Tammany Hall was a political force in New York City from its 1789 inception as a benevolent association to mayoral campaigns in the 1950s. Frequently its leadership was identical to the Executive Committee of the local Democratic party, and it was a major or controlling faction in the party in 1821-1872 and 1905-1932. Key Tammany bosses through the years included William M. Tweed, Richard F. Croker, and Charles F. Murray.
Although its name was synonymous with corruption to many, Tammany Hall’s popularity and endurance resulted from its willingness to help the city’s poor and immigrant populations. Irish immigrants forced Tammany Hall to admit them as members in 1817, and the Irish thereafter never lost their tie with it. Because in the 1820s Tammany successfully fought to extend the franchise to all propertyless white males, it was popular with the working class. A close association with the Democratic party was also forged in the Jacksonian era.
Tammany’s decentralized organization enabled ward leaders to act as advocates for individuals when they had difficulties with the law. A criminal judge, for example, appointed or kept in office by Tammany Hall would have to listen carefully to a local ward leader asking for a suspended sentence in a particular case. Later, the hundreds receiving Tammany Hall assistance with problems or baskets of food on holidays would show their gratitude at the polls.
‘Reform’ administrations periodically took power away from the Hall, but for many years it always made a comeback. Then anti-Tammany mayor Fiorello La Guardia (1934-1945), with the help of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was able to weaken the machine’s power permanently. It retained some strength, however, until John V. Lindsay’s mayoralty (1966-1973).
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.