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Tammany Hall was the name given to the Democratic Party political machine that dominated New York City politics from the mayoral victory of Fernando Wood in 1854 through the election of Fiorello LaGuardia in 1934. The eighty-year period between those two elections marks the time in which Tammany was the city's driving political force, but its origins actually date to the late 18th century and its fall from power was not truly complete until the early 1960s.
The Tammany Society of New York City was founded in 1786 as a patriotic fraternal organization whose primary activities were social, with an initial movement within the society to improve the image of Native Americans. By 1798, however, the Society's activities had grown increasingly politicized and eventually Tammany emerged as the central proponent of anti-Federalist Jeffersonian policies in the city of New York. Aaron Burr organized the Tammany society as his political machine for the election of 1800. Throughout the early 19th century Tammany continued to deepen its association with the Democratic Party, emerging as the controlling interest in New York City elections after Andrew Jackson's presidential victory in 1828. 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, a task that was accomplished by helping newly-arrived foreigners obtain jobs, a place to live, and even citizenship so that they could vote for Tammany candidates in city and state elections. The mass immigrant constituency primarily functioned as an expendable base of political capital. Recognizing that the Irish were inundating the city at an unprecedented rate, Tammany Hall introduced themselves to the Irish in a very profound manner for several reasons. Considering that the Irish could speak English and possessed a relative working knowledge of republican government, they were immediately identified as a potential gold-mine of political clout. However, the most advantageous aspect of the Irish as Tammany's major constituency was the fact that the Irish possessed little to no skills that translated into actual employment opportunitities. Consequently, Tammany offered a great deal in terms of political graft and spoils to the Irish in exchange for their votes. This pattern of logrolling one's political conscience in exchange for employment gain would become a common theme for Tammany Hall for years to follow.
By 1854 all these factors had combined to make Tammany a political force of hegemonic proportions in New York City, conferring immense power on the Society's "bosses" and allowing them to enrich themselves and their associates through corruption and administrative abuse. William M. "Boss" Tweed's infamously corrupt reign was nefarious enough to incite an attempt at reform in the early 1870s. Rutherford B. Hayes's involvement in this effort contributed to his success in the election of 1876, but Tammany was consistently able to function in spite of this and continued to direct the flow of money, patronage, and votes into the early 1930s. Ultimately, even Tammany was unable to escape from the drastic social and cultural changes brought on by the Great Depression, and in 1932 the machine suffered a dual setback when Mayor James Walker was forced from office and Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president. The New Deal helped alter the demographic landscape of New York by restricting immigration and making people less dependent on Tammany for jobs and assistance, while the election of Fiorello LaGuardia removed the City Hall from Tammany's immediate control.
Despite these setbacks, the Tammany machine achieved something of a renaissance in the early 1950s under the leadership of Carmine DeSapio, who succeeded in engineering the elections of Robert Wagner, Jr. in 1953 and Averill Harriman in 1954, while simultaneously blocking the successful candidacies of those who had not curried his favor. Perhaps most notably among these politicians was Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., whose defeat in the 1954 race for New York Attorney General was related to DeSapio's downstate mobilization against his election.
Inadvertently, DeSapio had sown the seeds of his own ruin. Eleanor Roosevelt held DeSapio responsible for her son's defeat and grew increasingly disgusted with his political conduct through the rest of the 1950s. She joined with her old friends Herbert Lehman and Thomas Finletter to form the New York Committee for Democratic Voters, a group dedicated to enhancing the democratic process by opposing DeSapio's reincarnated Tammany. Their efforts were eventually successful and in 1961 DeSapio was removed from power. The once mighty Tammany political machine, now deprived of its leadership, quickly faded from political importance and by the mid-1960s had ceased to exist.
Leaders of Tammany Hall
|1827||–||1828||Mordecai M. Noah|
|1835||–||1842||Isaac L. Varian|
|1842||–||1848||Robert H. Morris|
|1848||–||1850||Isaac B. Fowler|
|1857||–||1858||Isaac V. Fowler|
|1858||–||1859||William M. Tweed and Isaac V. Fowler|
|1859||–||1867||William M. Tweed and Richard B. Connolly|
|1867||–||1871||William M. Tweed|
|1872||John Kelly and John Morrissey|
|1902||Charles F. Murphy, Daniel F. McMahon, and Louis F. Haffen|
|1902||–||1924||Charles F. Murphy|
|1924||–||1929||George W. Olvany|
|1929||–||1934||John F. Curry|
|1934||–||1937||James J. Dooling|
|1937||–||1942||Christopher D. Sullivan|
|1942||Charles H. Hussey|
|1942||–||1944||Michael J. Kennedy|
|1944||–||1947||Edward V. Loughlin|
|1947||–||1948||Frank J. Sampson|
|1948||–||1949||Hugo E. Rogers|
|1949||–||1961||Carmine G. DeSapio|
Much of the text of this article was copied from the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site operated by the National Parks Service and placed into the public domain. The original authors cite the following sources:
- Kilroe, Edwin P. Saint Tammany and the Origin of the Society of Tammany, or Columbian Order in the City of New York . Washington, D.C.: George Washington University Microfiche, 1913, 48.
- Lash, Joseph. Eleanor, The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1972, 274-276.
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