A Political Force

After 1798, Tammany came under the control of Aaron Burr. While Tammany was fighting the political forces of De Witt Clinton, it consolidated its position in the city. Tammany backed Andrew Jackson for president, and after his victories in 1828 and 1832 it became a dominant force, fighting for democratic suffrage and the abolition of imprisonment for debt in New York state.

Although it stood for reforms on behalf of the common people, it was nonetheless increasingly controlled by men of the privileged classes. The hostility of workingmen toward this aristocratic control promoted splits within the Democratic party in the city and state, such as the revolt of the Locofocos in the 1830s and the contest between the Barnburners and the Hunkers in the late 1840s. Tammany meanwhile triumphed over the Know-Nothing movement and the local Whig party alike and steadily gained strength by bringing newly arrived immigrants, the great majority of them Irish, into its fold. The immigrants were helped to obtain jobs, then quickly naturalized and persuaded to vote for their benefactors. Because of the willingness of Tammany to provide them with food, clothing, and fuel in emergencies, and to aid those who ran afoul of the law, these new Americans became devoted to the organization and were willing to overlook the fraudulent election practices, the graft, the corruption, and the other abuses that often characterized Tammany administrations. Eventually, the protections provided to Irish immigrants by Tammany led to such reforms as child labor laws, minimum wage, and workers'compensation.

Flagrant abuses during the reign of William M. Tweed led to reforms instituted (1872) by Samuel J. Tilden. However, Tammany returned to power under John Kelly, and the boss system (see bossism) became firmly entrenched in New York City. Corruption under Richard Croker provoked new investigations, such as that initiated by Charles Parkhurst, and when Seth Low became (1901) mayor, Tammany was eclipsed for a time.

Charles Murphy succeeded Croker as boss. His reign was interrupted by the brief administration of John P. Mitchel, who, like Gov. William Sulzer, was a Democrat but an opponent of Tammany. Alfred E. Smith, a protégé of Murphy, became strong enough to create a new Tammany, in which he was an important figure. Corruption in city politics continued, however, and investigations, including that headed by Samuel Seabury (1930–31), of the city magistrates' courts completely discredited Tammany Hall and ultimately brought about the resignation (1932) of Mayor James J. Walker.

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