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Irish immigrants and the rise of Tammany hall: in the 1800s, Irish immigrants in New York City built a corrupt political machine. (American History).

In the winter of 1851, hundreds of Irish immigrants arrived in New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City

City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S.
 aboard the British ship Montezuma. After months at sea, the immigrants were hungry, thirsty; and cold. But they were lucky to be alive.

People called overcrowded o·ver·crowd  
v. o·ver·crowd·ed, o·ver·crowd·ing, o·ver·crowds
To cause to be excessively crowded: a system of consolidation that only overcrowded the classrooms.
 vessels like the Montezuma "coffin ships." On average, 15 percent of the immigrant passengers on these ships died while at sea.

Not long after the Montezuma docked, the New York Tribune The New York Tribune was established by Horace Greeley in 1841 and was long considered one of the leading newspapers in the United States. In 1924 it was merged with the New York Herald to form the New York Herald Tribune, which ceased publication in 1967.  wrote: "It is really lamentable la·men·ta·ble  
Inspiring or deserving of lament or regret; deplorable or pitiable. See Synonyms at pathetic.

lamen·ta·bly adv.
 [sad] to see the vast number of unfortunate creatures that are almost daily cast on our shores, penniless pen·ni·less  
1. Entirely without money.

2. Very poor. See Synonyms at poor.

penni·less·ly adv.
 and without physical energy to earn a day's living."

Within 20 years, Irish immigrants would transform themselves and the U.S. They got ahead by taking low-paying, dangerous jobs while living in some of America's first--and worst--slums.

The immigrants also helped to create one of the first political machines--a group of politicians that won elections mostly through corrupt (dishonest) practices. Such machines seized control of big cities, including New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
, Boston, and Chicago.

The Society of Tammany had formed as a social club in New York City around 1786. Its members strongly opposed immigration immigration, entrance of a person (an alien) into a new country for the purpose of establishing permanent residence. Motives for immigration, like those for migration generally, are often economic, although religious or political factors may be very important. . But by the mid-1800s, Irish immigrants had conquered Tammany and the city's Democratic Party, which were now one and the same.

During much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Tammany Hall Tammany Hall

Executive committee of the Democratic Party in New York City. The group was organized in 1789 in opposition to the Federalist Party's ruling “aristocrats.
 reigned as the nation's most successful political machine. Immigrants knew that when they were down on their luck, Tammany Hall would help them. By performing charitable acts for the city's struggling immigrants, Tammany politicians were able to survive countless scandals.

The Great Famine Great Famine can refer to multiple historical famines that are referred to as the "Great Famine".
  • Great Famine of 1315-1317 - Northern European famine of the 14th century.

Many Irish immigrants of the mid-1800s were fleeing Ireland's Great Famine, which began in 1845. A plant disease wiped out the country's potato crops, the chief food of the poor. At least 1 million people died from starvation. In the next six years, 2.5 million people left Ireland--mostly for the U.S.

Even after the famine ended, the Irish kept coming to the U.S. By 1920, at least 5 million Irish immigrants had arrived in America.

Famine was only one of Ireland's problems. The largely Roman Catholic country was then controlled by Protestant England. English landlords kept their Irish tenants in poverty, In the predominantly (mostly) Protestant U.S. of the 1 850s, many people shared British views that Irish Catholics were lazy, drunken, dirty, and even subhuman sub·hu·man  
1. Below the human race in evolutionary development.

2. Regarded as not being fully human.


As one Irish immigrant wrote: "The great majority of the American people An American people may be:
  • any nation or ethnic group of the Americas
  • see Demographics of North America
  • see Demographics of South America
 are, in heart and soul, anti-Catholic, but more especially anti-Irish. Everything Irish is repugnant REPUGNANT. That which is contrary to something else; a repugnant condition is one contrary to the contract itself; as, if I grant you a house and lot in fee, upon condition that you shall not aliens, the condition is repugnant and void. Bac. Ab. Conditions, L.  (disgusting) to them."

Most Irish immigrants settled in the already-crowded slums of big cities. Between 1868 and 1875, about half of New York's population--roughly 500,000 people--lived in dirty, crumbling tenements (apartment buildings).

Five Points, an Irish slum in lower Manhattan Lower Manhattan is the southernmost part of the island of Manhattan, the main island and center of business and government of the City of New York. Lower Manhattan is generally defined as the area delineated on the north by Chambers Street, on the west by the Hudson River (North , was notorious (infamous) for its horrible conditions. Poverty, disease, violence, and drug addiction drug addiction
 or chemical dependency

Physical and/or psychological dependency on a psychoactive (mind-altering) substance (e.g., alcohol, narcotics, nicotine), defined as continued use despite knowing that the substance causes harm.
 were everywhere.

