Saturday, January 20, 2018


The History of Tammany Hall
By Gustavus Myers
Image result for cartoon images of boss tweed

Preface to the First Edition (1901)

In most men’s minds a certain spell of wonder attaches to the career and character of the Tammany Society and Tammany Hall.  The long continuance of this dual power;  its control of the city, infrequently interrupted, throughout the century;  the nature of its principles, the method of its practices and the character of its personnel — all these combine to furnish a spectacle which exerts over the general mind a peculiar and strong fascination.

It was under the sway of this mood that I began the investigation which has resulted in this volume.  I had no thought, on beginning, to carry the work so far: I sought merely to satisfy my curiosity regarding the more important particulars of Tammany’s history.  But I soon learned that what I sought was not easily to be obtained.  The few narratives already published were generally found to be either extravagant panegyrics, printed under the patronage of the Tammany Society, or else partisan attacks, violent in style and untruthful in statement.  Usually both were characterized by their paucity of real information no less than by the number of their palpable errors of fact.

Turning from these, I determined to find the facts for myself.  My search led me first through the files of all the available newspapers from 1789 to the present time, and thence — for origins and contributory causes — through publications as far back as 1788; thence through State and city histories, and a great number of biographies, sketches, essays, political pamphlets and broadsides.  The fragmentary matter gleaned from these sources was found to be extremely valuable in helping to form the continuous thread of a narrative, and in determining contemporary spirit;  but the statements and conclusions, particularly with regard to the character and conduct of public men, were generally contradictory and inconclusive.  Realizing this, I began the last phase of my search — a task that has led me through numberless dreary pages of the Minutes and Documents of the Common Council (which for the years previous to 1831 exist only in manuscript), Journals and Documents of the Senate and Assembly, including the reports of various legislative committees;  Congressional and Executive Records, Treasury Reports, Records of the Police, Common Pleas, Superior and Supreme Courts; Minutes of the Oyer and Terminer;  Grand Jury Presentments, and Records of the Board of Supervisors.  Finally, I have had the good fortune, in developing the story of the middle and later periods, of having secured many valuable interviews with a number of men who actively participated in the stirring events of thirty, forty and even fifty years ago.

The purpose to write a book became fixed as my search progressed.  The work is finished, and the result is now to be given to the public.  What I have sought to produce is a narrative history — plain, compact and impartial.  I have sought to avoid an indulgence, on the one hand, in political speculation, and on the other, in moralizing platitudes.  Such deductions and generalizations as from time to time I have made, seem to me necessary in elucidating the narrative;  without them the story would prove to the reader a mere chronology of unrelated facts.

If my narrative furnishes a sad story for the leaders and chieftains of the Tammany Society and the Tammany Hall political organization, the fault is not mine, but that of a multitude of incontestible public records.  It was in no partisan spirit that I began the work, and in none that I now conclude it.  I have always been an independent in politics;  and I have even voted, when there seemed to me ample reason for doing so, a Tammany ticket.  I have tried to set down nothing in malice, nor with such exceptions as are obviously necessary with regard to living men, to extenuate anything whatever.  Those who may be tempted to consider my work partial and partisan, on account of the showing that it makes of Tammany corruption and inefficiency, will do well to read carefully the pages relating to the Whigs and to some other opponents of Tammany Hall.

The records show that a succession of prominent Tammany leaders were involved in some theft or swindle, public or private.  These peculations or frauds ranged, in point of time, from 1799 and 1805-6 to the later decades;  in the matter of persons, from the founder of the Tammany Society to some of the subsequent “bosses,” and in gradation of amount, from the petty thousands taken by Mooney, Stagg and Page, in the first decade of the century, to the $1,220,000 taken by Swartwout in 1880-88, and the undetermined millions taken by Wood and Tweed in the fifties, sixties and first two years of the seventies.  From nearly the beginning of its active political career, Tammany leaders, with generally brief interruptions, thus continued to abstract money from the city, the State and the nation — the interruptions to the practice generally coinciding with the periods when Tammany in those years was deprived of political power.

My search has shown me the absurdity of the pretense that any vital distinction exists between the Tammany Society and the Tammany Hall political organization.  Tammany members industriously propagate this pretense, but it has neither a historic nor an actual basis.  From 1805, the date of the apparent separation of the organization from the society, the Sachems of the latter have ruled the policies of the former.  Repeatedly, as in 1828, 1888, 1858, and 1857, they have determined the “regularity” of contending factions in the organization, and have shut the hall to members of the faction against which they have decided.  The Sachems have at all times been the leaders in the political body, and the control of the society in every year that Tammany has held control of the city, has determined the division of plunder for the ensuing year.  The Tammany Society and the Tammany political organization constitute a dual power — but, unlike Ormuzd and Ahrimanes, a duality working by identical means for an identical end.

