The History of Tammany Hall

The Dictatorship of Richard Croker
(concluded) 1897-1901

NOW that Tammany was reinstalled in almost absolute power, Mr. Croker set about choosing the important city officials to be appointed by the Mayor.  He frankly admitted before the Mazet Committee, in 1899, that practically all of them were selected by him or his immediate associates.  Requiring a routine assistant in the work of “bossing,” Mr. Croker selected John F. Carroll, who thereupon resigned the office of Clerk of the Court of General Sessions, which yielded, it was estimated, about $12,000 a year, to take a post with no apparent salary.  Mr. Croker then returned to horse-racing in England.

The public pronouncements of the organization continued to voice the old-time characteristic pretensions of that body’s frugality, honesty and submission to the popular will.  In October, 1898, the county convention in the Wigwam passed resolutions commending “the wise, honest and economical” Tammany administration of Greater New York, and denouncing the “corruption, extravagance and waste of the infamous mismanagement” by the previous reform administration.  Yet at this very moment the Bar Association was protesting against Mr. Croker’s refusal to renominate Judge Joseph F. Daly,[1] on the ground of his refusing to hand over the patronage of his court.  The convention itself, despite its fine words, acted merely as the register of the will of one man, with scarcely the formality of a contest;  and the public had again become agitated over the certainty of grave scandals in the public service.

Tammany’s election fund this year was generally reputed to be in the neighborhood of $100,000.  As much as $500 was spent in each of several hotly contested election districts.  Tammany won, but by a margin less than had been expected and, in fact, arranged for.  The State Superintendent of Elections, John McCullough, in his annual report (January, 1899) to Gov. Roosevelt, gave good grounds for believing that Tammany had been deprived of a large support on which it had counted.  Of 13,104 persons registered from specified lodging houses in certain strong Tammany districts, only 4,034 voted.  It was evident that colonization frauds on a large scale had been attempted, and had been frustrated only by the vigilance of Superintendent McCullough.

The state of administrative affairs in the city grew worse and worse, nearly approximating that of 1893-94.  The Legislature again determined to investigate, and accordingly sent to the city the special committee of the Assembly, popularly known as the “Mazet Committee.”  This body’s prestige suffered from the charge that its investigation was unduly partizan.  Moreover, it was generally felt by the public that its work was inefficiently carried on.  Nevertheless, it produced a considerable array of facts showing the existence of gross maladministration.

It was disclosed that every member of the Tammany Society or of the organization’s executive committee, held office, or was a favored contractor.  Over $700,000 of city orders went to favored contractors without bidding.  Various city departments were “characterized by unparalleled ignorance and unfairness.”  The payrolls in some of the most important departments had increased $1,500,000 between July 1, 1898, and September 1, 1899, and the employees had increased over 1,000, excluding policemen, firemen and teachers.  The testimony proved the increasing inefficiency and demoralization of the Police and Fire Departments.  It further proved the existence of a ramified system of corruption similar to that revealed by the Lexow Committee.

The disclosures attracting the greatest public attention were those relating to the Ice Trust, the Ramapo project, and Mr. Croker’s relations to the city government.  On April 14 the committee exposed a conspiracy between the Ice Trust and the Dock and other departments of the city government, to create and maintain a monopoly of New York’s ice supply.  Six days after the exposure, Mayor Van Wyck, as he subsequently admitted in his testimony before Judge Gaynor, acquired 5,000 shares, worth $500,000, of the Ice Trust stock, alleging that he paid $57,000 in cash for them;  but although urged to substantiate his statement, did not produce proof that he actually paid anything.  It was shown conclusively before the committee that the arrangement between the Ice Trust and the city officials was such as to compel the people to pay 60 cents a hundred pounds, and that the trust had stopped the sale of five-cent pieces of ice, practically cutting off the supply of the very poor.  Many other Tammany officials were equally involved.  Proceedings were begun some time after, looking to an official investigation of the Ice Trust’s affairs, and charges against Mayor Van Wyck were filed with Gov. Roosevelt.  The latter were finally dismissed by the Governor in November, 1900.

In August, the committee uncovered the Ramapo scheme.  The Ramapo Water Company, with assets “of at least the value of $5,000,” sought to foist upon the city a contract calling for payment from the city treasury of an enormous amount in annual installments of about $5,110,000, in return for at least 200,000,000 gallons of water a day, at $70 per million gallons.  This was proved to be an attempt toward a most gigantic swindle.  Had not Controller Coler exposed and frustrated the scheme, the Tammany members of the Board of Public Improvements would have rushed the contract to passage.

