The History of Tammany Hall

Clinton Maintains his Supremacy

WITH Gov. Clinton at the head of the Council of Appointment, Tammany men expected the force of his vengeance. They were not disappointed. He removed many of them for no other reason than that they belonged to the organization. Hoping to make terms with him, the Wigwam Assemblymen, early in 1818, presented to the Council of Appointment a petition praying for the removal of Mayor Radcliff and the appointment in his place of William Paulding, Jr. “Radcliff,” the paper read, “is an unfit person longer to fill that honorable and respectful office.”  Clinton smiled at this ambidexterity. It was rumored that he intended to award the honor to Cadwallader D. Colden, a Federalist supporter of the War of 1812, and one of the Federalists Tammany Hall had sent to the Assembly in 1817, as a means of breaking up that party. Colden now let it be understood that he sided with Clinton.

The whole Tammany delegation lived in a single house at Albany and met in a large room, No. 10, in Eagle Tavern. “This system of acting as a separate body,” admitted Tammany’s own organ,1 “was very injudicious to our city. It created suspicion and distrust among country members;  it looked like a separate interest;  a combination of a powerful delegation to frown down or over power the delegation of a smaller county.”  Colden did not join in these nightly meetings. One day he was coaxed in to take a glass of wine. To his surprise, upon opening the door of No. 10, he found the delegation in caucus. The meeting seemed to be waiting for him before transacting business. He had scarcely taken a seat, when one of the members arose, and in a long speech protested against any member of the city delegation accepting an office, and suggested that each member should pledge himself not to do so. Colden saw at once that the resolution was directed against himself. He exclaimed energetically against the trickery, declaring that he had not asked for the office of Mayor, but would accept it if offered. The meeting broke up;  Colden was appointed Mayor, and Tammany Hall from that time denounced him.

In Albany, Clinton was vigorously pushing forward the Erie Canal project; the Tammany men were as aggressively combatting it.2  While Clinton was thus absorbed in this great public enterprise the Wigwam was enriching its leaders in manifold ways. An instance of this was the noted Barker episode. Jacob Barker was a Sachem, a leader of great influence in the political organization, and such a power in financial and business circles that at one time he defied the United States Bank. -He and Matthew L. Davis were Burr’s firmest friends to the hour of Burr’s death. Early in 1818 a bill prohibiting private banking, prepared at the instance of the incorporated banks, which sought a monopoly, passed the Senate; though as a special favor to Barker the Senate exempted from its provisions the latter’s Exchange Bank for three years. But Barker desired an indefinite lease. To create a show of public sentiment he had the hall packed with his friends and creatures on April 14, when resolutions were passed stating that the proposed bill would destroy all competition with the incorporated banks, “ benefit the rich, oppress the poor, extend the power of existing aristocracies, and terminate the banking transactions of an individual whose loans have been highly advantageous to many laborious and industrious mechanics and neighboring farmers.” The Legislature granted the privileges Barker asked. A few years later (1826) the sequel to this legislative favoritism appeared in the form of one of the most sensational trials witnessed in early New York.

The year 1818 saw Tammany Hall in the unusual position of advocating a protective tariff. The War of 1812 having injured domestic manufacturing, the demand for such a measure was general. Party asperity had softened, and Republicans, or Democrats — as they were coming to be known — and Federalists alike favored it. The society made the best of this popular wave. It issued an address, advising moderate protective duties on foreign goods. But New York then, and until after the Civil War, was a great shipbuilding center; and the shipbuilders and owners and the importing merchants soon influenced Tammany to revert to the stanch advocacy of free trade.

The almost complete extinction of national party lines under Monroe caused the disappearance of violent partizan recriminations and brought municipal affairs more to public attention. From 1817 onward public bodies agitated much more forcibly and persistently than before for the correction of certain local evils. Chief among these were the high taxes. In 1817 the city tax levy was $180,000;  in 1818 it rose to $250,000, “an enormous amount,” one newspaper said. Though the city received annually $200,000 in rents from houses and lots, for wharves, slips and piers, and also a considerable amount from fines, yet there was a constantly increasing deficit. The city expenses were thought to be too slight to devour the ordinary revenue. The Democratic, or Tammany, officials made attempts to explain that much of the debt was contracted under Federalist Common Councils, and said that sufficient money must be provided or “the poor would starve.”

At almost the identical time this plea was entered, E.C. Genet was laying before the Grand Jury a statement to this effect: that although it was known that the aggregate capital of the incorporated banks, insurance and commission companies in New York City, exclusive of one branch of the United States Bank, amounted in 1817 to about $22,000,000, in addition to the shares in those companies, yet the city and States taxes combined “on all that vast personal estate in New York City are only a paltry $97,000.”

