Boss Tweed


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William Marcy Tweed was the most corrupt "American Politician" the state of New York has ever seen. Tweed was known as "Boss Tweed" and he was the first man to be the boss of New York after the ten year struggle. ("American Heritage") The Boss was the leader of a political machine, which was a political organization that controlled
enough votes to maintain control over the community. Political machines were able to restructure the city governments; they also resulted in poorer services, corruption and aggravation of the immigrants and minorities. ("Encyclopedia of American History") He was able to infiltrate Tammany Hall and bribe or smooth-talk any government official that stood in his way. Famously, Tweed is known for the construction of the New York Courthouse. It wasn't until the New York Times wrote an exposé on Boss Tweed that his grafting became publicly known and finally consequences caught up with his actions.
William M. Tweed was born the son of a chair maker in New York in 1823. He attended public school and then followed in his father's footsteps by learning the trade also. Tweed was born on April 3, 1823 in New York City, New York. He started as a street fighter in the Cherry Hill section of the Lower East Side where he was one of eight children. Because of this, he was sent to a boarding school in New Jersey for a year, where he focused on accounting. He began his early careers as a volunteer fireman and later took part in forming the Americus Engine Company No. 6 (the Big Six) in 1848. ("Ackerman") Curiously enough, the cause for Tweed's burning desire for money has never been established, and because of the lack of any primary source in his early life, never will.
Tweed was a large man, to say the least. He never smoked and rarely drank but instead preferred feasting on ‘culinary delights', such as oysters, duck and tenderloin. He had 300 pounds packed on to his almost-6 foot frame. ("Ackerman") His reddish-brown hair was always kept away from his face, revealing his eyes that were described as both "foxy and gritty". ("American Heritage") The Boss had no problem in revealing his wealth and was often seen sporting a 10 1/2-carat diamond stickpin. His rise to fame began in 1851 when he was elected alderman.
By that time, in 1851, the Board of Aldermen was already known as the forty thieves.