Mr. Croker’s testimony threw a flood of light upon his political views and standards as well as his powers and emoluments as “boss.”  He acknowledged that he had a powerful influence over the Tammany legislators at Albany, whose actions he advised, and that he exercised the same influence upon local officials.  He readily conceded that he was the most powerful man he knew of.[2]  “We try to have a pretty effective organization,” he said;  “that is what we are there for.”[3]

Mr. Croker also admitted that judicial candidates were assessed in their districts.[4]  In fact, some of the Judges themselves named the respective sums to the committee.  Judge Pryor testified that he had been asked for $10,000 for his nomination for a vacant half-term in the Supreme Court.[5]  Other judicial candidates, it was understood, paid from $10,000 to $25,000 for nominations.[6]  Mr. Croker maintained that the organization was entitled to all the judicial, executive, administrative — in brief, all offices — because “that is what the people voted our ticket for.”[7]  Mr. Croker refused to answer many questions tending to show that he profited by a silent partnership in many companies which benefited directly or indirectly by his power.  “The man who is virtual ruler of the city,” said Frank Moss and Francis E. Laimbeer, counsel to the committee, in their report, “can insure peace and advantage and business to any concern that takes him and his friends in, and can secure capital here or abroad to float any enterprise, when he guarantees that the city officials will not interfere with it.”  Mr. Croker was asked many other questions touching this subject, but gave little information.  He declined to answer the question whether $140,000 of the stock of the Auto-Truck Company had been given to him without the payment of a dollar;  it was his “ private affair.”[8]

“We are giving the people pure organization government,” he said.  He referred to the thoroughness of discipline in the Wigwam, and stated that the only way to succeed was to keep the whip in hand over his henchmen.  It took “a lot of time,” and he “had to work very hard at it.”  Tammany was built up, he said, not only upon the political principles it held, but upon the way its members sustained one another in business.  “We want the whole business, if we can get it”;  “to the party belong the spoils”;  “we win, and we expect every one to stand by us”;  “I am working for my pocket all the time,” were some of Mr. Croker’s answers, most of them told in anything but grammatical English.

The general opinion obtained that the committee’s work would have been far more effective and free from charges of partizan bias if Thomas C. Platt, the Republican “boss,” had been summoned concerning his alleged political connection with the great corporations and financial interests, as Mr. Croker had been.

Apparently the disclosures made no deep impression on the city administration, for matters went along pretty much as before.  On March 9, 1900, the New York Times published a detailed statement, which it later reiterated, that the sum of $3,095,000 a year was being paid by the gambling-house keepers of the city to the “gambling-house commission,” which, it said, was composed of two State Senators, a representative of the pool-room proprietors, and the head of one of the city departments.  This commission, the account stated, received and passed upon applications, established the tariff to be paid by the applicants, and supervised the collections.  Later, in the same month, the Grand Jury handed down a presentment arraigning the city officials for the sway enjoyed by the criminal and vicious classes.[9]

Neither the Grand Jury’s presentment nor the Times’s detailed statements had the slightest effect on the conduct of the city administration.  In November, however, a marked change occurred.  For several years certain reform societies and ecclesiastical bodies, particularly the Episcopal Church, had sought to mitigate the open flaunting of immorality in the tenement houses of a particular police district on the East Side.  The attempts had been resisted, not only by those living upon the proceeds of this immorality, but by the police themselves;  and two ministers who had complained to certain police officials had been grossly insulted.

Immediately after the Presidential election, Bishop Henry C. Potter, of the Episcopal Church, in a stinging letter of complaint, brought the matter to the attention of Mayor Van Wyck.  It was the psychologic moment for such an action, and it produced immediate results.  Mr. Croker paused in his preparations for his usual trip to England long enough to give orders to put down the immorality complained of, and he appointed a committee of five to carry his mandate into effect, or at least to make some satisfactory show of doing so.  He went further than this, for his orders included a general ukase to the lawbreakers of the city to “go slow,” or in other words, to observe, until further advices from headquarters, a certain degree of moderation in their infractions of law and their outrages upon decency.

1 Tweed testified in 1877 that Joseph F. Daly, with two others, constituted the sole membership of the “Citizens’ Association” of 1870, and that he had placated the three men by giving them offices, Mr. Daly securing a Judgeship of the Court of Common Pleas.

2 Stenographic minutes, p. 451.

3 Ibid., p. 465.

4 Ibid., p. 6806.

5 Ibid., p. 523.

6 Ibid., pp. 6891, etc.

7 Ibid., p. 464.

8 Stenographic minutes, p. 683.

9 On December 22, 1900, Gov. Roosevelt removed Asa Bird Gardiner, the Tammany District Attorney, who was popularly credited with having originated the phrase, “To hell with reform,” for having encouraged the turbulent element to open resistance of the law at the election.  Eugene A. Philbin, an independent Democrat, was appointed his successor.  The latter promptly demanded the resignations of many of Mr. Gardiner’s assistants.  Before his election Gardiner had long been chairman of the Tammany Hall Legal Committee.