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Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics

Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics

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by Terry Golway

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A major, surprising new history of New York’s most famous political machine—Tammany Hall—revealing, beyond the vice and corruption, a birthplace of progressive urban politics.
For decades, history has considered Tammany Hall, New York's famous political machine, shorthand for the worst of urban politics: graft, crime, and patronage personified


A major, surprising new history of New York’s most famous political machine—Tammany Hall—revealing, beyond the vice and corruption, a birthplace of progressive urban politics.
For decades, history has considered Tammany Hall, New York's famous political machine, shorthand for the worst of urban politics: graft, crime, and patronage personified by notoriously corrupt characters. Infamous crooks like William "Boss" Tweed dominate traditional histories of Tammany, distorting our understanding of a critical chapter of American political history. In Machine Made, historian and New York City journalist Terry Golway convincingly dismantles these stereotypes; Tammany's corruption was real, but so was its heretofore forgotten role in protecting marginalized and maligned immigrants in desperate need of a political voice.
Irish immigrants arriving in New York during the nineteenth century faced an unrelenting onslaught of hyperbolic, nativist propaganda. They were voiceless in a city that proved, time and again, that real power remained in the hands of the mercantile elite, not with a crush of ragged newcomers flooding its streets. Haunted by fresh memories of the horrific Irish potato famine in the old country, Irish immigrants had already learned an indelible lesson about the dire consequences of political helplessness. Tammany Hall emerged as a distinct force to support the city's Catholic newcomers, courting their votes while acting as a powerful intermediary between them and the Anglo-Saxon Protestant ruling class. In a city that had yet to develop the social services we now expect, Tammany often functioned as a rudimentary public welfare system and a champion of crucial social reforms benefiting its constituency, including workers' compensation, prohibitions against child labor, and public pensions for widows with children. Tammany figures also fought against attempts to limit immigration and to strip the poor of the only power they had—the vote.While rescuing Tammany from its maligned legacy, Golway hardly ignores Tammany's ugly underbelly, from its constituents' participation in the bloody Draft Riots of 1863 to its rampant cronyism. However, even under occasionally notorious leadership, Tammany played a profound and long-ignored role in laying the groundwork for social reform, and nurtured the careers of two of New York's greatest political figures, Al Smith and Robert Wagner. Despite devastating electoral defeats and countless scandals, Tammany nonetheless created a formidable political coalition, one that eventually made its way into the echelons of FDR’s Democratic Party and progressive New Deal agenda.Tracing the events of a tumultuous century, Golway shows how mainstream American government began to embrace both Tammany’s constituents and its ideals. Machine Made is a revelatory work of revisionist history, and a rich, multifaceted portrait of roiling New York City politics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Editorial Reviews

