[81] The building housed the New York Film Academy and the Union Square Theatre, and retail stores at street level, until a complete renovation of the building began in January 2016.[82][83] The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated it in October 2013.[84] Plans to add a glass dome to the building were nixed by the Landmarks Commission in 2014; however, the interior is still slated to be completely rebuilt, including demolishing the theater.[83] In 2015, a scaled-back version of the glass dome was approved by the commission.[85]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The 1959 Broadway musical Fiorello! describes Fiorello H. La Guardia's 1933 campaign for Mayor of New York City against Tammany Hall.
  • Tammany Hall is prominently featured in the film Gangs of New York, with Jim Broadbent portraying "Boss" Tweed.
  • Tammany Hall features as a power-broking group in the 2012 TV series Copper, pulling strings behind the scenes in the Five Points neighborhood of New York City.
  • Tammany Hall is featured in the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in which they sponsor a family outing. Johnny and Katie Nolan debate the merit of the organization, with Johnny for and Katie opposed to it.
  • Tammany Hall was an antagonist in the Clive Cussler novel The Gangster, part of Cussler's Issac Bell series.
  • The 2007 area control board game "Tammany Hall" is based on Tammany Hall politics, with players vying for support from different immigrant populations in order to achieve dominance in New York City.[86]
  • Walt Kelly's Pogo (comic strip) depicts a politically-minded tiger, Tammananny, as one of the creatures who shows up in the swamp in election years, spouting ideas to help the reluctant Pogo campaign for President of the United States.
  • Samuel Hopkins Adams's 1959 posthumous novel Tenderloin about the battle between social reformer Charles Henry Parkhurst and the Tammany Hall political machine was produced as a successful Broadway musical Tenderloin in 1960.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Tammany Hall Today: A Site of Higher Education in Union Square". Untapped Cities. April 8, 2014.
  2. ^ Peel, Roy V. The Political Clubs of New York City (1935)
  3. ^ Shefter, Martin. "The electoral foundations of the political machine: New York City, 1884–1897." in Joel Silbey et al. eds., The history of American electoral behavior (1978) pp: 263–98, esp pp 294–95.
  4. ^ Huthmacher (1965)
  5. ^ Czitrom, Daniel. "Underworlds and underdogs: Big Tim Sullivan and metropolitan politics in New York, 1889–1913," Journal of American History (1991) 78#2 pp 536–558 in JSTOR
  6. ^ Slayton, Robert A. Empire Statesman: The Rise and Redemption of Al Smith (2001). ch 6–15.
  7. ^ Huthmacher, J. Joseph. Senator Robert F. Wagner and the rise of urban liberalism (1968) ch 1–4
  8. ^ Hodge, Frederick Webb (ed.) Handbook of Indians North of Mexico (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 30. GPO 1911), 2:683–684
  9. ^ a b c "Sachems & Sinners: An Informal History of Tammany Hall" Time (August 22, 1955)
  10. ^ a b The History of New York State Archived September 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Parmet and Hecht, pp. 149–150
  12. ^ a b c Myers, p. 17
  13. ^ a b c Myers, p. 21
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i Myers, p. 28
  15. ^ a b c d Myers, p. 23
  16. ^ Myers, p. 24
  17. ^ a b c Myers, p. 26
  18. ^ Myers, pp. 27–30
  19. ^ Myers, p. 30
  20. ^ a b Myers, p. 27
  21. ^ Myers, pp. 36–38
  22. ^ Myers, p. 38
  23. ^ Myers, p. 39
  24. ^ a b Myers, p. 36
  25. ^ Myers, p. 35
  26. ^ a b Myers, p. 46
  27. ^ a b Panayiotopoulos, Prodromos (2006). Immigrant enterprise in Europe and the USA. Routledge Studies in the Modern World Economy. p. 52. ISBN 0-415-35371-8.
  28. ^ a b "New York Election Results". Mahalo.com.
  29. ^ a b c d "Tammany Hall".
  30. ^ New York City used the designation "ward" for its smallest political units from 1686–1938. The 1686 Dongan Charter divided the city into six wards and created a Common Council which consisted of an alderman and an assistant alderman elected from each ward. In 1821, the Common Council's authority was expanded so it would also elect the city's mayor, which had previously been appointed by the state government. In 1834, the state constitution was amended and required the city's mayor to be elected by direct popular vote. In 1834, Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence, a pro-Tammany Democrat, would become the first mayor ever elected by popular vote in the city's history. See "A Brief History of Election Law in New York" on the Gotham Gazette website
  31. ^ "Tammany Hall: Boss Tweed & Thomas Nast" Racontours
