The history of Tammany Hall has always been one plagued by both acrimony but also awe at its ability to both be a stark bastion of American corruption, but also at the same time, amid the complexity, one that represented the rise of America’s immigrants from the slums of New York city to prominent positions in office.
If there is one word that could sum up the Society of Tammany, it is the Graft. This of course should be of no surprise as over the course of a century, the association managed to swindle millions of dollars through ceaseless corruption within New York City, and New York State. How many people truly know the gist and history behind Tammany? In fact some might even be surprised to hear that it might have not been all that bad.
The roots of Tammany stretch far back as the 1770’s where in Philadelphia colonists prior to the Revolution gathered to express their Americanism, and growing hatred of British control. It originally got its name from Tamanend whose leadership of the Native American tribe, the Lenape gained him enough fame amid the Philadelphia colonists. At first the meetings were not much, yet membership grew steadily and by the late 1790’s the society was already getting a foothold in American politics.
In 1798, the famous Burr put his hand in the Democrat-Republican pot of gold and began to gain headway even playing important roles in the Hamilton-Jefferson dispute, and some say and even played a role in Adam’s failure to gain the office again in 1800. Whatever the case, the early years of the New Republic were an important stepping stone to one of the most ludicrously criminal societies to ever take hold of American social and political stages in New York.
Tammany was excessively weak during the early period, especially when Clinton took the mayoral office over a decade, and actively made sure that the society did not reach out to internal affairs. Still once Clinton left office, and the masses of Irish immigrants began arriving from poverty-stricken Ireland, Tammany was begging to gather more and more support of those who sought to make a life in the New World. The society primarily bribed, gave jobs and supported new arriving immigrants in order to garner support and votes for future “Tammany” mayors.
The most infamous but also popular of all mayors was William M. Tweed whose track record of grafting and oiling people hands had no precedent in New York history. Yet still he still helped out a great deal of many arriving immigrants in order to gain their approval, and possibly their votes. Current estimates of the amount of money that Tweed made in office is somewhere around 200 million dollars, which if adjusted to today’s inflation standards it would amount to close to 1 billion dollars.
What are we to learn however from these men? The truth is that nothing can, but the one thing we can deduce is that political corruption was and is still a part of New York’s history.