George Washington Plunkitt was a well-known politician and influential businessman from New York, the United States. He served in representative houses of the New York State Legislature as well as was a member of the political machine, Tammany Hall, in New York City. Founded in 1789, Tammany Hall was named after Tamanand, a white-friendly leader of the Delaware Indians who signed a peace treaty with Quaker William Penn (William, 2015). Tammany Hall developed its ceremonies imitating Native American rites and set the goal of fighting for the interests of Americans against the Federalist Party, which had gained strength. In essence, Tammany Hall became the most famous political machine throughout the existence of humankind. This paper will analyze the contributions of George W. Plunkitt to explain the political machine, Tammany Hall.
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As a professional historian hired to contribute to a 100-level American History survey textbook, I would like to start from getting readers acquainted with the history of this political machine. The first mention of Tammany Hall was in 1783, but this organization functioned almost from the first third of the 18th century, even before the revolution. In New York, members of this political machine were called the “sons of Tammany” (William, 2015). Initially, it was a community of compatriot emigrants who assisted the US newcomers, most often Irish people, including money, work, and housing, for a reasonable fee. Besides, Tammany Hall controlled smuggling and its distribution; thus, it was initially a mafia structure, which, from about the 1780s, decided to reach political power in the United States. Naturally, the society was located in New York, since the majority of emigrants arrived there, but also had its headquarters in other parts of New England. By 1787, Tammany owned the entire city of New York. The mayor of the state, George Clinton, was their protege, and to pressure competitors, they used militants called the “Liberty boys.”
After a few years after its establishment, Tammany Hall became the most crucial force in the state. Without the consent of this political machine, it was impossible to occupy any important position in New York. At the same time, its representatives, including George W. Plunkitt, were closely connected with the criminal world. They were using the help of New York gangs to achieve the organization’s political and business goals. By the 1870s, it had become an instrument of the top of the Democratic Party and was distinguished by indiscriminate means and corruption of its leaders (William, 2015). In 1911, a wave of brutal murders, as well as suicides, swept in Gramercy Park. Taking advantage of this, Tammany members initiated a Sullivan’s Law, which transferred the issuance of weapons licenses to the jurisdiction of the police. As a consequence, any carrying of a weapon without such a license was considered a crime.
Plunkitt knew that the new law would not scare the gang since they will find a way to get around it. He hated the civil service systems existing at that time and fought against it in a political way. Thus, Tammany Hall took advantage of the mood in society that had ripened since 1903, when the famous massacre at Rivington Street took place in New York. It was a massive struggle between the Jewish gang “Eastmen” and the Italian “Five Corners” (William, 2015). When police squads arrived there to restore order, Jews and Italians unexpectedly united and rebuffed representatives of the law, killing three people. New Yorkers began to murmur as they demanded to pacify street gangs, and Plunkitt promised to help with it. However, ordinary citizens had no idea that the gangs work at Tammany Hall. Democrats used them to put pressure on their political opponents and to suppress strikes. With particular cynicism of gang leaders, members of the Tammany Hall called themselves sheriffs. George W. Plunkitt died on November 19, 1924, and Tammany Hall was continuing its activities for eight more years after his death.
After the adoption of Sullivan’s law, ordinary citizens were disarmed. Gang members who worked at Tammany Hall sewed hidden pockets to their coats and hid weapons in the clothes of their girlfriends at home. Overall, this law did not help to lower crime rates in New York. Moreover, street shootings became the norm for many years to come. One of the most famous shootings took place in 1932, when on the 23rd street, the notorious gangster, called Mad Dog, was violently killed in a telephone booth near a pharmacy (William, 2015). Subsequently, after a series of scandals and investigations, Tammany Hall lost the important municipal elections of 1932, after which it gradually began to lose its influence.
On this basis, it appears logical to conclude that Tammany Hall was a comprehensive political machine where all major decisions were made, from the political orientation of the democrats to the pacification of personal ambitions. The only people who benefited from the machine were its members, including George W. Plunkitt, due to corruption and lawlessness. Ordinary citizens of New York suffered from Tammany Hall since it was tightly connected with criminal activities. Nevertheless, the significance of this political machine in American History can hardly be overestimated due to its bloody methods of work and shadow activities.
William, l. R. (2015). Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: Series of very plain talks on very practical politics, delivered by ex-senator George Washington Plunkitt. London, UK: Forgotten Books.
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