The History of Tammany Hall

Tammany and the Bank Contest

TAMMANY lost no time in announcing its intention to support the renomination of Jackson.  The general committee, on March 3, 1881, unanimously passed a resolution approving of his renomination by the Democratic members of the Legislature.  Seven days later the General Committee of Democratic Young Men and the ward committees acted likewise.

Since the campaign of 1800 there had not been a Presidential contest in which the masses joined with such enthusiasm.  Although the national election was more than 18 months distant, the excitement was intense.  The late Workingmen’s party and Tammany men fraternized.  The ward resolutions were full of fire, the meetings spirited.  The Democratic electors of the Sixth Ward “friendly to regular nominations” resolved, on March 15:

“...That aristocracy in all its forms is odious to us as Democratic-Republicans, and that of all aristocracies an aristocracy of wealth, grinding the faces of the poor and devouring the substance of the people, is the most alarming.  That we regard an incorporated association of rich men wielding the whole monied capital of the country as dangerous to our rights and liberties.  That we consider the next Presidential election as substantially a contest between the people on one side and the monied aristocracy of the country on the other.”1

The organization’s first object was to gain a majority of the local offices in the Spring election of 1881 on the Jackson issue.  The National Republican party, recently organized in New York City on the same general lines as Tammany Hall, and headed by Clarkson Crolius, a former Grand Sachem, set out to crush the Jackson movement.  If a defeat could be administered to it at this time, the practical effect would be great; New York would possibly influence the entire Union.  To accomplish this, the National Republicans tried to divert the issue to local lines and agitated for the election of the Mayor by the people.  The Tammany men joined issue at once, and in February, 1881, the Common Council committee on application, composed chiefly of Tammany men, reported adversely on a motion to suggest to the Legislature a revision of the charter.  The time was declared to be inexpedient for such an innovation, one Tammany Alderman, Thomas T. Woodruff, declaring, when the matter again came up, on April 8, that the people could not be trusted with the choice of that important official.  The National Republicans replied by denouncing the Common Council for its lavish expenditures of public money, its distribution of favors in the shape of “jobs” and contracts among a few retainers whose sole merits lay in their close relationship to certain managing members of the board, and for its efforts to prevent the people from having the right to elect their own Mayor.2

The opposition to Tammany was ineffectual.  In the ensuing election, not less than 22 of the 28 members chosen for the new double-chamber Common Council were Tammany men, elected solely upon their pledge of allegiance to the national and State administrations.  The first trial of the new charter, therefore, showed that the separation of municipal from general elections did not prevent the division of the voters on national party lines.  The extent of this preliminary Jackson victory made a sensation throughout the Union and caused gloom among the United States Bank supporters.

The prestige of Tammany Hall was now overwhelming; its influence upon the Democratic party, great before, became greater.  No aspirant for public favor could ignore its demands and decrees.  When, on May 12, the society held an imposing celebration of the forty-second anniversary of its founding, politicians from the highest to the lowest, national and local, four hundred and over, crowded there with words of flattery.  Lewis Cass, Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor of the State of New York; members of the National Senate and of the House of Representatives — these and the rest were glad to avail themselves of the invitation.  William Mooney was there, very old and feeble, beaming with pride at the power of the institution he had founded.3  After the banquet, which was described in the old Indian terms, as consisting “of the game of the forest, the fish of the lakes, the fruits of the season and the waters of the great spring,” came the reading of letters.  Jackson wrote:  “Nothing could afford me greater gratification than to participate with your ancient and honorable society of Republicans on such an occasion,” but that press of official duties kept him away.  A letter of regret, in high-flown and laudatory diction, from Secretary of State Martin Van Buren followed.  James Watson Webb proposed this toast:  “Martin Van Buren, the Grand Sachem of the Eagle Tribe — The Great Spirit is pleased with his faithful support of the Great Grand Sachem of the Nation and smiles graciously upon the sages and warriors of the tribe who aim to elevate their chief in 1836 to the highest station in the country.”  This was greeted by nine cheers, and instantly disclosed Tammany’s choice for Jackson’s successor in 1836.  The only troublous’ note was furnished by Duff Green, who sprang this toast upon the surprised gathering:  “De Witt Clinton — His friends honor his memory — his enemies dare not assail it!”  By “enemies” he referred to those present;  they retorted that he was an intruder, was not invited, and had not paid for his ticket.4  Mayor Bowne was then installed as Grand Sachem in place of Stephen Alien, the former Mayor.

