By Phin Upham
The Tammany Hall Society was a major force of democratic political power in New York throughout the 19th century. The Society influenced immigrants, notably the Irish, to mobilize and vote. This created massive gains for the Democratic Party throughout the 1790s, all the way up to the 1960s. It was known as a place where business leaders, community members and constituents could argue for getting things done. And it usually produced results, by any means necessary of course.
Founded in May of 1789, the Tammany Society was originally a club for discussing American political values. It adopted some of the language of the native Lenape people who lived on the land before New York was founded, and members referred to the hall as a wigwam.
It became a center for political activity in late 1790s, actually having influence over the election of 1800. Using Tammany’s influence, Aaron Burr managed to derail the presidential election that year. Historians are divided, but it’s been theorized that without the interference of Tammany, John Adams may have won New York and eventual re-election to the office of President.
Most of the corruption Tammany Hall is known for came under the Boss Tweed regime. William M. Tweed used his position as Grand Sachem of Tammany to influence local elections, which gave him great power over the courts, the treasury, the legislature and the ballot box. Tweed directly helped build the Brooklyn Bridge, and the city expanded into the Upper East and Upper West Sides of Manhattan. His downfall came during the Orange riots, when the Irish Catholics he’d worked hard to cultivate as voters revolted against the NYPD in a bloody massacre.