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Machine Politics

June 2024
1min read

The Tiger: The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall

by Oliver E. Allen, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 336 pages.

The Society of Saint Tammany, born in the 1780s, became a machine that dominated New York City politics for a century and a half. By 1857 it had such unprincipled control of local government that the state had to move in to take over the police force; Tammany simply kept up its own police, and they met in open battle. Two decades later Tammany’s Boss Tweed had so mastered graft that a single county courthouse ended up costing nearly twice as much as the federal government had just paid for Alaska. And in the scalding summer of 1900 a Tammany ring including the mayor actually cornered the city’s market on an essential commodity—ice—and instantly doubled the price.

These are but a few of many amazing stories in this tremendously entertaining but ultimately very serious account of Tammany Hall’s years. It is serious because, as Allen writes, “the Hall must also be seen as an integral part of America’s political coming of age.” It provided essential jobs and services otherwise nonexistent, and endured and adapted until hard-learned reforms finally made it obsolete. And that didn’t happen until the 1960s.

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