The records show that Tammany was thus, from the beginning, an evil force in politics.  Its characteristics were formed by its first great leader, Aaron Burr, and his chief lieutenant, Matthew L. Davis; and whatever is distinctive of Tammany methods and policies in 1900 is, for the most part, but the development of features initiated by these two men one hundred years ago.  It is curious to recall, on looking back to the time when my researches began, the abundant evidences of misapprehension regarding Tammany’s earlier history.  “No especial discredit attached to Tammany Hall before Tweed’s time,” wrote, in effect, Mr. E.L. Godkin in an essay published a few years ago.  State Senator Fassett, in 1890, made a similar statement in his report on the investigation of conditions in New York City.  “Down to the time,” he says, “that the Tammany ‘ring,’ under the leadership of William M. Tweed, took possession of the government of New York City ... the office [of Alderman] was held in credit and esteem.”  The exact reverse of both statements is true; and abundant proof of my contention, I believe, will be found in the pages of this book.  Another instance may be given — though the opinion expressed, instead of being founded upon misapprehension, may charitably be set down as one of misjudgment.  “I was a Sachem of Tammany,” said a one-time noted politician recently, before the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents, “in the days when it was an honor to be a Sachem.”  The precise time he did not specify; and it would be difficult to identify it from the description he has given.  Certainly, since 1805, the office of Sachem has been one ill calculated, of itself, to bring particular honor to the incumbent.

It would be dishonest to pretend for a moment that Tammany has been alone in its evil-doing; it has been simply the most ingenious and the most pretentious; and its practices have a historic continuity and persistence not shared by any of its rivals.  The Whigs, for instance, sought in every possible way to outdo Tammany in election frauds; they stuffed ballot boxes, colonized voters, employed rowdies and thugs at the polls and distributed thousands of deceptive ballots for the use of their opponents.  In fiscal frauds, likewise, they left a record well-nigh equaling that of Tammany.  The Native Americans imitated both Whigs and Tammany men, and the Republicans have given instances at Albany of a wholesale venality unapproached in the history of legislative bodies.  Among the few exceptions, during the earlier half of the century, to the general prostitution of civic ideals, was the career of the Workingmen’s party (1829-81) and of its successor, the Equal Rights party (1884-88).  The principles of both these parties were far in advance of their time; and though the effect tended somewhat to the temporary heightening of political standards, a reaction followed, which again brought in a long period of fraud and corruption.

But shameful as this record is, it is one which, viewed in the light of present practices and present ideals, gives the basis for a robust faith in the future.  The hiding of vice and the employment of indirect methods in cheating and plundering, are themselves an evidence of the existence of moral standards; and it is unquestionable that Tammany to-day outwardly conforms to ethical demands which would have been scoffed at a half century ago.  No one can read the details of political history without acknowledging a growing betterment in political methods.  “ Hardly a man [before the Civil War] could be found,” says Jesse Macy in his recent History of Political Parties in the United States, “who felt himself too virtuous to go into politics.  The sensitively moral were not repelled by political methods which to-day are regarded as disgraceful.” And further along he says:  “It is easy to forget that, from the very nature of moral progress, it often happens that intelligent moral leaders of one generation will in all good conscience say and do things which only the conscious hypocrite or the knave of a later generation can do.”  Pessimism as to political progress secures no support from real research.

It may be asked, and with some show of reason, how it has been possible for New York City to achieve its present rank in population, in wealth, in commerce and in transportation facilities; how it has acquired its splendid libraries, its magnificent buildings, its museums, its parks, its benevolent institutions, in the face of this continued dominancy of corruption, violence and fraud.  The answer is simple: the city has grown despite these adverse influences.  The harbor of New York is one factor; the Erie Canal (constructed notwithstanding the opposition of the dominant political party of the city) is another; the tremendous growth of the nation, and the thousand external influences that determined the location of the nation’s metropolis, are yet other factors.  The city has grown to magnificence and world-wide influence; but it has paid dear tribute for every forward step it has taken. Imagination fails at picturing the metropolis that might have been, could the city throughout the century have been guided and controlled in the light of present-day civic ideals.