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He was soon elected leader of the central committee of Tammany Hall and only a few months later, the Grand Sachem. Contrary to popular belief, not everything about Tweed's political career was corrupt. During the time of the horrific draft, riots broke out in the streets of New York. Instead of sending patrols through the downtown streets or fleeing to the suburbs he walked peacefully among the protestors. To this, the establishment and newspapers granted him there approval and acceptance of his philosophy that "All serious problems might not be solved, but they must be managed". ("Ackerman") He managed the draft by creating exemptions and finding substitutes. Now, Tweed was considered a reformer and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1852. ("Kelly")
William Tweed was then elected to the New York City Board of Advisors in 1856 and then, a year later, became a New York State Senator. After his term in Senate, William Marcy Tweed became Boss Tweed. He was able to control the Democratic New York State and city nominations from 1860 until 1870. ("Kelly") Much of this was due to the creation of the "Tweed Ring" which began in 1866, innocently enough as a lunch club. The atmosphere for the birth of the Tweed Ring was due largely to Tweed's predecessor, Fernando Wood, who was mayor throughout most of the 1850s and early 1890s. Tweed joined forces with "three capital rogues". ("American Heritage") The first was the district attorney, Abraham Oakey Hall who was the mayor from 1898 to 1872. Then there was Peter Barr Sweeny, a lobbyist and ex-district attorney. Lastly, there was Richard Connolly who later became the city comptroller.
First the Tweed Ring gained control of the City's Democratic Party and then, over the following five years, this quartet "stormed four fortresses of power". ("Brezina") These fortresses included The City Hall, the Hall of Justice, the Capital in Albany and most notably Tammany Hall. Tammany Hall was actually the common name for the Tammany Society which was a growing political organization. Tammany Society began in 1789 as a social and charitable club. However, it soon acquired a new political character, and became known as the champion of the immigrant and working class. Their main way of getting votes was from illegally granting citizenship and giving city jobs to immigrants; and also providing services for the poor. ("Encarta") The 12,000 men who were placed in city jobs were known as the "Shiny-Hat brigade" and on Election Day would storm the polls in their uniforms and often vote multiple times. ("American Heritage")
Tweed "wholeheartedly" loved the City of New York and even in his corruption made it better. He gave state money to schools, hospitals and his city patronage jobs helped people provide for their families. ("Ackerman") He even "crossed the barrier between church and state" by providing money to the Roman Catholic parochial school system. (Which was a big step considering the anti-catholic feeling of that time period) Even though the improvements were all about gaining votes, the City prospered greatly from his ‘charity'.
Boss Tweed's main source of "wampum" or hard cash was the construction of the New York City courthouse. The courthouse cost the state and country more than the Erie Canal or roughly 16 normal courthouses. ("Brezina") The architect was John Kellum (who notable also designed the NY Herald building). His completed plans were said to be the "Renaissance marvel proclaiming the greatness of New York and the sanctity of the law." ("American Heritage") However, little was done with construction until 1862 when Tweed became the president of the board of supervisors.
In the beginning, it was the Board of Commissioners vs. the Board of Supervisors. It wasn't until Tweed mediated between them and they decided that the city would foot the bill for the courthouse. Originally, the suggested price for the courthouse was $250,000. ("American Heritage") Of course Tweed would never settle for that, therefore another million was pledged. Then, five years later the construction was not even close to completion and the total price so far was $3,150,000. The reform became suspicious and demanded and investigation so then the Special Committee to Investigate the Courthouse was designated. It only took them a short time to say that the entire project was free from fraud.
The final outcome of this lengthy project was never determined, however one can only imagine with the sum of $5,691,144.26 for only the furniture, carpeting and shades. In the end, it was determined that the Tweed Ring stole somewhere from twenty million to two hundred million dollars from the city and state. ("Brezina") Surprisingly, it wasn't until the courthouse that New York's attention was captured. The New York Times led to the downfall of William Marcy Tweed, which really, was more of a sudden downward spiral.
The New York Times made the Tweed Ring's flaw most apparent, Greed. They picked apart, piece by piece, the expenses of the Courthouse making the greatly overpaid workers look frivolous. But it was the cartoons of Thomas Nast that upset Boss Tweed the most, "I don't care a straw for your newspaper articles; my constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them damned pictures." ("American Heritage") New Yorkers became outraged by the Courthouse and under the organization of Samuel J. Tilden; a civil lawsuit was filed to recover the stolen money. The depletion the Tweed Ring popularity was boldly proclaimed in the following elections when Tammany was crushed at the polls. In response to the public, William Marcy Tweed was arrested in December of 1871; while Connolly, Sweeny and other leading members either fled to Canada, Europe or were never prosecuted. Hall was the only one who didn't flee and was prosecuted, and he became acquitted.
The remaining seven years of Boss Tweeds life was spent in jail. However, his original sentence of 12 years was reduced to one because of a legal technicality. This didn't make a difference though because upon his releases, the state of New York arrested him in an effort to recover six million dollars he allegedly stole. On an allowed visit to his home, William M. Tweed escaped to Cuba and was almost immediately arrested by official. Yet, he still managed to flee to Spain where he was recognized from the Nast cartoons and was arrested again and this time brought back to the United States. He returned to the Ludlow Street Jail in New York City where he died on April 12, 1878 at the age of 55. ("Brezina")
William Marcy Tweed proclaimed that he was a "Statesman!" at the beginning of his one-year sentence, providing his own epitaph. ("American Heritage") In the end, the Tweed Ring stole between twenty million to two hundred million dollars from the city and state of New York. Tammany Hall had a quick recovery and regained influence during the 1880s and controlled the city into the early 20th century. The Tweed Ring softened into just another New York scandal but the shabby building in City Hall Park is still a memorial the legacy of William Marcy Tweed.

Works Cited
Ackerman, Kenneth D. BOSS TWEED: the Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Concieved the Soul of Modern New York. Chicago: Carroll & Graf, 2005.
Brezina, Coronna. American Political Scandals in the Late 1800s. New York, New York: The Rosen, 2003.
Callow. "The House That Tweed Built." American Heritage Oct. 1965: 64-69.
Jackson, Kenneth T. "New York (City)." MSN Encarta. 2006. Microsoft Corporations. .
Kelly, Mellissa. "William Marcy ("Boss") Tweed - Corrupt NYC Political Boss." About.Com. 2006. The New York Times Company. .
Richard, Morris B., and Morris B. Jeffrey. "Political Machine." Encyclopedia of American History. 7th ed. 4 vols. New York, New York: Collins, 1996.


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