The explanation of the blindness of the Wigwam officials to the escape of the rich from taxation is simple. The Tammany Hall of 1818 was not the Tammany Hall of 1800. In that interval the poor young men who once had to club together in order to vote had become directors in banking, insurance and various other corporations, which as members of the Legislature or as city officials they themselves had helped to form. Being such, they exerted all the influence of their political machinery to save their property from taxation. From about 1805 to 1837 Tammany Hall was ruled directly by about one-third bankers, one-third merchants and the remaining third politicians of various pursuits. The masses formed — except at rare times — the easily wielded body. The leaders safeguarded their own interests at every point, however they might profess at election times an abhorrence of the aristocracy;  and the Grand Jury being of them, ignored Genet’s complaint.

A new series of revelations concerning the conduct of Tammany chieftains was made public during 1817-18. Ruggles Hubbard, a one-time Sachem and at the time Sheriff of the county, absconded from the city August 15, 1817, leaving a gap in the treasury.3  John L. Broome, another Sachem, was shortly after removed from the office of City Clerk by the Council of Appointment for having neglected to take the necessary securities from Hubbard. John P. Haff, a one-time Grand Sachem and long a power in the organization, was removed by President Monroe on November 14, 1818, from the office of Surveyor of the Port, for corruption and general unfitness.4

But the most sensational of these exposures was that concerning the swindling of the Medical Science Lottery, by which Naphthali Judah55 and others profited handsomely. The testimony brought out before Mayor Colden, November 16, 1818, showed that a corrupt understanding existed between Judah and one of the lottery’s managers, by which the former was enabled to have a knowledge of the state of the wheel. Not less than $100,000 was drawn on the first day, of which Judah received a large share. Further affidavits were submitted tending to show a corrupt understanding between Judah and Alderman Isaac Denniston in the drawing of the Owego Lottery, by which Denniston won $35,000. John L. Broome was also implicated in the scandal, and Teunis Wortman, while not directly concerned in it, was considered involved by the public, and suffered a complete loss of popular favor,6 though retaining for some time a certain degree of influence in the society and organization.

Always as popular criticism began to assert itself, Tammany would make a sudden display of patriotism, accompanied by the pronouncement of high-sounding toasts and other exalted utterances. Such it did in 1817, when the society took part in the interment of the remains of Gen. Montgomery in St. Paul’s Church. And now the Sachems prepared to entertain Andrew Jackson at a banquet, and also indirectly signify that he was their choice for President. William Mooney, again elected Grand Sachem, sent to Gen. Jackson, under date of February 15, 1819, a grandiloquent letter of invitation which, referring to the battle of New Orleans, said in part:

“Columbia’s voice, in peals of iron thunder, proclaimed the dread fiat of that eventful morn !  Terra was drenched with human gore !  The perturbed elements were hushed !  Mars and Bellona retired from the ensanguined field ! and godlike Hera resumed her gentle reign.... We approbate your noble deeds and greet you hero. Scourge of British insolence, Spanish perfidy and Indian cruelty—these, sir, are the sentiments of the Sons of Liberty in New York who compose the National Institution of Tammany Society No. 1 of the United States. Here, sir, we guard the patriot flame —'preserved by concord’— its effulgence, in a blaze of glory, shall surround and accompany you to the temple of interminable fame and honor.”

Jackson accepted the invitation. Cadwallader D. Colden, who had been re-appointed Mayor a few days before, was asked to preside. When, on February 23, the banquet was held and Jackson was called for his toast, Colden arose, and to the consternation of the Tammany men proposed:  “De Witt Clinton, the Governor of the great and patriotic State of New York.”  This surprising move made it appear that Jackson favored the Clinton party. To counteract the impression, the General instantly left the room, “amidst reiterated applauses,” and a dead silence ensued for three minutes. This incident, it may well be believed, did not dampen the society’s enthusiasm for Jackson;  it continued to champion him ardently.

Colden was re-appointed Mayor for the third time in February, 1820. Municipal issues were dividing the public consideration with Tammany’s renewed efforts to overthrow Clinton. The report of the Common Council Finance Committee, January 10, 1820, showed that the city would soon be $1,300,000 in debt. An attempt was made to show how the money had been spent on the new City Hall and Bellevue Hospital, but it proved nothing. Although the law expressly prohibited Aldermen from being directly or indirectly interested in any contract or job, violations were common. It was alleged that streets were sunk, raised and sunk again, to enable the contractors to make large claims against the city. To soothe public clamor; the Aldermen made a show of reducing city expenses. The salary of Colden — he being a Clintonite — was reduced $2,500, and the pay of various other city officers was cut down. The salaries of the Wigwam men were not interfered with.