  32. ^ a b c d e "Gale - Enter Product Login".
  33. ^ "Tammany Hall". www2.gwu.edu. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
  34. ^ Riordin, pp.91–93
  35. ^ Connable and Silberfarb, p.154
  36. ^ a b Burrows & Wallace, p.837 and passim
  37. ^ Ackerman, Kenneth D. Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005; quoted in Hammill, Pete, "'Boss Tweed': The Fellowship of the Ring" New York Times (March 27, 2005)
  38. ^ Burrows & Wallace, p.1027
  39. ^ Burrows & Wallace, p.1099
  40. ^ Burrows & Wallace, pp.1103–1106
  41. ^ Burrows & Wallace, p.1100
  42. ^ Burrows & Wallace, pp.1106–1108
  43. ^ Burrows & Wallace, pp.1108–1109
  44. ^ Burrows & Wallace, pp.1109–1110
  45. ^ Burrows & Wallace, pp.1192–1194
  46. ^ Burrows & Wallace, pp.1206–1208
  47. ^ Roy V. Peel, The Political Clubs of New York City (1935)
  48. ^ Martin Shefter, "The electoral foundations of the political machine: New York City, 1884–1897." in Joel Silbey et al. eds., The history of American electoral behavior (1978) pp: 263–98, esp pp 294–95.
  49. ^ Richard Skolnik, "Civic Group Progressivism In New York City," New York History (1970) 51#5 pp 411–439.
  50. ^ David C. Hammack, Power and Society: Greater New York at the Turn of the Century (1982) pp 308–13
  51. ^ J. Joseph Huthmacher, "Charles Evans Hughes and Charles Francis Murphy: The Metamorphosis of Progressivism." New York History' (1965): 25–40. in JSTOR
  52. ^ Daniel Czitrom, "Underworlds and underdogs: Big Tim Sullivan and metropolitan politics in New York, 1889–1913," Journal of American History (1991) 78#2 pp 536–558 in JSTOR
  53. ^ Jackson, Encyclopedia of New York City, (1996) pp 914, 999, 1149–51
  54. ^ Marvin G. Weinbaum, "New York County Republican Politics, 1897–1922: The Quarter-Century After Municipal Consolidation." New York Historical Society Quarterly (1966) 50#1 pp: 62–70.
  55. ^ "Seth Low," in Jackson,Encyclopedia of New York City, (1996) p 695
  56. ^ Steven C. Swett, "The Test of a Reformer: A Study of Seth Low, New York City Mayor, 1902–1903," New-York Historical Society Quarterly (1960) 44#1 pp 5–41
  57. ^ Terry Golway, Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics (2014) p 186
  58. ^ Ben Proctor, William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years, 1863–1910 the parenthesis 1998) ch 11
  59. ^ "Curry and McCooey to Support Ticket; Roosevelt Held 'Luckiest Man' in Nation". The New York Times. July 3, 1932. p. 10. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
  60. ^ "Edward Flynn (1891–1953)" George Washington University website
  61. ^ a b c d e f g "La Guardia Is Dead; City Pays Homage To 3-Time Mayor". The New York Times.
  62. ^ New York City Council website
  63. ^ Hines, James J. Newspaper Clippings from the Trials, 1938–1940: Finding Aid Harvard Law School Library website
  64. ^ "truTV - Reality TV - Comedy".
  65. ^ a b "truTV - Reality TV - Comedy".
  66. ^ a b c d "Articles/Biographies/Criminals/Costello, Frank". Free Information Society.
  67. ^ Clarity, James F. (February 13, 1991). "Robert Wagner, 80, Pivotal New York Mayor, Dies". The New York Times.
  68. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kandell, Jonathan (July 28, 2004). "Carmine De Sapio, Political Kingmaker and Last Tammany Hall Boss, Dies at 95". The New York Times.
  69. ^ a b Wiles, David (2003). "Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall Machine". New York State University at Albany. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  70. ^ Technically, Costikyan was not leader of Tammany Hall itself, but of the New York Democratic Committee
  71. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (June 23, 2012). "Edward N. Costikyan, Adviser to New York Politicians, Is Dead at 87". New York Times. Retrieved October 8, 2012.
  72. ^ a b Allen, pp.7–8
  73. ^ Burrows & Wallace p.322
  74. ^ Burrows & Wallace p.316
  75. ^ Allen, p.24
  76. ^ O'Brien, Frank Michael. The Story of the Sun: New York, 1833–1918 George H. Doran Co, 1916. p. 229
  77. ^ a b Allen, pp.99–100
  78. ^ Burrows & Wallace p.995
  79. ^ Wurman, Richard Saul. Access New York City. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. ISBN 0-06-277274-0
  80. ^ "Second Tammany Hall Building Proposed as Historic Landmark". Retrieved March 3, 2008.
  81. ^ Allen, p.259
  82. ^ Moss, Jeremiah (January 11, 2016). "Tammany Hall Empties Out". Vanishing New York.
  83. ^ a b Bindelglass, Evan (November 26, 2014). "Landmarks Nixes Tammany Hall's Glass Tortoise Shell Topper". Curbed NY.
  84. ^ Tammany Hall a Landmark New York Daily News
  85. ^ "Shrunken Tortoise Shell Topper Approved for Tammany Hall". Curbed NY. March 11, 2015.
  86. ^ "Tammany Hall" Board Game Geek


