MACHINE MADE by Terry Golway


Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics
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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.

Pub Date: March 10th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-87140-375-9
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Liveright/Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2014


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