The difficulties of securing the publication of this work by any of the regular publishing houses proved insurmountable.  Two of the best known firms wrote that they could not encourage me to submit the manuscript to them for consideration.  Four others considered its publication “inadvisable,” though their readers had returned favorable recommendations.  One other declined it without giving reasons.  More recently, when the offer of certain responsible persons who had read the manuscript, to guarantee the expense of its publication, was made to a certain house, the firm replied:  “.. we should hardly feel warranted in locking horns with Tammany Hall...”  It was thought that perhaps an out-of-town house might issue it, but here again declinations were forthcoming.  Finally it was decided to attempt its publication by private subscription.  To this end I solicited individual advances to a publication fund, from a number of the city’s public-spirited citizens.  The appearance of the work at this time is due to the kindly interests of these men.

Acknowledgments for the courtesies tendered me, and for material aid rendered in the project of issuing the work, are due to a number of persons:  To the public-spirited citizens of different political faiths, who, while familiar with the scope of the work, contributed the funds for its publication without insisting upon a censorship of the manuscript or its alteration in any way for political purposes; and particularly to Mr. James B. Reynolds, Mr. James W. Pryor and Milo R. Maltbie, Ph.D.

Gustavus Myers.
New York City, January, 1901.

Resistance to Aristocracy

Image result for images of William Mooney tammany hall

THE Society of St. Tammany, or Columbian Order, was founded on May 12, 1789, a fortnight later than the establishment of the National Government, by William Mooney.1  “His object,” says Judah Hammond,2 an early member of Tammany, “was to fill the country with institutions designed, and men determined, to preserve the just balance of power.  His purpose was patriotic and purely republican.  The constitution provided by his care contained, among other things, a solemn asseveration, which every member at his initiation was required to repeat and subscribe to, that he would sustain the State institutions and resist a consolidation of power in the general Government.”

Before the Revolution, societies variously known as the “Sons of Liberty” and the “Sons of St. Tammany” had been formed to aid the cause of independence.  Tammany, or Tamanend, was an Indian chief, of whom fanciful legends have been woven, but of whose real life little can be told.  Some maintain that he lived in the neighborhood of Scranton, Pa., when William Penn arrived, and that he was present at the great council under the elm tree.  His name is said to have been on Penn’s first treaty with the Indians, April 23, 1683.  He is also described as a great chief of the Delaware nation, and his wigwam is said to have stood on the grounds now occupied by Princeton University.  The fame of his wisdom, benevolence and love of liberty spreading to the colonists, they adopted his name for their patriotic lodges.  When societies sprang up bearing the names of St. George, St. Andrew or St. David and proclaiming their fealty to King George, the Separatists dubbed Tammany a saint in ridicule of the imported saints.  The Revolution over, the “Sons of Liberty” and the “Sons of St. Tammany” dissolved.
Image result for images of Governor George Clinton.
The controversy over the adoption of the Federal constitution had the effect of re-uniting the patriotic lodges.  The rich and influential classes favored Hamilton’s design of a republic having a President and a Senate chosen for life, and State governments elected by Congress.  Opposed to this attempt toward a highly centralized government were the forces which afterward organized the Anti Federalist party.  Their leader in New York was Governor George Clinton. The greater number of the old members of the Liberty and Tammany societies, now familiarly known as “Liberty boys,” belonged to this opposition.

During this agitation Hamilton managed to strengthen his party, by causing to be removed, in 1787, the political disabilities bearing upon the Tories.  New York was noted for its Tories, more numerous in proportion than in any other colony, since here, under the Crown, offices were dispensed more liberally than elsewhere.  In the heat of the Revolutionary War and the times immediately following it, popular indignation struck at them in severe laws.  In all places held by the patriot army a Tory refusing to renounce his allegiance to King George ran considerable danger not only of mob visit, but of confiscation of property, exile, imprisonment, or, in flagrant cases of adherence to the enemy, death.  From 1783 to 1787 the “Liberty boys” of the Revolution, who formed the bulk of the middle and working classes, governed New York City politics.  In freeing the Tories from oppressive laws, and opening political life to them, Hamilton at once secured the support of a propertied class (for many of them had succeeded in retaining their estates) numerous enough to form a balance of power and to enable him to wrest the control of the city from the “Liberty boys.”

