The term political boss is many times associated with William Marcy Tweed better knows as “Boss Tweed” of New York City. During the Gilded Age, he was an alderman (representative) to New York City’s legislative body. He was never the mayor of the city. He did control the Tammany Hall political machine-- the most powerful machine of all urban machines. Political machines offered services to voters and businesses in exchange for political or financial support.
The name Tammany was from a club designed to help the poor in the late 1700s. The nickname “Tiger” was coined for the work of the Tammany Hall machine or “Tweed Ring” as it was sometimes called. The “Tiger” bribed the police, elected officials, and anyone who would take money (graft).
The new immigrants to New York City actually benefited from “The Tiger” in getting started in America. The members of the political machine spoke to them in their own languages, helped them in find jobs and housing, and in return the immigrants pledged them their votes. All of this was for a price. City improvements were not addressed. The overcrowded tenements, traffic congestion, air pollution, and unsanitary conditions were the norm rather than the exception for the 700,000 people of the city.
The living conditions of the city were so poor and the graft and corruption so high that the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast of the New York’s Harper’s Weekly began drawing political cartoons of Tweed’s corruption. Boss Tweed offered Nast half a million dollars to stop drawing the cartoons. Nast declined to accept and kept on drawing.
Because of the public’s outrage, Tweed was arrested along with other member of the ring and charged with fraud. He was sent to jail and died in jail at the age of 55. Political corruption occurred on the national level as well as the local. The idea of rewarding friends with political jobs started in the early 1800s (spoils system) and continued on into the Gilded Age. The desire for power and money during this time led many elected officials to give government jobs to those of the same party who had helped them get elected. Patronage, as it was commonly called, became a problem as more and more unqualified and corrupt workers were hired for government jobs. As the Gilded Age saw more and more corruption an end to the system of patronage was deemed necessary. A cry from the public to give government jobs to more qualified people regardless of their party was heard throughout the nation. Thus, the civil service (government administration) was born. President Chester A. Arthur pushed through the Pendleton Civil Service Act of 1883. This act created a civil service commission to give government jobs based on merit and not politics. After the passage of the act, the politicians did not have jobs to offer for votes and money, and as a result, they began having trouble gathering financial support. More and more politicians began seeking the support of wealthy business leaders to fill this void.
To continue learning more about politics in the Gilded Age, please read in your textbook pp. 267 and 271. When finished reading, please complete the graphic organizer on------
• Business and industrialization centered on the cities. The increasing
number of factories created a need for labor, convincing people in
rural areas to move to the city, and drawing immigrants from Europe
to the United States. As a result, the United States transformed from
a farming to an urban nation.
• Roughly 10 million European immigrants
settled in the U.S. between 1860 and 1890.
• The transition to American life was
difficult for immigrants. They lived in
dirty, crowded conditions in tenements.
Tenements had few windows, limited
plumbing and electricity, and tiny rooms
often packed with people. People living in
the tenements experienced disease, high
infant mortality, and high levels of
• Immigrants, also faced discrimination in
the workplace from native workers who
resented the immigrants’ willingness to
accept lower wages and work in worse
Why did Political Bosses
• Populations in major cities such
as New York and Philadelphia
doubled, and in the case of
Chicago quadrupled, due to the
migration of farmers and
• Municipal (city) governments
were unprepared to handle the
population growth of cities.
Many city governments took a
approach. For example, systems
for sanitation, sewer, roads, etc.
were not built for populations
• Political bosses took advantage of the situation for their own political gain.
• Local politics during this era were marked by “machine politics”,
because the system and the party, rather than individuals, held
• In virtually every region of the U.S., local officials, or “machines,”
bribed people, especially immigrants, for votes by providing political
and economic benefits such as offices, jobs, and city contracts.
• “Machines” were presided over by “party bosses,” professional
politicians who dominated city government. These bosses often
controlled the jobs of thousands of city workers and influenced the
activities of schools, hospitals, and other city-run services.
