Tammany Hall

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By the 1890s, Tammany Hall was the Democratic Party’s political organization in New York City. Active in politics and a friend of Grover Cleveland from the time of the President’s governorship of New York State, William Steinway generally supported the Tammany ticket.

Founded in 1788 as a political club, and named after Tamanend, a legendary chief of the Delaware Indian tribe (2, p. 1149), Tammany enlarged its political base by helping immigrants adjust to their new country and become voting citizens. Tammany supported what were then progressive causes, such as universal white male suffrage. 

During the 19th Century, Tammany Hall dominated New York City politics and, in the process, became corrupt as political bosses, though not public office holders, operated from behind the scenes. The first "boss" of Tammany was William Tweed (1823-1878), and his circle of close associates was known as "The Tweed Ring." The Ring engaged in spectacular graft from 1850 until "Boss" Tweed was overthrown and convicted on corruption charges in 1873 (1, p. 1010). "Honest John" Kelly (1822-1886) succeeded Tweed and ruled Tammany from 1872 to 1886. He transformed the organization into a disciplined political machine through the "spoils system" (2, p. 1149). 

The spoils of office were government jobs, contracts, and legislative favors, all exchanged for money paid into the party’s coffers. Jobs were distributed to the party faithful—those who could deliver the votes of their neighborhoods on election day. The Tammany boss also controlled nominations to elective offices, as well as appointments to administrative positions in the city government (2, p. 1150). 

Tammany’s boss during the period when William Steinway was active in politics was Richard Croker (1843-1922), who ruled Tammany from 1886 to 1902 (2, p. 1150). The Tammany organization was dominated by Irish politicians since the 1850s (2, p. 1150). However, as the nineteenth century drew to a close, other ethnic groups developed sufficient political strength to be included in Tammany (2, p. 1150). 

Tammany’s domination of municipal politics was ended by the election of the Republican reformer Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947) as mayor of New York in 1934. Serving as mayor until 1945, LaGuardia broke Tammany’s grip on patronage, thereby undermining its political power and influence (2, p 1151).



1. Burrows, Edwin & Wallace, Mike, Gotham, A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford, 1999, pp. 1008-1012.

2. Jackson, Kenneth, ed. "Tammany Hall." The Encyclopedia of New York City. New York: Yale University Press, 1985, pp. 1149-51.