The elevation to office of many of the hated, aristocratic supporters of Great Britain inflamed the minds of the “Liberty boys” and their followers, and made the chasm between the classes, already wide, yet wider.  The bitterest feeling cropped out.  Hamilton, put upon the defensive, took pains in his addresses to assure the people of the baselessness of the accusation that he aimed to keep the rich families in power.  That result, however, had been partially assured by the State constitution of 1777.  Gaging sound citizenship by the ownership of property, the draftsmen of that instrument allowed only actual residents having freeholds to the value of £100, free of all debts, to vote for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and State Senators, while a vote for the humbler office of Assemblyman was given only to those having freeholds of £20 in the county or paying forty shillings rent yearly.  Poor soldiers who had nobly sustained the Revolutionary cause were justly embittered at being disqualified by reason of their poverty, while full political power was given to the property-owning Tories.

“The inequality,” wrote one who lived in those days,
“was greatly added to by the social and business customs of the times.  ... There was an aristocracy and a, democracy whose limits were as clearly marked by manner and dress as by legal enactment. ... The aristocracy controlled capital in trade, monopolized banks and banking privileges, which they did not hesitate to employ as a means of perpetuating their power.”
Dr. John W. Francis tells, in his Reminiscences, of the prevalence in New York for years after the Revolution of a supercilious class that missed no opportunity of sneering at the demand for political equality made by the leather-breeched mechanic with his few shillings a day.

Permeated with democratic doctrines, the populace detested the landed class.  The founding of the Society of the Cincinnati was an additional irritant.  Formed by the officers of the Continental army before disbandment, this society adopted one clause especially obnoxious to the radicals.  It provided that the eldest male descendant of an original member should be entitled to wear the insignia of the order and enjoy the privileges of the society, which, it was argued, would be best perpetuated in that way.  Jefferson saw a danger to the liberties of the people in this provision, since it would tend to give rise to a race of hereditary nobles, founded on the military, arid breeding in turn other subordinate orders.  At Washington’s suggestion the clause was modified, but an ugly feeling rankled in the public mind, due to the existence of an active party supposedly bent on the establishment of a disguised form of monarchy.

It was at such a juncture of movements and tendencies that the Society of St. Tammany or Columbian Order was formed.  The new organization constituted a formal protest against aristocratic influences, and stood for the.widest democratization in political life.

As a contrast to the old-world distinctions of the Cincinnati and other societies, the Tammany Society adopted aboriginal forms and usages.  The officers held Indian titles.  The head, or president, chosen from thirteen Sachems, corresponding to trustees, elected annually, was styled Grand Sachem.  In its early years the society had a custom, now obsolete, of conferring the honorary office of Kitchi Okemaw, or Great Grand Sachem, upon the President of the United States.  Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Jackson were hailed successively as the Great Grand Sachems of Tammany.  After the Sachems came the Sagamore, or Master of Ceremonies, a Scribe, or secretary, and a Wiskinskie,3 or doorkeeper.  Instead of using the ordinary calendar designations, the society divided the year into seasons and these into moons.  Its notices bore reckoning from the year Columbus discovered America, that of the Declaration of American Independence and of its own organization.  Instead of inscribing:  “New York, July, 1800,” there would appear:  “Manhattan, Season of Fruits, Seventh Moon, Year of Discovery three hundred and eighth; of Independence twenty-fourth, and of the Institution the twelfth.”  In early times the society was divided into tribes, one for each of the thirteen original States; there were the Eagle, Otter, Panther, Beaver, Bear, Tortoise, Rattlesnake, Tiger, Fox, Deer, Buffalo, Raccoon and Wolf tribes, which stood respectively for New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.  A new member of the Tammany Society had the choice of saying to which of these tribes he cared to be attached.  Frequently the members dressed in Indian garb and carried papooses in their public parades.  They introduced the distinction between “long talks” and “short talks” in their public addresses.  The name “Wigwam” was given to their meeting-place, and Barden’s Tavern was selected as their first home.

At the initiation of the Grand Sachem a song beginning, “Brothers, Our Council Fire Shines Bright, ethoh!” was sung, and at the initiation of a member another song was sung, beginning:
“Sacred’s the ground where Freedom’s found,
And Virtue stamps her Name.”
The society contemplated founding a chain of Tammany societies over the country, and accordingly designated itself as Tammany Society, No. 1.  A number sprang into life, but only a few — those in Philadelphia, Providence, Brooklyn and Lexington, Ky., continued for any time, and even these disappeared about the year 1818 or a few years later.

