Tammany Hall: History’s Most Notorious Political Machine

By | May 17, 2019

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Political cartoon by Thomas Nast. The Tiger was Tammany Hall's mascot. Source: (wikipedia.org)

Nowadays, there are sometimes accusations of corruption in American politics, either real or supposed. Either way, it does well to recall one of the most famous cases of political corruption: New York City’s Tammany Hall. This political machine, which operated in the 19th and 20th centuries, was the most potent of its ilk and serves as a warning to future generations about the need to carefully check rampant power.

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The Treaty of Penn with the Indians. Source: (wikipedia.org)

The Tammany Society was officially founded in New York City on May 12, 1789. The organization was named after Tamanend, a Native American sachem, or chief who died in the early 18th century. He led a tribe of the Lenapes in southeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware and was a pacifist by nature. Tamanend had sold 300 square miles of territory to William Penn for a pittance.

One historian noted, “In retrospect, it hardly seems fitting that a political body known for wholesale public thievery should have been named after a man who was so easily taken.” To popular imagination, Tamanend was known as a pacifist and benevolent. He became a talisman for the young nation for his commitment toward peace. He was popularly called Saint Tamanend or Tammany.