Tags: Golway | Tammany | Irish | New York

Scholar Rehabs Image of Tammany Hall

By    |   Friday, 02 May 2014 07:55 AM

Terry Golway, director of the Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy, presented his book Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics, at the Irish Arts Center in New York City as part of the C-SPAN series on American History.

Rachael Gilkey, director of programming and education at the Center, introduced the presentation as one that would present another side of America's early 20th century political powerhouse, a Tammany that operated as a force for good alongside the corrupt police force that likely comes to mind, that fought to give immigrants a footing in New York City and responded progressively to events like the tragic fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and laid the groundwork for politics in New York City and the nation today.

The presentation omitted more than it revealed, and viewers may find the readings by a trio of actors distracting. However, the event provides a timely counterpoint to the tribute to "WASP" virtue offered so engaging by Richard Brookhiser in the previous article.

Golway's message is that as the post-famine wave of Irish immigration dramatically altered the demographics of New York, the Irish encountered opposition from the Know Nothing movement and an attitude on the part of the Protestant establishment, both in the old country and in New York, that charity should not be freely bestowed, but should be granted only to people who proved themselves "worthy."

During the period when it was dominated by the Irish, Tammany provided a support system that gathered intelligence as to the needs of constituents through a network of district and precinct leaders who would respond with timely help in return for votes.

Only when prompted by an audience question did Golway explain that Tammany was founded in the latter part of the 1780s as a social club, and its first leader was Aaron Burr. Only when prompted by another question did Golway attempt to describe the complex relationship between FDR and Al Smith, a protege of Tammany who rose to the governorship of New York and ran for president before FDR and later became a vocal critic of FDR and of the New Deal.

Golway attributed the demise of Tammany in the early 1960s to demographic and cultural changes, although he gave due credit to reformers such as Ed Koch. However, he failed to mention that by the time Tammany was overthrown, it had fallen into the hands of the Sicilian mob led first by Lucky Luciano and later by Frank Costello, with Manhattan District Attorney Frank Hogan as a leading political front man. The promise of insight into the role Tammany played in influencing modern politics went largely unfulfilled, with no mention of the powerful influence of the Daley machine, both in Chicago and nationally, up to the present time.

Another important issue Golway may have missed — or he could say is beyond the scope of the book — is the interplay of traditional machine politics and the rise of family machines, such as those developed by the Kennedys and Clintons. Former House Speaker Tip O'Neill was forthright in his recollection that the Kennedys operated a family machine apart from the party, and a similar phenomenon may be observed as the Bush family's view for control of the GOP.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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Robert-Feinberg
Terry Golway, director of the Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy, presented his book Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics, at the Irish Arts Center in New York City as part of the C-SPAN series on American History.
Golway, Tammany, Irish, New York
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2014-55-02
Friday, 02 May 2014 07:55 AM
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