Little Bits of History

No Longer Boss

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 23, 2015
Boss Tweed

Boss Tweed

November 23, 1876: Boss Tweed returns to New York. William Magear Tweed was born in 1823 in New York City where he left school at age 11 to join his father’s chair making business. He tried a variety of other jobs (saddler, bookkeeper, brush maker) before returning to the family business in 1852. He was a member of the Odd Fellows and Masons and also served as a volunteer firefighter where he and some of his friends organized the Americus Fire Company No. 6 and it was there the snarling red Bengal tiger was first used. It would become Tweed’s symbol throughout his years at Tammany Hall. Infighting among the volunteer fire companies was so intense that buildings would burn to the ground while they fought over who would put the fire out.

Tweed was elected to the US House of Representatives and served two non-descript terms beginning in 1852. The Republican state government was concerned by the corruption in New York City government and increased the New York County Board of Supervisors to 12 members, six appointed by New York City’s mayor and six elected. In 1858, Tweed was appointed to the Board and was able to finally use it for his wide-spread graft. He and others would add a “surcharge” of 15% to be paid to them for anyone who wished to work in the city. He never trained as a lawyer, but a Judge friend proclaimed he was one and he opened a law office. He was chosen to lead Tammany’s general committee in January 1863 and was soon known as Boss.

His greed knew no bounds. He used his friends and his influence to increase both his power and his personal wealth. After the election of 1869, he was able to take control of the New York City government. His election promise had included a new city charter, which he promptly instituted. He did not stick to his campaign promises and used the charter to send more power and money to his own office. His private coffers were filling to the detriment of the city. After the Orange riot of 1871, the attacks on his policies became more intense and scrutiny into the workings of both Tweed and Tammany Hall increased. Outrage over his antics finally led to his arrest. He was released on a $1 million bond and went about getting re-elected. He was but many of his friends did not fare so well.

Tweed was re-arrested and forced to resign his city positions and then released again, this time on $8 million bond. He was tried in January 1873 and the jury was unable to agree on a verdict. A retrial in November brought in 204 convictions on the 220 counts. He was levied a fine and prison time. After his release, he tried to retrieve embezzled funds and was arrested and unable to make bail. He escaped during a home visit and wet to Spain. The US government located him and had him extradited. He returned to New York City and prison on this day. He died in prison on April 12, 1878 from pneumonia at the age of 55.

The way to have power is to take it.

I don’t care a straw for your newspaper articles, my constituents don’t know how to read, but they can’t help seeing them damned pictures.

I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating. – all from William Boss Tweed

The arrogance of the full possession of power and the defiance against the remonstrances of honest men drove him to the extreme of audacity, “What are you going to do about it?” which preceded his fall. – William Martin

Also on this day: Healthy Hearts – In 1964, the first coronary bypass graft surgery was performed by Dr. Michael DeBakey.
Censorship – In 1644, John Milton wrote about freedom of the press.
Hijacked – In 1985, EgyptAir Flight 648 was hijacked.
Why Thespians? – In 534 BC, Thespis won an entertainment contest in Athens.
Pretender – In 1499, Perkin Warbeck died.

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