The society showed its Indian ceremonies to advantage and gained much prestige by aiding in the conciliation of the Creek Indians.  After useless attempts to make a treaty with them, the Government undertook, as a last resort, in February, 1790, to influence Alexander McGillivray, their half-breed chief, to visit New York, where he might be induced to sign a treaty.  To Col. Marinus Willett, a brave soldier of the Revolution, and later Mayor of New York City, the mission was entrusted.  In July, 1790, Willett started North accompanied by McGillivray and twenty-eight Creek chiefs and warriors.  Upon their arrival in New York, then the seat of the National Government, the members of the Tammany Society, in full Indian costume, welcomed them.  One phase of the tale has it that the Creeks set up a wild whoop, at whose terrifying sound the Tammany make-believe red-faces fled in dismay.  Another version tells that the Tammany Society and the military escorted the Indians to Secretary Knox’s house, introduced them to Washington and then led them to the Wigwam at Barden’s Tavern, where seductive drink was served.  On August 2 the Creeks were entertained at a Tammany banquet.  A treaty was signed on August 13.

In June of the same year Tammany had established, in the old City Hall, a museum “for the preservation of Indian relics.”  For a brief while the society devoted itself with assiduity to this department, but the practical men grew tired of it.  On June 25, 1795, the museum was given over to Gardiner Baker, its curator, on condition that it was to be known for all time as the Tammany Museum and that each member of the society and his family were to have entrance free.  Baker dying, the museum eventually passed into the hands of a professional museum-owner.

Tammany’s chief functions at first seem to have been the celebration of its anniversary day, May 12;  the Fourth of July and Evacuation Day.  The society’s parades were events in old New York.  On May 12, 1789, the day of organization, two marquees were built two miles above the city, whither the Tammany brethren went to hold their banquet.  Thirteen discharges of cannon followed each toast.  The first one read:  “May Honor, Virtue and Patriotism ever be the distinguishing characteristics of the sons of St. Tammany.”  John Pintard,4 Tammany’s first Sagamore, wrote an account 5 of the society’s celebration of May 12, 1791.  “The day,” he says,
“was ushered in by a Federal salute from the battery and welcomed by a discharge of 13 guns from the brig Grand Sachem, lying in the stream.  The society assembled at the great Wigwam, in Broad street, five hours after the rising of the sun, and was conducted from there in an elegant procession to the brick meeting house in Beekman street.  Before them was borne the cap of liberty;  after following seven hunters in Tammanial dress, then the great standard of the society, in the rear of which was the Grand Sachem and other officers.  On either side of these were formed the members in tribes, each headed by its standard bearers and Sachem in full dress.  At the brick meeting house an oration was delivered by their brother, Josiah Ogden Hoffman, to the society and to a most respectable and crowded audience.  In the most brilliant and pathetic language he traced the origin of the Columbian Order and the Society of the Cincinnati.  From the meeting house the procession proceeded (as before) to Campbell’s grounds, where upwards of two hundred people partook of a handsome and plentiful repast.  The dinner was honored by his Excellency [George Clinton] and many of the most respectable citizens.”
The toasts, that now seem so quaint, mirror the spirit of the diners.  “The Grand Sachem of the Thirteen United Fires,” ran the first, “may his declining sun be precious in the sight of the Great Spirit that the mild luster of his departing beams.may prove no less glorious than the effulgence of the rising or transcendent splendor of his meridian greatness.”  The second:  “The head men and chiefs of the Grand Council of the Thirteen United Fires -may they convince our foes not only of their courage to lift, prudence to direct and clemency to withhold the hatchet, but of their power to inflict it in their country’s cause.”

Up to 1835, at least, toasts were an important feature in public dinners, as they were supposed to disclose the sentiments, political or otherwise, of the person or body from whom they came.  In this fashion the Tammany Society announced its instant sympathy with the French Revolution in all its stages.  On May 12, 1793, the sixth toast read: “Success to the Armies of France, and Wisdom, Concord and Firmness to the Convention.”  “The first sentence was hardly articulated,” a newspaper 6 records, “when as one the whole company arose and gave three cheers, continued by roars of applause for several minutes;  the toast was then given in whole and the applause re-iterated.”

At ten o’clock that morning, the same account relates, “the society had assembled at Tammanial Hall, in Broad street, and marched to St. Paul’s Church, where Brother Cadwallader D. Colden delivered to a crowded and brilliant audience an animated talk on the excellence of the Government and situation of the United States when contrasted with those of despotic countries.”  In the procession were about 400 members in civilian dress.  From each hat flowed a bucktail — the symbol of Liberty — and the standard and cap of Liberty were carried in front of the line.  From the church “the Tammanials went to their Hall, where some 150 of them partook of an elegant dinner.”

