The History of Tammany Hall

Tammany “ Purified ”

ONE of the important changes in the composition of Tammany Hall came in 1837.  The United States Bank dependents, lobbyists and supporters had left the Wigwam, as has been noted, in 1832, but the State Bank men, well satisfied with the destruction of the great rival corporation, had remained.  Finding the organization no longer subservient to them they, in turn, quit Tammany during Van Buren’s administration.  This happened in the Fall of 1837.

The Tammany General Committee, whose membership had recently been increased from thirty-six to fifty-one members, held a meeting on September 7, thirty-six members being present.  Resolutions were offered upholding Van Buren’s scheme of placing the United States funds in sub-treasuries.  This was a bitter dose to the State Bank men who, wanting to retain Government deposits, opposed the subtreasury plan.  The “bank conservatives” vainly tried to put off a vote on the resolutions, but being repeatedly outvoted, all but one of them left the room before the main question was put.  Nineteen members remained.  As seventeen formed a quorum, the question was put and the resolutions were adopted by a vote of 18 to 1.  The bank men pretended that the resolutions were passed clandestinely, and they so deviously managed things that in a few days they regained control of the general committee, which at their behest refused to call a public meeting to act on the resolutions.

But the Democratic-Republican Young Men’s Committee was saturated with Equal Rights ideas and rebelled at the policy which allowed the acts of the bankers to antagonize Democrats of principle and bring defeat to Tammany Hall.  This committee met in the Wigwam on September 11 and passed a series of resolutions with which the Anti-Monopolists were as pleased as the bankers were angry.  The resolution declared the public satisfaction in anticipating the separation of bank and state, and welcomed the approach of an era when legislation should not be perverted to the enrichment of a few and the depression of the many.  The Young Men resolved that the crisis was sufficient reason for their committee assuming to recommend a public meeting of those who approved Van Buren’s recent message, to be held in Tammany Hall, on September 21.

The bank men were angry that the Young Men’s committee should dare to act independently of the elder, the general committee.  The latter, meeting on September 14, disapproved of the manner in which the Young Men’s meeting had been called, declined cooperation with it, and by a vote of 21 to 16 ordered the Young Men’s General Committee to withdraw the recommendation for that meeting.  The Young Men ignored the order and held their meeting.  Van Buren and his prospective subtreasuries were indorsed and fiery resolutions adopted denouncing the incorporated banks.

Coming, as this denunciation did, from Tammany Hall, which had a far-reaching influence over the Union, the “bank conservatives” grew even more exasperated, for they had come to look upon the organization as almost their private property.  As two-thirds of the Sachems belonged to their clique, they held a meeting in the Wigwam, on September 25, to disapprove of the subtreasury scheme.  In rushed the progressive Democrats in overwhelming force, and for an hour the place was a fighting arena.  The bank men were forced to leave, and the progressives organized and carried out the meeting.

Regarding Tammany as having ceased to be the tool of the exploiting interests, the Anti-Monopolists were disposed to a union with the advanced organization party.  When the Equal Rights men met at Military Hall on October 27, Col. Alexander Ming, Jr., one of the party’s organizers, said that one of the chief purposes of the Equal Rights party was to effect reform in Tammany Hall;  this having been accomplished, it was the duty of every Democrat to unite on one ticket against the “high-toned Federalists, Whigs and aristocrats.”  A fusion Assembly ticket was made up, composed of both Tammany and Equal Rights men, each Tammanyite subscribing in writing to the Equal Rights principles.  A small contingent of the Equal Rights party, however, accused their comrades of selling out to the Wigwam, and nominated their own candidates — Job Haskell, Daniel Gorham, William E. Skidmore and others.

The “bank conservatives” allied themselves with the Whigs.  They were credited with raising an election fund of $60,000, a sum which at that time could do great execution.  By raising the cries of “agrarianism” and “infidelity,” ascribing the effects of the panic of 1837 to the Democrats, coercing laborers and using illegal votes, the combined conservatives wrested nearly 3,000 majority out of a total of 33,093 votes.

Stimulated by this victory, the bank men attempted to regain control of Tammany and called a meeting for January 2, 1838, at 7 o’clock, in the Wigwam.  The Anti-Bank Democrats then issued a call for a meeting on the same night, but one hour earlier.  The Council of Sachems were mostly either “bank conservatives” themselves or sympathizers;  but they feared to alienate the dominant progressives.  As the best solution, they agreed that neither party should meet in the Wigwam.  On January 1 they resolved that both calls were unauthorized and that neither had been sanctioned by any act of the general committee.  “The lease of Tammany Hall,” read their resolution, “reserves to the Council of Sachems of the Tammany Society the right to decide on all questions of doubt, arising out of the rooms being occupied by or let to a person or persons as a committee or otherwise for political purposes!”  The Council sent a copy of these resolutions to Lovejoy and Howard, the lessees1 of Tammany Hall, forbidding them to “rent, hire to, or allow either of the assemblages named on the premises.”  Identical with this decree, Lovejoy and Howard issued a notice (which was published in the public prints) that their lease of Tammany Hall “contained covenants” that they would not permit any persons to assemble in the hall “whose political opinions the Council of Sachems of Tammany Society should declare not to be in accordance with the political views of the general committee of said Tammany Society,” and they (Lovejoy and Howard) therefore could not permit either meeting.2  The conservatives then met in the City Hall Park, where they were assaulted and maltreated.3  The Anti-Bank men won over the general committee, which gave the necessary permission for their meeting in the Wigwam on January 9.  The policy of Jackson and of Van Buren was upheld, and it was set forth that while the Democracy, unlike its calumniators, did not arrogate to itself “the possession of all the decency, the virtue, the morals and the wealth of the community,” it felt no more disturbed at being called “Agrarians,” “Locofocos” or “Radicals” than it did at being abused in the days of Jefferson.

That foremost Equal Rights advocate, the Evening Post, now acknowledged the purification of Tammany Hall;4  saying that the spurious Democrats who had infested the party for their own selfish purposes had either been drummed out of the ranks, had left voluntarily, or had acquiesced sullenly in the decision of the majority.

1 It will be remembered that in 1828 the Sachems had bought back a lease on the building in order to shut out the Adams men.  The lease had again been let, but under restrictions which left the Sachems the power to determine what faction should be entitled to the use of the hall.

2 These details are of the greatest importance as revealing the methods by which the society asserted its absolute ascendency over the organization.  They proved the absurdity of the claim that the two bodies were distinct and separate from each other.

3 The New Yorker (magazine), January 13, 1838.  This journal was edited and published by Horace Greeley.

4 January 11, 1838.  The credit for this temporary purification must in considerable measure be given to the Evening Post’s editors, William Cullen Bryant and William Leggett.