The wholesome criticism of municipal affairs was soon obscured again by the reviving tumult of the contest between Tammany and Clinton. The Governor stood for re-election against Daniel D. Tompkins in April, 1820. Tompkins had long been the idol of the Tammany men and for a time was one of the society’s Sachems. In 1818 he had been practically charged with being a public defaulter. State Controller Archibald M’Intyre submitted to the Legislature a mass of his vouchers, public and private (for the time Tompkins was Governor), which showed a balance against him of $197,297.64. In this balance, however, was included the sum of $142,763.60 which was not allowed to Tompkins’s credit because the vouchers were insufficient. Allowing Tompkins this amount, the balance against him was $54,533.44. Tompkins, on the other hand, claimed the State owed him $120,000. His partisans in the Senate in 1819 passed a bill to re-imburse him, but it was voted down in the Assembly.7

The statements of both sides during the campaign of 1820 were filled with epithets and strings of accusations. Tammany contrasted Clinton’s alleged going over to the British with Tompkins’s patriotism in the War of 1812. Party lines were broken down, and Federalists and Tammany men acted together, as they had done the year before (1819), when their Legislative ticket won over the Clintonites by 2,500 majority. The Clintonites were tauntingly invited to visit the Wigwam, because in that “stronghold of Democracy would be found no 'Swiss’ Federalism, no British partizans, no opponents of the late war, no bribers or bribed for bank charters, no trimming politicians, no lobby members or legislative brokers.”  In Tammany Hall they would see a body of independent yeomen, of steady and unerring Republicans and men who rallied around their country in the hour of danger.8

While Clinton’s adherents in New York City on election day were inactive, his opponents, ever on the lookout, carried the city by 675 majority. The popularity of the Erie Canal, however, which was fast nearing completion, carried the rest of the State for Clinton.9  “Heads up! tails down,” shouted the exuberant, successful Clintonites some days after, pointing to the disappointed, discomfited Bucktails. For Tammany had been so sure of Tompkins’s election that it had procured, at considerable expense, a painting of him which was to be exhibited in the hall when the news of his election should arrive. By way of consolation the Sachems drank to this toast at their anniversary on May 12:

“De Witt Clinton, our lean Governor —
———May he never get fat,
While he wears two faces under one hat.”

1 National Advocate, October 7, 1822. A circumstantial account of the meeting referred to on the following page appears in this issue. The paper was edited and owned by M.M. Noah, who became Grand Sachem in 1824.

2 Hammond, Vol. I, p. 450.

3 In what year Hubbard was Sachem is uncertain. His name is included in Horton’s list. He was one of the chiefs in the nominating committee from 1815 to 1817. It is worthy of note that only a short time before his flight a committee of the Common Council had examined his accounts and approved them as correct.

4 That Haff was removed is certain, though the author has been unable to find a record of the fact in the available papers of the Treasury Department. The Tammany organ, the National Advocate, November 19, 1818, commented as follows:  “The rumors which, for several days past, have been afloat and which we treated as idle and interested, are confirmed — Captain Haff has been removed from office.”  Many evidences of public gratification were shown. In one instance, eighty citizens dragged a field piece from the Arsenal to the Battery and fired a salute.

5 Naphthali Judah had been Sachem of the Maryland tribe in 1808, and continued for some time to be a leader in the party’s councils. He was again elected a Sachem in 1819.

6 How deeply the people of New York were concerned in lotteries may be gathered from the fact that in 1826 there were 190 lottery offices legalized by statute in New York City. A saying obtained that “one-half the citizens got their living by affording the opportunity of gambling to the rest.”  Many State institutions were in part supported from the proceeds of the lotteries. These swindles, therefore, became a matter for legislative investigation. A great number of pages of the Journal of the Assembly for 1819 are taken up with the testimony.

7 Journal of the Assembly, 1819, pp. 292-45, and Ibid., pp. 1046-53. Tompkins, now Vice President, made this race for “vindication.”  It is altogether likely that this particular charge against Tompkins was made for political effect in a campaign in which each side sought to blacken the other by fierce personal attacks.

8 National Advocate, March 29, 1820.

9 Tammany charged that in the construction of the Erie Canal, land had been cut up in slips to make additional voters for Clinton and cited the county of Genesee, which, though polling but 750 freehold votes in 1815, gave nearly 5,000 votes in this election.