Plunkitt of Tammany Hall
George Washington Plunkitt
Prepared by David Reed email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Plunkitt of Tammany Hall A Series of Very Plain
Talks on Very Practical Politics, Delivered by Ex-senator
George Washington Plunkitt, the Tammany Philosopher, from
His Rostrum-the New York County Court House Bootblack Stand
Recorded by William L. Riordon
Preface by William L. Riordon
A Tribute by Charles F. Murphy
Chapter 1. Honest Graft and Dishonest Graft
Chapter 2. How To Become a Statesman
Chapter 3. The Curse of Civil Service Reform
Chapter 4. Reformers Only Mornin' Glories
Chapter 5. New York City Is Pie for the Hayseeds
Chapter 6. To Hold Your District: Study Human Nature and Act
Chapter 7. On The Shame of the Cities
Chapter 8. Ingratitude in Politics
Chapter 9. Reciprocity in Patronage
Chapter 10. Brooklynites Natural-Born Hayseeds
Chapter 11. Tammany Leaders Not Bookworms
Chapter 12. Dangers of the Dress Suit in Politics
Chapter 13. On Municipal Ownership
Chapter 14. Tammany the Only Lastin' Democracy
Chapter 15. Concerning Gas in Politics
Chapter 16. Plunkitt's Fondest Dream
Chapter 17. Tammany's Patriotism
Chapter 18. On the Use of Money in Politics
Chapter 19. The Successful Politician Does Not Drink
Chapter 20. Bosses Preserve the Nation
Chapter 21. Concerning Excise
Chapter 22. A Parting Word on the Future Party in America
Chapter 23. Strenuous Life of the Tammany District Leader
THIS volume discloses the mental operations of perhaps the most
thoroughly practical politician of the day-George Washington
Plunkitt, Tammany leader of the Fifteenth Assembly District,
Sachem of the Tammany Society and Chairman of the Elections
Committee of Tammany Hall, who has held the offices of State
Senator, Assemblyman', Police Magistrate, County Supervisor and
Alderman, and who boasts of his record in filling four public
offices in one year and drawing salaries from three of them at the
The discourses that follow were delivered by him from his
rostrum, the bootblack stand in the County Court-house, at various
times in the last half-dozen years. Their absolute frankness and
vigorous unconventionality of thought and expression charmed
me. Plunkitt said right Out what all practical politicians think but
are afraid to say. Some of the discourses I published as interviews
in the New York Evening Post, the New York Sun, the New York
World, and the Boston Transcript. They were reproduced in
newspapers throughout the country and several of them, notably
the talks on "The Curse of Civil Service Reform" and "Honest
Graft and Dishonest Graft," became subjects of discussion in the
United States Senate and in college lectures. There seemed to be a
general recognition of Plunkitt as a striking type of the
practical politician, a politician, moreover, who dared to say
publicly what others in his class whisper among them-selves in the
City Hall corridors and the hotel lobbies.
I thought it a pity to let Plunkitt's revelations of himself-as frank in
their way as Rousseau's Confessions-perish in the files of the
newspapers; so I collected the talks I had published, added several
new ones, and now give to the world in this volume a system of
political philosophy which is as unique as it is refreshing.
No New Yorker needs to he informed who George Washington
Plunkitt is. For the information of others, the following sketch of
his career is given. He was born, as he proudly tells, in Central
Park-that is, in the territory now included in the park. He began
life as a driver of a cart, then became a butcher's boy, and later
went into the butcher business for himself. How he entered politics
he explains in one of his discourses. His advancement was rapid.
He was in the Assembly soon after he cast his first vote and has
held office most of the time for forty years.
In 1870, through a strange combination of circumstances, he held
the places of Assemblyman, Alderman, Police Magistrate and
County Supervisor and drew three salaries at once-a record
unexampled in New York politics.
Plunkitt is now a millionaire. He owes his fortune mainly to his
political pull, as he confesses in "Honest Graft and Dishonest
Graft." He is in the contracting, transportation, real estate, and
every other business out of which he can make money. He has no
office. His headquarters is the County Courthouse bootblack stand.