Public feeling ran high in discussing the French Revolution, and there were many personal collisions.  The Tammany Society was in the vanguard of the American sympathizers’ and bore the brunt of abuse.  The pamphlets and newspapers were filled with anonymous threats from both sides.  “An Oneida Chief” writes in the New York Journal and Patriotic Register, June 8, 1793:
A Hint to the Whigs of New York:  To hear our Brethren of France vilified (with all that low Scurrility of which their enemies the English are so well stocked) in our streets and on the wharves; nay, in our new and elegant Coffee House; but more particularly in that den of ingrates, called Belvidere Club House, where at this very moment those enemies to liberty are swallowing potent draughts to the destruction and annihilation of Liberty, Equality and the Rights of Man, is not to be borne by freemen and I am fully of opinion that if some method is not adopted to suppress such daring and presumptuous insults, a band of determined Mohawks, Oneidas and Senekas will take upon themselves that necessary duty.”

There is no record of the carrying out of this threat.
Despite its original composition of men of both parties, the Tammany Society drifted year by year into being the principal upholder of the doctrines of which Jefferson was the chief exponent.  Toward the end of Washington’s administration political feelings developed into violent party divisions, and the Tammany Society became largely Anti-Federalist, or Republican, the Federalist members either withdrawing or being reduced to a harmless minority.  It toasted the Republican leaders vociferously to show the world its sympathies and principles.  On May 12, 1796, the glasses ascended to “Citizen” Thomas Jefferson, whose name was received with three cheers, and to “Citizen” Edward Livingston, for whom nine cheers were given.  “The people,” ran one toast, “may they ever at the risk of life and liberty support their equal rights in opposition to Ambition, Tyranny, to Sophistry and Deception, to Bribery and Corruption and to an enthusiastic fondness and implicit confidence in their fellow-fallible mortals.”

Tammany had become, by 1796-97, a powerful and an extremely partisan body.  But it came near being snuffed out of existence in the last year of Washington’s presidency.  Judah Hammond writes that when Washington, before the close of his second term,
“rebuked self-creative societies from an apprehension that their ultimate tendency would be hostile to the public tranquility, the members of Tammany supposed their institution to be included in the reproof, and they almost all forsook it.  The founder, William Mooney, and a few others continued steadfast.  At one anniversary they were reduced so low that but three persons attended its festival.7  From this time it became a political institution and took ground with Thomas Jefferson.”
To such straits was driven the society which, a short time after, secured absolute control of New York City, and which has held that grasp, with but few and brief intermissions, ever since.  The contrast between that sorry festival, with its trio of lonesome celebrators, and the Tammany Society of a few years afterwards presents one of the most striking pictures in American politics.

Aaron Burr at the Helm

THE second period of the Tammany Society began about 1798.  Relieved of its Federalist members, it became purely partisan.  As yet it was not an “organization,” in the modern political sense;  it did not seek the enrollment and regimentation of voters.  Its nature was more that of a private political club, which sought to influence elections by speeches, pamphlets and social means.  It shifted its quarters from Barden’s Tavern to the “Long Room,” a place kept by a sometime Sachem, Abraham or “Brom” Martling,1 at the corner of Nassau and Spruce streets.  This Wigwam was a forlorn, one-story wooden building attached to Martling’s Tavern, near, or partly overlapping, the spot where subsequently Tammany Hall erected its first building—recently the Sun newspaper building.  No larger than a good-sized room the Wigwam was contemptuously styled by the Federalists “the Pig Pen.”  In that year New York City had only 58,000 inhabitants.  The Wigwam stood on the very outskirts of the, city.  But it formed a social rendezvous very popular with the “Bucktails” of the time.  Every night men gathered there to drink, smoke and “swap” stories.  Fitz-Greene Halleck has written of a later time:
“There’s a barrel of porter at Tammany Hall,
And the Bucktails are swigging it all the night long;
In the time of my boyhood ’twas pleasant to call
For a seat and cigar mid the jovial throng.”
This social custom was begun early in the life of the society, and was maintained for several decades.
Image result for images of Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr was the first real leader of the Tammany Society.  He was never Grand Sachem or even Sachem;  it is doubtful whether he ever set foot in the Wigwam;  it is known that it was never his habit to attend caucuses;  but he controlled the society through his friends and proteges.  The transition of Tammany from an effusive, speech-making society to an active political club was mainly through his instrumentality.  Mooney 2 was a mediocre man, delighting in extravagant language and Indian ceremonials, and was merely a tool in the hands of far abler men.  “Burr was our chief,3 said Matthew L. Davis, Burr’s friend and biographer, and several times Grand Sachem of the society.

