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[picture: Dr. Seuss' cartoon on Tammany Hall, November, 1941] Tammany Hall was the name given to the Democratic political machine that dominated New York City politics from the mayoral victory of Fernando Wood in 1854 through the election of Fiorello LaGuardia in 1934. The eighty-year period between those two elections marks the time in which Tammany was the city's driving political force, but its origins actually date to the late eighteenth century and its fall from power was not truly complete until the early 1960s.

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 and eventually Tammany emerged as the central proponent of Jeffersonian policies in the city of New York. Throughout the early nineteenth century Tammany continued to deepen its association with the Democratic party, emerging as the controlling interest in New York City elections after Andrew Jackson's presidential victory in 1828. 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, a task that was accomplished by helping newly arrived foreigners obtain jobs, a place to live, and even citizenship so that they could vote for Tammany candidates in city and state elections. By 1854, all these factors had combined to make Tammany a political force of hegemonic proportions in New York City, conferring immense power on the society's bosses and allowing them to enrich themselves and their associates through corruption and administrative abuse. William M. "Boss" Tweed's infamously corrupt reign was nefarious enough to incite an attempt at reform in the early 1870s, but Tammany was consistently able to function in spite of such efforts and continued to direct the flow of money, patronage, and votes into the early 1930s. Ultimately, even Tammany was unable to escape from the drastic social and cultural changes brought on by the Great Depression, and in 1932 the machine suffered a dual setback when Mayor James Walker was forced from office and FDR was elected president. The New Deal helped alter the demographic landscape of New York by restricting immigration and making people less dependent on Tammany for jobs and assistance, while the election of Fiorello LaGuardia removed the City Hall from Tammany's immediate control.

Despite these setbacks, the Tammany machine achieved something of a renaissance in the early 1950s under the leadership of Carmine De Sapio, who succeeded in engineering the elections of Robert Wagner in 1953 and Averell Harriman in 1954, while simultaneously blocking the successful candidacies of those who had not curried his favor. Perhaps most notably among these politicians was Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., whose defeat in the 1954 race for New York attorney general was related to De Sapio's downstate mobilization against his election. Inadvertently, De Sapio had sown the seeds of his own ruin. ER held De Sapio responsible for her son's defeat and grew increasingly disgusted with his political conduct through the rest of the 1950s. Eventually, she would join with her old friends Herbert Lehman and Thomas Finletter to form the New York Committee for Democratic Voters, a group dedicated to enhancing the democratic process by opposing De Sapio's reincarnated Tammany. Eventually, their efforts were successful, and in 1961 De Sapio was removed from power. The once mighty Tammany political machine, now deprived of its leadership, quickly faded from political importance and by the mid-1960s had ceased to exist.
 


Sources:

Kilroe, Edwin P. Saint Tammany and the Origin of the Society of Tammany, or Columbian Order in the City of New York . Washington, D.C.: George Washington University, Microfiche, 1913, 48.

Lash, Joseph. Eleanor, The Years Alone. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1972, 274-276.
 

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