• Machine politics thrived on corruption, which contributed to the
system’s collapse around the turn of the twentieth century.
• In U.S. politics, a political organization that controls enough votes to
maintain political and administrative control of its community.
• The rapid growth of cities in the 19th century created huge problems
for city governments, which were often poorly organized and unable
to provide services.
• Enterprising politicians were able to win support by offering favors,
including patronage jobs and housing, (BETTERING URBAN
INFRASTRUCTURE) in exchange for votes.
• Though machines often helped to restructure city governments to the
benefit of their constituents, they just as often resulted in poorer
service (when jobs were doled out as political rewards), corruption
(when contracts or concessions were awarded in return for
kickbacks), and aggravation of racial or ethnic hostilities (when the
machine did not reflect the city's diversity).
• Reforms, suburban flight, and a more mobile population with fewer
ties to city neighborhoods have weakened machine politics.
• "What tells in holdin' your grip on your district is to go right down
among the poor families and help them in the different ways they
need help. I've got a regular system for this. If there's a fire in Ninth,
Tenth, or Eleventh Avenue, for example, any hour of the day or
night, I'm usually there with some of my election district captains as
soon as the fire engines. If a family is burned out, I don't ask whether
they are Republicans or Democrats, and I don't refer them to the
Charity Organization Society, which would investigate their case in a
month or two and decide they were worthy of help about the time
they are dead from starvation. I just get quarters for them, buy clothes
for them if their clothes were burned up, and fix them up till they get
things runnin' again. It's philanthropy, but it's politics, too – mighty
good politics. Who can tell how many votes one of these fires bring
me? The poor are the most grateful people in the world, and, let me
tell you, they have more friends in their neighborhoods than the rich
have in theirs.”
- George Washington Plunkitt
Tammany Hall, located at Fourth Avenue and East 17th
Street in New York City, ca. 1943.
• Tammany Hall was the name given to
the Democratic political machine that
dominated New York City politics from
the 1854 through the election of
LaGuardia in 1934.
• The Tammany Society of New York
City was founded in 1786 as a fraternal
organization whose primary activities
were social. By 1798, however, the
society's activities had grown
increasingly politicized. Eventually
Tammany emerged as the central
supporter of Jeffersonian policies in the
city of New York.
Tammany Hall (cont.)
• 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.
• The society helped newly arrived foreigners obtain jobs,
find a place to live, and even earn citizenship so that they
could vote for Tammany candidates in city and state
• William M. "Boss" Tweed was a famous political boss of
Tammany Hall. His corrupt reign led to an attempt at
reform in the early 1870s.
was the most
are you going
to do about
Taken from http://www.lib.ohio-state.edu/cgaweb/nast/keller
Positive Aspects of
• Political bosses ran a “welfare state” for urban poor. They helped the
unemployed find jobs, provided food and coal to widows, and organized
entertainment in neighborhoods. All of these items were contingent
upon the poor voting for the political machine’s candidate.
• Who benefited?
• Immigrants, working poor
• Political bosses gained political power
• Improvements in Infrastructure
• Public Libraries- world’s largest in Boston
• Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park- New York City
• 660 miles of water lines; 464 miles of sewer lines; 1,800 miles of paved
Why don’t we have
Political Bosses today?
• No place for them in cities that are more organized and
well planned out to handle large populations.
• No huge waves of immigrants all at one time.
• You are working in the campaign office for a political machine.
Either you or someone you work for is running for a political
office. Create a campaign flyer for the local candidate (or
yourself). Remember who you are trying to target with your
advertising and what types of incentives you can offer them for
voting. What can you offer that would allow this group of
people to consider voting for you. Include slogans, logos,
pictures, the office, name of candidate, and other items for your
• Use Microsoft Publisher to create your flyer. When you save the
flyer, save it as your last name and as a “jpeg”. You will upload
this file to the website when you are finished.
• When finished with you ad, write a ½ page response of how
your campaign ad would be different if you were running for a
political office today. How would it be similar? Explain