Davis’s influence on the early career of Tammany was second only to that of Burr himself.  He was reputed to be the originator of the time-honored modes of manufacturing public opinion, carrying primary meetings, obtaining the nomination of certain candidates, carrying a ward, a city, a county or even a State.  During one period of his activity, it is related, meetings were held on different nights in every ward in New York City.  The most forcible and spirited resolutions and addresses were passed and published.  Not only the city, but the entire country, was aroused.  It was some time before the secret was known — that at each of these meetings but three persons were present, Davis and two friends.

Though Davis was credited with the authorship of these methods, it is not so certain that he did not receive his lessons from Burr.  Besides Davis, Burr’s chief proteges, all of whom became persons of importance in early New York, were Jacob Barker, John and Robert Swartwout, John and William P. Van Ness ;  Benjamin Romaine, Isaac Pierson, John P. Haff and Jacob Hayes.4  When Burr was in disgrace William P. Van Ness, at that time the patron of the law student Martin Van Buren, wrote a long pamphlet defending him.  At the time of his duel with Hamilton these men supported him.  They made Tammany his machine;  and it is clear that they were attached to him sincerely, for long after his trial for treason, Tammany Hall, under their influence, tried unsuccessfully to restore him to some degree of political power.  Burr controlled Tammany Hall from 1797 until even after his fall.  From then on to about 1835 his proteges either controlled it or were its influential men.  The phrase, “the old Burr faction still active,” is met with as late as 1832, and the Burrites were a considerable factor in politics for several years thereafter.  Nearly every one of the Burr leaders, as will be shown, was guilty of some act of official or private peculation.

These were the men Burr used in changing the character of the Tammany Society.  The leader and his satellites were quite content to have the Tammany rank and file parade in Indian garb and use savage ceremonies ;  such forms gave the people an idea of pristine simplicity which was a good enough cloak for election scheming.  Audacious to a degree and working through others, Burr was exceedingly adroit.  One of his most important moves was the chartering of the Manhattan Bank.  Without this institution Tammany would have been quite ineffective.  In those days banks had a mightier influence over politics than is now thought.  New York had only one bank, and that one was violently Federalist.  Its affairs were administered always with a view to contributing to Federalist success.  The directors loaned money to their personal and party friends with gross partiality and for questionable purposes.  If a merchant dared help the opposite party or offended the directors he was taught to repent his independence by a rejection of his paper when he most needed cash.

Burr needed this means of monopoly and favoritism to make his political machine complete, as well as to amass funds.  He, therefore, had introduced into the Legislature (1799) a bill, apparently for the purpose of diminishing the future possibility of yellow fever in New York City, incorporating a company, styled the Manhattan Company, to supply pure, wholesome water.  Supposing the charter granted nothing more than this, the legislators passed it.  They were much surprised later to hear that it contained a carefully worded clause vesting the Manhattan Company with banking powers.5  The Manhattan Bank speedily adopted the prevailing partisan tactics.

The campaign of 1800 was full of personal and party bitterness and was contested hotly.  To evade the election laws disqualifying the poor, and working to the advantage of the Federalists, Tammany had recourse to artifice.  Poor Republicans, being unable individually to meet the property qualification, clubbed together and bought property.  On the three election days 6 Hamilton made speeches at the polls for the Federalists, and Burr directed political affairs for the Republicans.  Tammany used every influence, social and political, to carry the city for Jefferson.