There he receives his constituents, transacts his general business
and pours forth his philosophy.
Plunkitt has been one of the great powers in Tammany Hall for a
quarter of a century. While he was in the Assembly and the State
Senate he was one of the most influential members and introduced
the bills that provided for the outlying parks of New York City,
the Harlem River Speedway, the Washington Bridge, the 155th Street
Viaduct, the grading of Eighth Avenue north of Fifty-seventh Street,
additions to the Museum of Natural History, the West Side Court,
and many other important public improvements. He is one of the
closest friends and most valued advisers of Charles F. Murphy,
leader of Tammany Hall.
WILLIAM L. Riordon
A Tribute to Plunkitt by the Leader of Tammany Hall
SENATOR PLUNKITT is a straight organization man. He believes
in party government; he does not indulge in cant and hypocrisy and
he is never afraid to say exactly what he thinks. He is a believer in
thorough political organization and all-the-year-around work, and
he holds to the doctrine that, in making appointments to office,
party workers should be preferred if they are fitted to perform the
duties of the office. Plunkitt is one of the veteran leaders of the
organization; he has always been faithful and reliable, and he has
performed valuable services for Tammany Hall.
CHARLES F. MURPHY
PLUNKITT OF TAMMANY HALL
Chapter 1. Honest Graft and Dishonest Graft
EVERYBODY is talkin' these days about Tammany men growin'
rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin' the
distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft.
There's all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many
of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've made a
big fortune out of the game, and I'm gettin' richer every day, but
I've not gone in for dishonest graft-blackmailin' gamblers,
saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc.-and neither has any of the
men who have made big fortunes in politics.
There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I
might sum up the whole thing by sayin': "I seen my opportunities
and I took 'em."
Just let me explain by examples. My party's in power in the city,
and it's goin' to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm
tipped off, say, that they're going to lay out a new park at a certain
I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up
all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or
that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land,
which nobody cared particular for before.
Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit
on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that's
Or supposin' it's a new bridge they're goin' to build. I get tipped off
and I buy as much property as I can that has to be taken for
approaches. I sell at my own price later on and drop some more
money in the bank.
Wouldn't you? It's just like lookin' ahead in Wall Street or in the
coffee or cotton market. It's honest graft, and I'm lookin' for it
every day in the year. I will tell you frankly that I've got a good lot
of it, too.
I'll tell you of one case. They were goin' to fix up a big park, no
matter where. I got on to it, and went lookin' about for land in that
I could get nothin' at a bargain but a big piece of swamp, but I took
it fast enough and held on to it. What turned out was just what I
counted on. They couldn't make the park complete without
Plunkitt's swamp, and they had to pay a good price for it. Anything
dishonest in that?
Up in the watershed I made some money, too. I bought up several
bits of land there some years ago and made a pretty good guess
that they would be bought up for water purposes later by the city.
Somehow, I always guessed about right, and shouldn't I enjoy the
profit of my foresight? It was rather amusin' when the
condemnation commissioners came along and found piece after
piece of the land in the name of George Plunkitt of the Fifteenth
Assembly District, New York City. They wondered how I knew
just what to buy. The answer is-I seen my opportunity and I took it.
I haven't confined myself to land; anything that pays is in my line.
For instance, the city is repavin' a street and has several hundred
thousand old granite blocks to sell. I am on hand to buy, and I
know just what they are worth.
How? Never mind that. I had a sort of monopoly of this business
for a while, but once a newspaper tried to do me. It got some
outside men to come over from Brooklyn and New Jersey to bid
Was I done? Not much. I went to each of the men and said: "How
many of these 250,000 stories do you want?" One said 20,000, and
another wanted 15,000, and other wanted 10,000. I said: "All right,
let me bid for the lot, and I'll give each of you all you want for
They agreed, of course. Then the auctioneer yelled:
"How much am I bid for these 250,000 fine pavin' stones?"
"Two dollars and fifty cents," says I.
"Two dollars and fifty cents!" screamed the auctioneer. "Oh, that's
a joke! Give me a real bid."
