A Republican Form of Government in New York
It was the height of hypocrisy for Northern politicians during Reconstruction to lecture Southerners on political ethics and possible corruption at the polls. Just one example of Northern expertise in political corruption was the Tammany Hall machine of New York City, the most notorious of them all. The molding of a postwar subservient black-voter class in the South was an easy task for Northern politicians of both party’s who were already adept at vote-buying and creating corrupt voting blocs—the Tweed ring collaborated with Republicans to maintain their empire. As noted below, the corruption spread to all sectors of life and business.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
A Republican Form of Government in New York:
"During the long years of drought, while the party of Lincoln "battened at the public crib," vital fragments of the opposition (Democratic) party, much diminished and discredited in its national pretensions, had survived, nay, flourished—in the citadels of certain municipal machines. Thus the practiced demagogues of Tammany Hall retained for generations their grip over the polyglot proletarian mass of New York City.
A great proportion of the immigrant arrivals in the land of milk, honey, and gilded pavements clung to life in New York’s frightful slums, comprising one of the most ignorant, violent, lumpen proletariats in the modern world. For this rabble, traditionally, the rulers of the city’s dominant political organization provided bread and even circuses in the form of annual clambakes and excursions. Tammany agents, meeting their poor Irish and foreign brothers at the dock, gave them advice and aid, food baskets, beer, and even work; in return the new arrivals permitted themselves to be inducted—sometimes at the rate of 1000 a day—as citizens and "voting cattle" into the Democratic party. Like their predecessors, Tweed and his partners, Sweeny and Connally, had long levied upon the numerous brothels, saloons, gambling dens, and criminal associations, through the city police and the courts. Commanding the preponderance of voters who ruled at the polls, they earned tolerant support of the leaders of society, business and professional life who also must dwell with some security in their city.
By 1870, the depredations of the (Tammany) ring went far beyond a "necessary evil"; they were no longer an "instrument" for governing voting cattle, but an immense piratical monopoly. By the operation of public-works schemes, they plundered $1,000,000 a month from the city treasury, earning more in a year than Mr. Vanderbilt; they had added some $50,000,000 to the public debt, controlled banks and embarked with Jay Gould and Jim Fisk upon perilous, unsocial schemes to corner railroads and the money market, as in the Black Friday affair of 1869. The masses of the people had been highly indifferent to reports of the Tweed Ring spoliations; indeed they were traditionally friendly to the Tammany leaders and heartily prejudiced against "reformers." Tweed himself held that the majority of his supporters could not read what was said of him, but he ascribed his disasters to (political cartoonist) Tom Nast’s pictures, which required no reading. Commenting upon the overthrow of Tweed and the appearance of a reform movement in a letter to Samuel Tilden, (Horatio) Seymour says with exquisite justice and wit: "Our people want men in office who will not steal, but who will not interfere with those who do."
(The Politico’s, 1865-1896: The Spoilsmen in Power, Matthew Josephson, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1938, excerpts pp. 151-153)
“All the books that are written to celebrate our age at the expense of those which have preceded it, will in a few years become obsolete and ridiculous…This tendency is equally perverse in history and in politics. It seeks in the past only opportunities of despising it, and overlooks in the present what most needs improvement. These men see in history only the reflection of themselves. They endeavour to illustrate, not an age, but an opinion—to establish the truth, not of facts, but of an idea.
Lord Acton, “Essays in the Study and Writing of History”