The Fall election of 1831 also turned upon national issues.  Upon Jackson’s popularity nearly every Democratic candidate in New York city was elected by an average majority of 6,000.  There were rumors of illegal voting, but no proof was submitted.  The Wigwam was so overjoyed at the result that a banquet was held on November 21, presided over by Benjamin Bailey, who for a dozen years had been chairman of the general committee.  He had reached his seventy-second year and could claim little political influence.  But as a captain in the Revolutionary army, and as one of those confined in the Jersey prison ships, the Tammany chiefs considered him a valuable figurehead.  Gen. Wool, Cols. Twiggs and Crogham and five hundred men of various importance spent the night in the Wigwam drinking to Jackson, Tammany Hall and coming victory.

Not only did Tammany take the initiative in supporting Jackson, but it was the first body to nominate Van Buren for Vice-President.  On the news of the Senate’s rejection of Van Buren as Minister to England, an indignation meeting was held in Tammany Hall, January 30, 1832, this being the opening expression of public opinion.  Van Buren was suggested for Vice-President, and the Wigwam gathering showed its satisfaction by repeated cheers.5  Twenty-four leading Tammany men drew up a letter containing their sentiments on Van Buren’s rejection, and on May 31 an outpouring in the Wigwam approved his nomination.

Then followed a striking revelation, showing the venality of some of Tammany’s leaders.  The United States Bank officials began bargaining for the betrayal of Jackson.  The Courier and inquirer suddenly abandoned him for the support of the bank candidates, giving as a reason the fear of the “fearful consequences of revolution, anarchy and despotism,” which assuredly would ensue if Jackson were reelected.  The real reason was that Webb and Noah, as revealed by a Congressional investigation,6 had borrowed directly and indirectly $50,000 from the United States Bank, which had now called them to time.  Mayor Bowne was their sponsor to Nicholas Biddle, head of the bank.  Some of the other Tammany leaders, it appeared, had been for years the bank’s retainers.  Representative Churchill C. Cambreleng enjoyed a place on its pay rolls.  Gulian C. Verplanck, another of the Wigwam’s representatives in Congress, had voted in its behalf, and Stephen Allen, in the State Senate, had voted for a resolution in its favor.  Peter Sharpe, Ogden Edwards,7 William H. Ireland, John Morss — all influential men in times past — now vigorously opposed Jackson, and the services of other Tammany chiefs were secured.

Two influences, however, prevented the organization leaders from betraying the Democratic cause — one the common people, the other the owners of the State banks,  whose self-interest called for the speedy downfall of the United States Bank.  Finding that they could not control the Wigwam, the Tammany agents of that bank seceded, and joined the National Republicans.  The State Bank men remained in the organization and labored for Jackson, with no other idea than that their institutions would benefit in the distribution of Government funds if the United States Bank were put down.  The course of the leaders remaining in Tammany smacked of double dealing.  Refusing to renominate Verplanck, they put in his place Dudley Selden, who had borrowed $8,000 from the United States Bank, but who had professed to support Jackson’s veto.  It looked as though certain potent influences were operating in Tammany Hall for the election of a pro-bank Congress, whoever might be chosen President.

The Tammany ward organizations, assisted by the men of the late Workingmen’s party, appointed vigilance committees to undo any mischief the leaders might attempt, and to electioneer for Jackson’s success.  So enthusiastic was the Jackson feeling that many politicians of note, understanding its depth and having a care for their political futures, made haste to change front.  Almost daily the people were rallied to the Wigwam by the beating of drums.  A few years before, a hickory tree had been planted in front of the Wigwam;  now, on October 30, a second was put there, and a barrel of beer was used to moisten its roots.

Both sides were guilty of election frauds.  Votes were bought at the rate of $5 each, most of the buying being done by the National Republicans, who were supplied with abundant resources.  The National Republicans, moreover, had sought to bribe certain men with the promise of offices, and on the three election days they foisted upon the voters a Jackson electoral ticket containing forty-three names, instead, of the legal number, forty-two, thereby invalidating each of these ballots voted.  This trick, it was calculated, lost to Jackson more than a thousand votes.  Of a total of 30,474 votes, Tammany carried the city by 5,620 majority.  The Wigwam for many successive nights was filled with celebrating crowds.  Jackson gave a conspicuously public display of his recognition of Tammany’s invaluable services, when, on the evening of June 13, 1833, he visited the society, attended by the Vice-President, Secretary Woodbury, Gov. William L. Marcy, the Mayor, and the members of the Common Council.

