Tammany Hall

By Gerald McFarland
  • Grades: 6–8, 9–12

{tam'-uh-nee}

A Democratic party organization in New York City, Tammany Hall frequently dominated city and even state politics in 19th- and 20th-century New York. Founded in 1789, the Society of St. Tammany or Columbian Order, named after a legendary Delaware chief, was an anti-aristocratic fraternal order. Increasingly a partisan club from the 1790s onward, Tammany supported Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican party in the early 1800s. With the establishment of universal white manhood suffrage in the 1820s and increased Irish immigration after 1830, Tammany's strength grew. It won support by helping immigrants find jobs and become citizens and by assisting the poor.

By mid-century, Tammany often controlled city and county politics in New York, organizing voters and electing its candidates with such efficiency that its methods were called machine politics. From the 1860s, Tammany was led by powerful political bossesWilliam M. Tweed in the 1860s and early 1870s, "Honest" John Kelly in the 1880s, Richard Croker in the 1890s, and Charles ("Silent Charlie") Murphy in the early 1900s. Machine politics was frequently associated with corruption, and Tweed in particular became notorious for looting the city treasury. Murphy, on the other hand, sought respectability by endorsing working-class reform legislation and sponsoring outstanding young politicians, notably Robert F. Wagner, Sr., and Alfred E. Smith.

In the 1930s, Tammany was weakened by the election of antimachine candidate Fiorello La Guardia as mayor and by the New Deal social-welfare programs that reduced the dependence of the poor on Tammany's services. Revived in the 1950s under Carmine G. De Sapio, the Tammany organization subsequently disappeared.

Gerald W. McFarland

Bibliography: Connable, Alfred, and Silberfarb, Edward, Tigers of Tammany (1967); Mandelbaum, Seymour, Boss Tweed's New York (1965; repr. 1982); Mushkat, Jerome, Tammany: The Evolution of a Political Machine, 17891865 (1971); Myers, Gustavus, The History of Tammany Hall, 2d rev. ed. (1917; repr. 1973); Werner, Morris R., Tammany Hall (1932; repr. 1970).

  • Subjects:
    Immigration
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