He found the bid was real enough. My rivals stood silent. I got the
lot for $2.50 and gave them their share. That's how the attempt to
do Plunkitt ended, and that's how all such attempts end.
I've told you how I got rich by honest graft. Now, let me tell you
that most politicians who are accused of robbin' the city get rich
the same way.
They didn't steal a dollar from the city treasury. They just seen
their opportunities and took them. That is why, when a reform
administration comes in and spends a half million dollars in tryin'
to find the public robberies they talked about in the campaign, they
don't find them.
The books are always all right. The money in the city treasury is
all right. Everything is all right. All they can show is that the
Tammany heads of departments looked after their friends, within
the law, and gave them what opportunities they could to make
honest graft. Now, let me tell you that's never goin' to hurt
Tammany with the people. Every good man looks after his friends,
and any man who doesn't isn't likely to be popular. If I have a good
thing to hand out in private life, I give it to a friend-Why shouldn't
I do the same in public life?
Another kind of honest graft. Tammany has raised a good many
salaries. There was an awful howl by the reformers, but don't you
know that Tammany gains ten votes for every one it lost by salary
The Wall Street banker thinks it shameful to raise a department
clerk's salary from $1500 to $1800 a year, but every man who
draws a salary himself says: "That's all right. I wish it was me."
And he feels very much like votin' the Tammany ticket on election
day, just out of sympathy.
Tammany was beat in 1901 because the people were deceived into
believin' that it worked dishonest graft. They didn't draw a
distinction between dishonest and honest graft, but they saw that
some Tammany men grew rich, and supposed they had been
robbin' the city treasury or levyin' blackmail on disorderly houses,
or workin' in with the gamblers and lawbreakers.
As a matter of policy, if nothing else, why should the Tammany
leaders go into such dirty business, when there is so much honest
graft lyin' around when they are in power? Did you ever consider
Now, in conclusion, I want to say that I don't own a dishonest
dollar. If my worst enemy was given the job of writin' my epitaph
when I'm gone, he couldn't do more than write:
"George W. Plunkitt. He Seen His Opportunities, and He Took
Chapter 2. How to Become a Statesman
THERE'S thousands of young men in this city who will go to the
polls for the first time next November. Among them will be many
who have watched the careers of successful men in politics, and
who are longin' to make names and fortunes for themselves at the
same game- It is to these youths that I want to give advice. First,
let me say that I am in a position to give what the courts call expert
testimony on the subject. I don't think you can easily find a better
example than I am of success in politics. After forty years'
experience at the game I am-well, I'm George Washington
Plunkitt. Everybody knows what figure I cut in the greatest
organization on earth, and if you hear people say that I've laid
away a million or so since I was a butcher's boy in Washington
Market, don't come to me for an indignant denial I'm pretty
comfortable, thank you.
Now, havin' qualified as an expert, as the lawyers say, I am goin' to
give advice free to the young men who are goin' to cast their first
votes, and who are lookin' forward to political glory and lots of
cash. Some young men think they can learn how to be successful
in politics from books, and they cram their heads with all sorts of
college rot. They couldn't make a bigger mistake. Now, understand
me I ain't sayin' nothin' against colleges. I guess they'll have to
exist as long as there's book-worms, and I suppose they do some
good in a certain way, but they don't count in politics. In fact, a
young man who has gone through the college course is
handicapped at the outset. He may succeed in politics, but the
chances are 100 to 1 against him.
Another mistake: some young men think that the best way to
prepare for the political game is to practice speakin' and becomin'
orators. That's all wrong. We've got some orators in Tammany
Hall, but they're chiefly ornamental. You never heard of Charlie
Murphy delivering a speech, did you? Or Richard Croker, or John
Kelly, or any other man who has been a real power in the
organization? Look at the thirty-six district leaders of Tammany
Hall today. How many of them travel on their tongues? Maybe one
or two, and they don't count when business is doin' at Tammany
Hall. The men who rule have practiced keepin' their tongues still,
not exercisin' them. So you want to drop the orator idea unless you
mean to go into politics just to perform the skyrocket act.
Now, I've told you what not to do; I guess I can explain best what
to do to succeed in politics by tellin' you what I did. After goin'
through the apprenticeship of the business while I was a boy by
workin' around the district headquarters and hustlin' about the polls
on election day, I set out when I cast my first vote to win fame and
money in New York City politics. Did I offer my services to the
district leader as a stump-speaker? Not much. The woods are
always full of speakers. Did I get up a hook on municipal
government and show it to the leader? I wasn't such a fool. What I
did was to get some marketable goods before goin' to the leaders.
What do I mean by marketable goods? Let me tell you: I had a
cousin, a young man who didn't take any particular interest in
politics. I went to him and said: "Tommy, I'm goin' to be a
politician, and I want to get a followin'; can I count on you?" He
said: "Sure, George.', That's how I started in business. I got a
marketable commodity---one vote. Then I went to the district
leader and told him I could command two votes on election day,
Tommy's and my own. He smiled on me and told me to go ahead.
If I had offered him a speech or a bookful of learnin', he would
have said, "Oh, forget it!"
That was beginnin' business in a small way, wasn't it? But that is
the only way to become a real lastin' statesman. I soon branched
out. Two young men in the flat next to mine were school friends-I
went to them, just as I went to Tommy, and they agreed to stand by
me. Then I had a followin' of three voters and I began to get a bit
chesty. Whenever I dropped into district head-quarters, everybody
shook hands with me, and the leader one day honored me by
lightin' a match for my cigar. And so it went on like a snowball
rollin' down a hill I worked the flat-house that I lived in from the
basement to the top floor, and I got about a dozen young men to
follow me. Then I tackled the next house and so on down the block
and around the corner. Before long I had sixty men back of me,
and formed the George Washington Plunkitt Association.
What did the district leader say then when I called at headquarters?
I didn't have to call at headquarters. He came after me and said:
"George, what do you want? If you don't see what you want, ask
for it. Wouldn't you like to have a job or two in the departments for
your friends?" I said: "I'll think it over; I haven't yet decided what
the George Washington Plunkitt Association will do in the next
campaign." You ought to have seen how I was courted and petted
then by the leaders of the rival organizations I had marketable
goods and there was bids for them from all sides, and I was a risin'
man in politics. As time went on, and my association grew, I
thought I would like to go to the Assembly. 1 just had to hint at
what I wanted, and three different organizations offered me the
nomination. Afterwards, I went to the Board of Aldermen, then to
the State Senate, then became leader of the district, and so on up
and up till I became a statesman.
That is the way and the only way to' make a lastin' success in
politics. If you are goin' to cast your first vote next November and
want to go into politics, do as I did. Get a followin', if it's only one
man, and then go to the district leader and say: "I want to join the
organization. I've got one man who'll follow me through thick and
thin." The leader won't laugh at your one-man followin'. He'll
shake your hand warmly, offer to propose you for membership in
his club, take you down to the corner for a drink and ask you to
call again. But go to him and say: "I took first prize at college in
Aristotle; I can recite all Shakespeare forwards and backwards;
there ain't nothin' in science that ain't as familiar to me as
blockades on the elevated roads and I'm the real thing in the way
of silver-tongued orators." What will he answer? He'll probably
say: "I guess you are not to blame for your misfortunes, but we
have no use for you here."
Chapter 3. The Curse of Civil Service Reform
This civil service law is the biggest fraud of the age. It is the curse
of the nation. There can't be no real patriotism while it lasts. How
are you goin' to interest our young men in their country if you have
no offices to give them when they work for their party? Just look at
things in this city today. There are ten thousand good offices, but
we can't get at more than a few hundred of them. How are we goin'
to provide for the thousands of men who worked for the Tammany
ticket? It can't be done. These men were full of patriotism a short
time ago. They expected to be servin' their city, but when we tell
them that we can't place them, do you think their patriotism is
goin' to last? Not much. They say: What's the use of workin' for
your country anyhow? There's nothin' in the game." And what can
they do? I don't know, but I'll tell you what I do know. I know
more than one young man in past years who worked for the ticket
and was just overflowin' with patriotism, but when he was knocked
out by the civil service humbug he got to hate his country and
became an Anarchist.
This ain't no exaggeration. I have good reason for sayin' that most
of the Anarchists in this city today are men who ran up against
civil service examinations. Isn't it enough to make a man sour on
his country when he wants to serve it and won't be allowed unless
he answers a lot of fool questions about the number of cubic
inches of water in the Atlantic and the quality of sand in the
Sahara desert? There was once a bright young man in my district
who tackled one of these examinations. The next I heard of him he
had settled down in Herr Most's saloon smokin' and drinkin' beer
and talkin' socialism all day. Before that time he had never drank
anything but whisky. I knew what was comm' when a young
Irishman drops whisky and takes to beer and long pipes in a
German saloon. That young man is today one of the wildest
Anarchists in town. And just to think! He might be a patriot but for
that cussed civil service.
Say, did you hear about that Civil Service Reform Association
kickin' because the tax commissioners want to put their fifty-five
deputies on the exempt list, and fire the outfit left to them by Low?
That's civil service for you. Just think! Fifty-five Republicans and
mugwumps holdin' $8OOO and $4OOO and $5000 jobs in the tax
department when 1555 good Tammany men are ready and willin'
to take their places! It's an outrage! What did the people mean
when they voted for Tammany? What is representative
government, anyhow? Is it all a fake that this is a government of
the people, by the people and for the people? If it isn't a fake, then
why isn't the people's voice obeyed and Tammany men put in all
When the people elected Tammany, they knew just what they were
doin'. We didn't put up any false pretenses. We didn't go in for
humbug civil service and all that rot. We stood as we have always
stood, for reward-in' the men that won the victory. They call that
the spoils system. All right; Tammany is for the spoils system, and
when we go in we fire every anti-Tammany man from office that
can be fired under the law. It's an elastic sort of law and you can
bet it will be stretched to the limit Of course the Republican State
Civil Service Board will stand in the way of our local Civil Service
Commission all it can; but say! --suppose we carry the State
sometime, won't we fire the upstate Board all right? Or we'll make
it work in harmony with the local board, and that means that
Tammany will get everything in sight. I know that the civil service
humbug is stuck into the constitution, too, but, as Tim Campbell
said: What's the constitution among friends?"
Say, the people's voice is smothered by the cursed civil service
law; it is the root of all evil in our government. You hear of this
thing or that thing goin' wrong in the nation, the State or the city.
Look down beneath the surface and you can trace everything
wrong to civil service. I have studied the subject and I know. The
civil service humbug is underminin' our institutions and if a halt
ain't called soon this great republic will tumble down like a Park
Avenue house when they were buildin' the subway, and on its ruins
will rise another Russian government.
This is an awful serious proposition. Free silver and the tariff and
imperialism and the Panama Canal are triflin' issues when
compared to it. We could worry along without any of these things,
but civil service is sappin' the foundation of the whole shootin'
match. let me argue it out for you. I ain't up on sillygisms, but I can
give you some arguments that nobody can answer.
First, this great and glorious country was built up by political
parties; second, parties can't hold together if their workers don't get
the offices when they win; third, if the parties go to pieces, the
government they built up must go to pieces, too; fourth, then
there'll be h-to pay.
Could anything be clearer than that? Say, honest now; can you
answer that argument? Of course you won't deny that the
government was built up by the great parties. That's history, and
you can't go back of the returns. As to my second proposition, you
can't deny that either. When parties can't get offices, they'll bust.
They ain't far from the bustin' point now, with all this civil service
business keepin' most of the good things from them. How are you
goin' to keep up patriotism if this thing goes On? You can't do it.
let me tell you that patriotism has been dying out fast for the last
twenty years. Before then when a party won, its workers got
everything in sight. That was somethin' to make a man patriotic.
Now, when a party wins and its men come forward and ask for
their rewards, the reply is, "Nothin' doin', unless you can answer a
list of questions about Egyptian mummies and how many years it
will take for a bird to wear out a mass of iron as big as the earth by
steppin' on it once in a century?"