Describing a visit to the area in the mid-1800s, Charles Dickens wrote: "Debauchery Debauchery
See also Dissipation, Profligacy.


Alexander VI

Borgia pope infamous for licentiousness and debauchery. [Ital. Hist.: Plumb, 219–220]


 [indulgence in vice] has made the very houses prematurely old. See how the rotten beams are tumbling down, and how the patched and broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken frays [fights]."

Prizefighting or Politics Most Irish kids worked to support their families, even though finding jobs was not easy. Many businesses discriminated against the Irish, some posting signs that read: "No Irish Need Apply."

Irish children swept streets and sold newspapers, matches, and apples. As the teenage son of Irish immigrants, George Washington Plunkitt George Washington Plunkitt (1842-1924) was a long-time State Senator from the U.S. state of New York, representing the Fifteenth Assembly District, who was especially powerful in New York City. He was part of what is known as New York's Tammany Hall machine.  realized that there were two quick roads out of poverty: prizefighting or politics. He chose politics.

"You can't begin too early in politics if you want to succeed at the game," Plunkitt said. "When I was 12 years old, I made myself useful around the district headquarters and ... at all the polls on Election Day.... Show me a boy that hustles for the organization on Election Day, and I'll show you a comin' statesman."

After running errands for Tammany politicians and helping to sway elections, Plunkitt moved up to the job of ward leader, or the neighborhood go-to guy. Later, he became a district leader. Anyone who needed a job or got into a jam with the police would talk to Plunkitt, who would use his influence to help solve their problems.

On a typical day, Plunkitt would rise at 6:00 a.m.--having bailed out an immigrant the night before--help a widow who had lost her home to a fire, pay someone's rent, find jobs for several men, attend a church fair, and buy ice cream for local kids.

But there was a self-serving purpose to such charity. In exchange for a ward or district leader's help, immigrants were expected to vote Democratic on Election Day. Many voted twice--by threatening or bribing election officials. Some even shaved off their mustaches or cut their hair to trick these officials.

Like all machines, Tammany worked on the "spoils system spoils system, in U.S. history, the practice of giving appointive offices to loyal members of the party in power. The name supposedly derived from a speech by Senator William Learned Marcy in which he stated, "to the victor belong the spoils. ." An election victory brought the spoils, or rewards of success--about 12,000 city jobs to fill, as well as state and federal positions.

Tammany politicians also bullied local companies for more jobs, which ward leaders handed out. Such power fed the corrupt machine. Tammany politicians may have helped struggling immigrants, but usually to enrich themselves. They did not seek change or reform.

The Tweed Ring Tweed Ring: see Tweed, William Marcy.

Tweed Ring

bribery is their essential method for corrupting officials (1860–1871). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 511]

See : Bribery

Over time, Tammany had several top leaders, or "bosses." The most famous--or infamous--was William "Boss" Tweed, who ruled Tammany in the mid-19th century. The "Tweed Ring," a group of politicians and allies, pocketed more than $30 million in public money at a time when most workers earned just $1 a day.

Eventually, Tweed's graft (theft) outraged even his supporters. In 1871, Tweed created a scandal over the building of a courthouse, originally budgeted at $500,000. When construction finally ended, Tweed and his schemes had raised the cost to more than $8 million. Convicted of fraud, he went to prison.

People thought that Tammany would not survive the loss of Tweed. But it remained a strong political force. By the late 1800s, thousands of Italians, Poles, and other immigrants were pouring into the city each day. No government agency would help them, so Tammany did.

But, in the early 1900s, strict immigration laws began to make recruits scarce, and stories about gang ties hurt Tammany's image. Reformers inside and outside the machine demanded change. In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs undercut Tammany's appeal to the poor. New civil-service laws also damaged Tammany, since government jobs could no longer be handed out so easily. The machine withered and, in the 1960s, finally collapsed.

Plunkitt did not live to see the end of Tammany Hall. He died a respectable millionaire in 1924. As he explained to a reporter: "I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': 'I seen my opportunities and I took 'em.'"

1. lamentable  A. infamous
2. corrupt     B. sad
3. notorious   C. theft
4. repugnant   D. dishonest
5. graft       E. disgusting

American History word match

1. B

2. D

3. A

4. E

5. C
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Author:Price, Sean
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Feb 21, 2003
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