Primary sources

  • Costikyan, Edward N. "Politics in New York City: a Memoir of the Post-war Years." New York History 1993 74(4): 414–434. ISSN 0146-437X
  • Riordan, William. Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1963); 1915 memoir of New York City ward boss George Washington Plunkitt who coined the term "honest graft"

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service

Further reading

  • Home, Rufus (April 1872). "The Story of Tammany, Part I: How It was Made a Political Power". Harper's New Monthly Magazine. 44 (263): 685–96.
  • Home, Rufus (May 1872). "The Story of Tammany, Part II: How It Grew to Political Supremacy". Harper's New Monthly Magazine. 44 (264): 835–48.
  • Low, A. Maurice. "Tammany Hall: Its Boss, Its Methods, and Its Meaning". In Norman, Henry. The World's Work, Volume II: June to November 1903. pp. 378–82.
  • Steffens, Lincoln (1904). The Shame of the Cities. McClure, Philips, and Company.
  • Werner, Morris Robert (1928). Tammany Hall. New York: Doubleday.
  • Stoddard, T. L. (1931). Master of Manhattan: The Life of Richard Croker. Longmans, Green and Company. OCLC 1535182.
  • Mandelbaum, Seymour Jacob (1965). Boss Tweed's New York. New York: Wiley Press. OCLC 925964624.
  • Moscow, Warren (1971). 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.
  • Lash, Joseph (1972). Eleanor: The Years Alone. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 274–6.
  • Colburn, David R.; Pozzetta, George E. (1976). "Bosses and Machines: Changing interpretations in American history". The History Teacher: 445–463. JSTOR 492336.
  • Cornwell, Elmer E., Jr. (1976). "Bosses, Machines, and Ethnic Groups". In Callow, Alexander B., Jr. The City Boss in America: An Interpretive Reader. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Henderson, Thomas M. (1976). Tammany Hall and the New Immigrants: The Progressive Years. Ayer Company Publishers.
  • Stave, Bruce M.; Allswang, John M.; McDonald, Terrence J.; Teaford, Jon C. (May 1988). A Reassessment of the Urban Political Boss: An Exchange of Views. The History Teacher. 21. pp. 293–312.
  • Erie, Steven P (1988). Rainbow's End: Irish-Americans and the Dilemmas of Urban Machine Politics, 1840–1985.
  • Mushkat, Jerome (1990). Fernando Wood: A Political Biography. The Kent State University Press.
  • Lui, Adonica Y. (1995). "The Machine and Social Policies: Tammany Hall and the Politics of Public Outdoor Relief, New York City, 1874–1898". Studies in American Political Development. 9 (2): 386–403. ISSN 0898-588X.
  • Finegold, Kenneth (1995). Experts and Politicians: Reform Challenges to Machine Politics in New York, Cleveland, and Chicago. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-03734-9. OCLC 30666095.
  • LaCerra, Charles (1997). Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Tammany Hall of New York. University Press of America.
  • Sloat, Warren (2002). A Battle for the Soul of New York: Tammany Hall, Police Corruption, Vice, and Reverend Charles Parkhurst's Crusade against Them, 1892–1895. Cooper Square.
  • Thomas, Samuel J. (2004). "Mugwump Cartoonists, the Papacy, and Tammany Hall in America's Gilded Age". Religion and American Culture. 14 (2): 213–250. ISSN 1052-1151.
  • Golway, Terry (2014). Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics. Liveright: W. W. Norton & Company.

External links[edit]