Weekly Standard
“Lively and thoughtful.”
Publishers Weekly
New York’s Tammany Hall long symbolized urban corruption and boss politics, satirized memorably by cartoonist Thomas Nast and condemned by WASP “clean” government reformers. An unjust verdict, historian and author Golway (Irish Rebel: John Devoy and America’s Fight for Ireland’s Freedom) argues convincingly in this headlong narrative. Gotham’s classic Democratic machine, which can stand in for many others since then, was less a corrupt organization than an effective political vehicle of ethnic, especially Irish-American, aspirations. Golway’s take isn’t new, but never has the story been told so well or with greater strength. Yes, Tammany members and followers sometimes used strong-arm street methods and vote-buying to get their way, and New York’s Irish repaid the anti-Catholicism they encountered with equally ugly anti-black racism. But Tammany, usually ably led, even by the notorious Boss Tweed, eventually put New York solidly in the Democratic camp, got Al Smith elected governor, helped elect F.D.R. president, ultimately proving so successful at integrating the city’s ethic groups that, by the 1970s, it was defunct. Like many narrative histories, Golway’s has no clear point of view save its basic argument. Though not unaware of debates among historians and political scientists, he simply ignores them in the interest of storytelling. A pity, for though he winningly makes his case, he doesn’t broaden it out into the story of the nation’s 20th-century transformation. Agent: John Wright. (Mar.)
Kerby A. Miller
“Machine Made tells an important but forgotten story—of how American politics once worked for the poor and weak rather than, as today, only for the rich and powerful.”
John Kelly
“Terry Golway's Machine Made is a fine revisionist history of Tammany Hall, told with style and verve and with a keen eye for the Irish contribution to American politics.”
Kenneth D. Ackerman
“In the best tradition of honest revisionism, Terry Golway has managed to sweep away layers of old stereotypes and misconceptions to explain why Tammany Hall—vilified by generations of 'reformers' and do-gooders–remained so popular with New Yorkers for over a century and still shapes American politics today. His take on the Irish immigrant experience; 'bosses' like Kelly, Croker, and Murphy; and legislators like Al Smith and Robert Wagner are spot on.”
Jay P. Dolan
“From Boss Tweed to Al Smith, Terry Golway chronicles the highs and lows of Tammany Hall as it shaped the political life of New York City. What sets this book apart is its richly detailed study of how Tammany Hall built a political machine from the ground up, stretching from the city’s immigrant neighborhoods all the way to the state legislature. Marvelously written, Machine Made is a superb history of one of the nation's most famous political machines.”
Steven Fulop - The New York Observer
“[A] valuable and enjoyable analysis describing how the political machine changed the role of government—for the better to millions of disenfranchised recent American arrivals… [The] legacy Mr. Golway is so passionate about is undeniable. Tammany Hall, for all the many flaws of its leaders, helped create a welcoming environment for immigrants, making New York and the United States the beacon of hope for those seeking a better life… Now, that’s a legacy worth remembering.”
Amy Finnerty - The New York Times Book Review
“Golway’s revisionist history chips away at Tammany Hall’s calcified reputation and reveals that the Democratic machine that produced Boss Tweed-era corruption was also a force for worthy reform.”
Sam Roberts - The New York Times
“Terry Golway’s Machine Made delivers a refreshingly revisionist verdict on the Irish-dominated Democratic organization whose ring reverberated mightily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then faded into a faint echo… If Boss Tweed and Richard Croker remain the defining faces of Tammany, Mr. Golway… advances a breezy and convincing case that Al Smith, Senators Robert F. Wagner and Herbert Lehman, and their mentors, Tom Foley and Charles Francis Murphy, deserve distinguished pedestals in that pantheon, too.”
Kirkus Reviews
How the Irish mobilized America. The story of Tammany Hall, a fraternal organization founded in the late 1700s as a "voice of the common man," mirrors the story of the Irish Catholics in New York City, who had to crack the Anglo-Protestant political order in order to make their way. So argues journalist Golway (Director, Kean Univ. Center for History, Politics, and Policy; Words that Ring Through Time: The Fifty Most Important Speeches in History and How They Changed Our World, 2009, etc.) in this politics-laden, competent ramble through the dawning of the empowerment of minorities in American politics. Taking their cues from the popular electoral organization of Irish statesman Daniel O'Connell and his Catholic Association, Irish Catholic leaders in New York challenged the "hostile civic culture" of the Protestant elite by pushing back against nativist animosity. As the Irish population of the city swelled from the Great Famine—from 371,000 in 1845 to 630,000 by the mid-1850s—Tammany embraced and enfranchised these unfortunate masses so that the collective memory of the famine helped spur the social legislation of the Progressive Era: securing jobs, pushing for universal suffrage, lobbying for anti-monopoly legislation, labor unions and land reform for Ireland, and opening orphanages, asylums and homes for unwed mothers run by Irish Catholic nuns. The election of William R. Grace, the first Irish Catholic immigrant, as mayor of New York City in 1880 was a watershed, erasing some of the corruption taint created by Boss Tweed. The establishment of a vast "clubhouse system" ensured that favors and social services were well-distributed and won the loyalty of those who needed them, leading to rampant abuses, as exemplified by Richard Croker's scandal-ridden Tammany era. The Triangle Shirt Waist Factory fire of 1911 galvanized Tammany's more promising reform-minded leaders like Robert Wagner and Al Smith to urge for regulatory legislation that inspired Francis Perkins and, later, Franklin Roosevelt. A work that knowledgeably readjusts Tammany's reputation from a nest of corruption to an important crusader for the poor and downtrodden.

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Liveright Publishing Corporation
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5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Terry Golway was a journalist for thirty years, writing for the New York Observer, the New York Times, and other venues. He holds a PhD in American history from Rutgers University and is currently the director of the Kean University Center for History, Politics, and Policy in New Jersey.

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Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
HowieJ1940 More than 1 year ago
Having known next to nothing about Tammany Hall except for Boss Tweed, I found this book both insightful and informative. If this is revisionist history as reviewers on the back jacket suggest, I would say it's pretty good. I am much more knowledgeable about a subject I knew little about.