Of Political Machines and Men
From: bernhard1848@att.net
The corrupt machine politics of Northern States eventually turned the North away from the Constitution and toward simple partisan political expediency, with only the South holding to the original compact and a high degree of political honesty. Author Joseph de R. Hamilton noted the divergence of North and South political views in the postwar: “The greatest shock of reconstruction [for the South] was the revelation of the depths to which politics could sink. When the ideals of the community were shattered [by Northern political adventurers], then the practical necessities of the case overcame scrupulous notions of political morality, and a determination to rule by any methods possible possessed the mass of the…people and held them during the three following decades” (Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina).
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Of Political Machines and Men:
“While [George] Washington was president, Tammany Hall, the first municipal machine, began its career; and presently George Clinton, Governor of New York and his nephew, DeWitt Clinton, were busy organizing the first State machine. Sheriffs, county clerks, surrogates, recorders, justices by the dozen, auctioneers by the score, were proscribed for the benefit of the Clintons. DeWitt was sent to the United States Senate in 1802…but resigned almost at once to become Mayor of New York City…Clinton organized a compact machine in the city.
A biased contemporary description of this machine has come down to us. “You [Clinton] are encircled by a mercenary band, who, while they offer adulation to your system of error, are ready at the first favorable moment to forsake and desert you. A portion of them are needy young men, who without maturely investigating the consequence, half sacrificed principle to self-aggrandizement. Others are mere parasites, that well know the tenure on which they hold their offices, and will ever pay implicit obedience to those who administer to their wants. Many of your followers are among the most profligate of the community. They are the bane of social and domestic happiness, senile and dependent characters.
In 1812 Clinton became a candidate for President and polled 89 electoral votes against Madison’s 128. His political cunning seems to have forsaken him…[but] He had, however, taught all his enemies the value of spoils, and he adhered to the end to the political action he early advised a friend to adopt: “In political warfare, the defensive side will eventually lose. The meekness of Quakerism will do in religion but not in politics. I repeat it, everything will answer to energy and decision.”
Martin Van Buren was an early disciple of Clinton…[and] remained long enough in the Clinton school to learn every trick. The Empire State has never produced the equal of Van Buren as a manipulator of legislatures. No modern politician would wish to face the publicity if he resorted to the petty tricks that Van Buren used…And when, in 1821, he was elected to the Senate of the United States, he became one of the organizers of the first national machine.”
(The Boss and the Machine, Chronicle of the Politicians and Party Organization, Samuel P. Orth, Yale University Press, 1921, pp. 27-30)