The United States Bank supporters did not surrender with Jackson’s reelection.  They exerted themselves to influence Congress by means of a defeat for the anti-bank forces in New York City in the Fall election of 1833.  Tammany Hall during the campaign sent out runners ordering every office-holder to his electioneering post.  Vigorous meetings were held, and all the secret influences of the general committee were employed.  On the other hand, merchants laid aside their ruffled shirts and broadcloth coats, put on their roundabouts and worked at the polls on the three election days for the Whig ticket.  Tammany carried the city by between 2,000 and 3,000 majority.  Touching this and previous elections a committee of Assistant Aldermen reported on February 10, 1884:  “That frauds have been practised at the polls, the committee are convinced.  At any rate, a universal and deep conviction prevails among our citizens that tricks have been resorted to for the purpose of defeating the election of one candidate and securing that of another.”  It was further set forth that persons were brought up to vote who were not citizens of the United States nor qualified to vote in the State.  Others voted in more than one ward.  Voters also were transferred overnight from a sure to a doubtful ward.8  No remedy followed the report.

The Spring election of 1834, though local, again turned upon national issues.  For the first time in the history of the city, the Mayor was to be elected by the people.  The growth of public opinion had been such that the Legislature was forced, in 1833, to grant this reform.

The contending hosts were swayed, first, by the question of the United States Bank, and second, by the spoils.  The merchants shut their shops and sent their whole body of clerks and laboring men to surround the polls and influence voters against Tammany Hall.  The United States Bank spread abroad the cry of “panic.”  If its directors could show that public opinion in the foremost city in the Union had altered so as to favor the continuation of the bank charter, then they could use that as a good basis for influencing Congress.  There was no concealment of coercion of voters; the weak, the timid, the fearful were overawed by the increasing clamor of paid newspapers that the destruction of the United States Bank meant “widespread revulsion of trade and everlasting injury to the poor.”  In fact, a general depression of business was produced.  A row began in the “bloody ould Sixth,” by the breaking of some ballot boxes.  Both parties armed with stones and bludgeons, and turned the scene into one of violence.  The riot became general.  A crowd, composed chiefly of Whigs, ransacked gun-shops in Broadway and made for the State arsenal at Elm and Franklin streets.  Rumors of their intentions spreading, a gathering of peaceably inclined citizens arrived before them and held the arsenal until the militia hastened there and restored order.9

Cornelius W. Lawrence, the Tammany candidate, was declared elected by 181 votes out of a total of nearly 35,00010 over Gulian G. Verplanck, who had gone over to the Whigs.  Verplanck never ceased to contend that he had been defrauded of the office.  The Whigs obtained a majority in the Common Council, 17 members to the Wigwam’s 15, and joyfully said that Tammany Hall in electing the Mayor had the shadow; while they, in securing the corporation, had the substance.  With the Common Council they could carry the whole patronage of the city, amounting to more than $1,000,000 a year.

This election demonstrated clearly that the propertied classes as a whole were combined against the laborers, mechanics, farmers and producing classes generally, and that they were as much concerned over the spoils of office as was the most rabid Tammany man.  As a protest against the indifference of the local leaders of both parties to the real interests of the people, and to put a stop to the granting of special privileges, the Equal Rights party now came into existence.

1 Advertisement in the New York Evening Post, March 17, 1831.

2 Resolutions of the Sixth Ward Anti-Tammany Republicans, March 24, 1831.

3 Mooney passed away the following November.  Tammany passed panegyric resolutions on his character, and organized a large funeral procession which escorted his body to the grave.

4 Green was an influential and intimate friend of Jackson and a member of his “Kitchen Cabinet.”  He had come up from Washington to attend the banquet as one of Jackson’s personal representatives.

5 The Courier and Enquirer, owned by Webb and Noah, promptly came out with this ticket in large black type upon its editorial page:  For President, Andrew Jackson.  For Vice-President, Martin Van Buren.

6 The First Session of the Twenty-Second Congress, Vol. IV., containing reports from Nos. 460 to 463, Washington, 1831.

7 Edwards was for many years a person of great power in the organization.  In 1821, while Counsel to the Board of Aldermen, a salaried office, he was specifically charged with having mulcted the city out of $5,414 as a payment for a few hours’ service in arranging the details of a delinquent tax sale.  Further charges credited him with having cleaned up more than $50,000 in five years, through various pickings connected with his office.  Such, however, was his influence, that he not only escaped prosecution, but retained an unimpaired prestige in the organization.

8 Documents of the Board of Aldermen and Assistant Aldermen, 1834, No. 82.

9 Documents of the Board of Alderman, 1839, No. 29.

10 Lawrence, 17,576; Verplanck, 17,395;  blank and scattering, 18;  total, 34,989.