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March 2024
1min read

When this cartoon appeared in 1871, the first of America’s great municipal bosses, William Marcy Tweed—here “Boss Leech”—was in full retreat, publicly accused of using the construction of a new New York County courthouse (lower right) to funnel off some §13,000,000 in graft. Tweed’s chief accomplices were the city controller, Richard “Slippery Dick” Connolly, shown at left as a snake; the city chamberlain, Peter Barr “Brains” Sweeny, drawn here at upper left center as a “dead beet”; and Abraham Oakey “The Elegant Oakey” Hall, of whom it was said that as mayor of New York City he had only one defect: a lack of ability. Cartoonist C. S. Reinhart, no subtle satirist he, pictured the Mayor as a mare in pince-nez, wounded by the arrows of newspaper revelations. The courthouse scandal finished the Tweed Ring and dealt a damaging (though not fatal) blow to the Tammany organization. Elsewhere, the political boss as an American institution was just getting started; over the next three quarters of a century most of the major cities of the nation —and even entire states—were boss-ruled for at least limited periods. Within the span of a single lifetime, all but one of the once-vigorous machines have died. As younger, better-educated, more independent mayors seek to cope with their legacy, it may be instructive to look back at the old-time bosses. We consider them in this issue from two perspectives: “The Age of the Bosses,” beginning on page 26, gives an over-all view of their rise and fall; “I Am the Law” (page 32) focuses on the career of one of the last of their company, Frank Hague of Jersey City.

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