Assemblymen then were not elected by wards, but in bulk, the Legislature in turn selecting the Presidential electors.  The Republican Assembly candidates in New York City were elected 7 by a majority of one, the vote of a butcher, Thomas Winship, being the decisive ballot.  The Legislature selected Republican electors.  This threw the Presidential contest into the House of Representatives, insuring Jefferson’s success.  Though Burr was the choice of the Tammany chiefs, Jefferson was a favored second.  Tammany claimed to have brought about the result ;  and the claim was generally allowed.8 The success of the Republicans in 1800 opened new possibilities to the members of the Tammany Society.  Jefferson richly rewarded some of them with offices.  In 1801 they advanced their sway further.  The society had declared that one of its objects was the repeal of the odious election laws.  For the present, however, it schemed to circumvent them.  The practice of the previous year of the collective buying of property to meet the voting qualifications was continued.  Under the society’s encouragement, and with money probably furnished by it, thirty nine poor Republicans in November, 1801, bought a house and lot of ground in the Fifth Ward.  Their votes turned the ward election.  The thirty-nine were mainly penniless students and mechanics ;  among them were such men as Daniel D. Tompkins, future Governor of New York and Vice-President of the United States ;  Richard Riker, coming Recorder of New.York City ;  William P. Van Ness, United States Judge to be, Teunis Wortman, William A. Davis, Robert Swartwout and John L. Broome, all of whom became men of power.

The result in the Fifth Ward, and in the Fourth Ward, where seventy Tammany votes had been secured through the joint purchase of a house and lot at 50 Dey street, gave the society a majority in the Common Council.9  The Federalist Aldermen decided to throw out these votes, as being against the spirit of the law, and to seat their own party candidates.  The Republican Mayor, Edward Livingston, who presided over the deliberations, maintained that he had a right to vote.10  His vote made a tie.  The Tammany, or Republican, men were arbitrarily seated, upon which, on December 14, 1801, eight Federalists seceded to prevent a quorum;11  they did not return until the following March.

The Tammany Society members, or as they were called until 1818 or 1814, the Martling Men (from their meeting place), soon had a far more interesting task than fighting Federalists.  This was the long, bitter warfare, extending over twenty-six years, which they waged against De Witt Clinton, one of the ablest politicians New York has known, and remembered by a grateful posterity as the creator of the Erie Canal.

to be continued...

Chapter 1
1 Mooney was an ex-soldier, who at this time kept a small upholstery shop at 23 Nassau street.  He was charged with having deserted the American Army, September 16, 1776, and with joining the British forces in New York, where for a year he wore the King’s uniform.  The truth or falsity of this charge cannot be ascertained.
2 Hammond, Political History of the State of New York, Vol I, p. 341.
3 So spelled in all the earlier records.  Later, the s in the penultimate syllable came to be dropped.
4 John Pintard was one of the founders of the New York Historical Society, the Academy of Design and other institutions.  He was a very rich man at one time, but subsequently failed in business.
5 Dunlap’s American Daily Register, May 16, 1791.
6 New York Journal and Patriotic Register, May 15, 1793.
7 This statement of Hammond probably refers to May 12, 1797.

Chapter 2
1 Martling was several times elected a Sachem.  Like most of the Republican politicians of the day he had a habit of settling his disputes in person.  Taking offense, one day, at the remarks of one John Richard Huggins, a hair-dresser, he called at Huggins’s shop, 104 Broadway, and administered to him a sound thrashing with a rope.  When he grew old Tammany took care of him by appointing him to an obscure office (Keeper of the City Hall).
2 Mooney was a life-long admirer of Burr, but was ill-requited in his friendship.  At Mooney’s death, in 1831, a heap of unpaid bills for goods charged to Burr was found.
3 American Citizen, July 18, 1809.
4 Hayes, as High Constable of the city from 1800 to 1850, was a character in old New York.  He was so devoted to Burr that he named his second son for him.
5 Hammond, Vol. I, pp. 129-30.
6 Until 1840 three days were required for elections in the city and State.  In the earlier period ballots were invariably written.  The first one-day election held in the city was that of April 14, 1840.  For the rest of the State, however, the change from three-day elections was not made until several years later.
7 During the greater part of the first quarter of the century members of the Legislature, Governor and certain other State officers were elected in April, the Aldermen being elected in November.
8 Shortly after Jefferson’s inauguration Matthew L. Davis called upon the President at Washington and talked in a boastful spirit of the immense influence New York had exerted, telling Jefferson that his elevation was brought about solely by the power and management of the Tammany Society.  Jefferson listened.  Then reaching out his hand and catching a large fly, he requested Davis to note the remarkable disproportion in size between one portion of the insect and its body.  The hint was not lost on Davis, who, though not knowing whether Jefferson referred to New York or to him, ceased to talk on the subject.
9 The Common Council from 1730 to 1830 consisted of Aldermen and Assistant Aldermen, sitting as one board.  The terms “Board of Aldermen” and “Common Council” are used interchangeably.
10 Ms. Minutes of the Common Council, Vol. 13, pp. 351-52.
11 Ibid., pp. 353-56.

No comments: