Aim: How did political machines affect city government? Objectives

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AIM: How did political machines affect city government?
Objectives: After this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Explain the growth and methods of political corruption in cities.

  2. Explain the provisions of the Pendleton Act.

  3. Evaluate whether rewarding political supporters signifies honest government.

  4. Assess they way in which political machines affected cities and their governments.

Motivation: Callow quote and Tweed cartoon by Thomas Nast: “The Brains”

  1. Do you agree or disagree with Callow’s view? Why?

  2. What is this cartoon saying about Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall?

  3. Why so you think Thomas Nast devoted so much of his career to exposing Tweed’s corruption?

  4. Is it possible for the people to benefit from a government run, as Nast portrays, in the interest of financial gain? If so, how?


Political machines existed in every large city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most, if not all, were corrupt, putting fake names, pets’ names and the names of dead people on the rolls to fix elections in their favor. Many also pocketed money earmarked for public works. On the other hand, machines often helped immigrants and working class people, although usually with the provision that these people then support the machine. The most well known of the machines is New York’s Tammany Hall and its “Boss,” William Tweed.

Read George Washington Plunkitt

How does Plunkitt defend Tammany Hall’s practices?

Do you think this is honest?
Why do you think that Plunkitt distinguishes between honest and dishonest graft?
In your opinion, is there actually a difference?
Read HG Wells

How does Wells describe the government in Chicago?

How does this statement contradict stereotypes of political machines?
Read Julia Foraker

Why does Foraker criticize the political process?

How does her statement contradict Wells’ description of government?
OH Quote from William Marcy

What does Marcy mean when he says “to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy”?

How did political machines apply this idea in their day to day operations?
OH Tweed Ring cartoon

How does his cartoon indicate corruption in the Tweed Ring and Tammany Hall?

Why do you think that William Tweed has come to epitomize political corruption of that era?
Read Quote from Martin Lomasney

Do you agree with this statement?

Did machines provide this service?
Read Pendleton Act

How does this act attempt to limit political corruption?

Do you think it is strong enough to actually do so?
Could the Federal government stop political machines at the state and local level?
Read George Washington Plunkitt

What are Plunkitt’s concerns about the civil service laws?

What do you think was better for the people: machines and patronage or government sponsored jobs?
Read George W. Curtis

What are the demands of the National Civil Service Reform League?

Why was this type of organization necessary in the 1890s?

Summary: Answer AIM: How did political machines affect city government?
Application: Compare political corruption then and now. Which do you think is worse? Why?

From the 1850’s through the Civil War the momentum of economic, political, and social change generated problems that baffled and overwhelmed New Yorkers and set the stage for machine rule.”

Alexander Callow, Jr.

The Tweed Ring

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