Tammany Hall

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Tammany Hall

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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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