Boss Tweed: The Corrupt Pol who Conceived the Soul of Modern New Yorkby Kenneth D. Ackerman
William Magear Tweed, America's most corrupt politician ever, ruled New York City in the 1860s and 1870s. He rigged the votes, bribed the legislature, and stole on a massive scale. But even in prison, people still loved and admired him. Tweed's is a stunning tale of pride, fall, and redemption.
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This is a very well researched historical account of one of the more fascinating figures in New York politics. Some of the details are tedious hard to pin down, such as the legal hair-splitting involved in Tweed's trials or the exact ledgers and receipts of the expenditures that brought his notorious ring down. Ackerman appears to understand these things better than he is able to describe them. But nothing about Tweed's life is mundane and the author chronicles his outsized life in glorious detail. As a politician who could deliver votes on a scale sufficient to influence the outcome of national elections, there are so many plots and sub-plots in his life that it is difficult to put them all in perspective. Ackerman makes the wise choice to focus mainly on the man and his political organization in New York. Through the aspirations and machinations of figures like Samuel Tilden, Ackerman gives us enough of the give and take to see how Tweed both took advantage of and was victimized by, the political system. Without excusing his faults, Ackerman paints a surprisingly sensitive human picture of Tweed, as a both natural leader and a shrewd manipulator whose main fault was to have the not uncommon feeling that he deserved a share in the wealth he could create for others. Tweed's role as a power-broker is shown as an outgrowth of his reputation among the poor as a man of the people and the admiration of the rich for his ability to "get things done". Tweed carefully burnished these images through the liberal expenditure of borrowed public funds and cared deeply about his personal appearance, even as he aspired to live the life of the indolent rich and took on the corpulent frame that became inextricably intertwined with Thomas Nast's iconic images of him as a corrupt politician. The author's most revealing descriptions are of Tweed's relations with his jailers and former colleagues. He chronicles the reasons for Tweed's sense of being double-crossed, the degree to which he took the brunt of the punishment meted out to his gang and the calculating way he himself was manipulated by those in power once he was out of it. More could have been done to place his complex relations with his family in perspective and to provide an explanation for the loyalties he gave to, and engendered among some of his acquaintances, while others seemed to have had no qualms about rolling him under. There is enough here, though, to both satisfy the idly curious and whet the appetite of the persistently thoughtful. In the end, we are left with an old man in prison, painfully and pragmatically accepting his fate, but never really understanding it. This is a worthwhile portrait of the archetypal political animal that was Boss Tweed and can provide insights into the workings of New York politics even today, as recent headlines have made clear.
BOSS TWEED… Even if you know nothing about history the name in and of itself should conjure up images of corruption. He and his cronies; did not invent corruption; did not invent graft; did not invent bribery; did not invent kick-backs. They just elevated it to heights never seen before and elevated it to an entirely new art form. Boss Tweed is the personification of the old adage: POWER CORRUPTS AND ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY. A worthwhile read… Makes you wonder what goes on today…