I have studied politics and men for forty-five years, and I see how
things are driftin'. Sad indeed is the change that has come over the
young men, even in my district, where I try to keep up the fire of
patriotism by gettin' a lot of jobs for my constituents, whether
Tam-many is in or out. The boys and men don't get excited any
more when they see a United States flag or hear "The
Star-Spangled Banner." They don't care no more for firecrackers
on the Fourth of July. And why should they? What is there in it for
them? They know that no matter how hard they work for their
country in a campaign, the jobs will go to fellows who can tell
about the mummies and the bird steppin' on the iron. Are you
surprised then that the young men of the country are beginnin' to
look coldly on the flag and don't care to put up a nickel for
The Curse of Civil Service Reform
Say, let me tell of one case- After the battle of San Juan Hill, the
Americans found a dead man with a light complexion, red hair and
blue eyes. They could see he wasn't a Spaniard, although he had on
a Spanish uniform. Several officers looked him over, and then a
private of the Seventy-first Regiment saw him and yelled, "Good
Lord, that's Flaherty." That man grew up in my district, and he was
once the most patriotic American boy on the West Side. He
couldn't see a flag without yellin' himself hoarse.
Now, how did he come to be lying dead with a Spanish uniform
on? I found out all about it, and I'll vouch for the story. Well, in the
municipal campaign of 1897, that young man, chockful of
patriotism, worked day and night for the Tammany ticket.
Tammany won, and the young man determined to devote his life to
the service of the city. He picked out a place that would suit him,
and sent in his application to the head of department. He got a
reply that he must take a civil service examination to get the place.
He didn't know what these examinations were, so he went, all
lighthearted, to the Civil Service Board. He read the questions
about the mummies, the bird on the iron, and all the other fool
questions-and he left that office an enemy of the country that he
had loved so well. The mummies and the bird blasted his
patriotism. He went to Cuba, enlisted in the Spanish army at the
breakin' out of the war, and died fightin' his country.
That is but one victim of the infamous civil service. If that young
man had not run up against the civil examination, but had been
allowed to serve his country as he wished, he would be in a good
office today, drawin' a good salary. Ah, how many young men have
had their patriotism blasted in the same way!
Now, what is goin' to happen when civil service crushes out
patriotism? Only one thing can happen: the republic will go to
pieces. Then a czar or a sultan will turn up, which brings me to the
fourthly of my argument-that is, there will be h---- to pay. And that
ain't no lie.
Chapter 4. Reformers Only Mornin' Glories
COLLEGE professors and philosophers who go up in a balloon to
think are always discussin' the question: "Why Reform
Administrations Never Succeed Themselves!" The reason is plain
to anybody who has learned the a, b, c of politics.
I can't tell just how many of these movements I've seen started in
New York during my forty years in politics, but I can tell you how
many have lasted more than a few years-none. There have been
reform committees of fifty, of sixty, of seventy, of one hundred
and all sorts of numbers that started Out to do up the regular
political Organizations. They were mornin' glories-looked lovely in
the mornin' and withered up in a short time, while the regular
machines went on flourishin' forever, like fine old oaks. Say, that's
the first poetry I ever worked off. Ain't it great?
Just look back a few years. You remember the People's Municipal
League that nominated Frank Scott for mayor in 1890? Do you
remember the reformers that got up that league? Have you ever
heard of them since? I haven't. Scott himself survived because he
had always been a first-rate politician. but you'd have to look in the
newspaper almanacs of 1891 to find out who made up the People's
Municipal League. Oh, yes! I remember one name: Ollie Teall;
dear, pretty Ollie and his big dog. They're about all that's left of the
Now take the reform movement of 1894. A lot of good politicians
joined in that-the Republicans, the State Democrats, the
Stecklerites and the O'Brienites, and they gave us a lickin', but the
real reform part of the affair, the Committee of Seventy that
started the thing goin', what's become of those reformers? What's
become of Charles Stewart Smith? Where's Bangs? Do you ever
hear of Cornell, the iron man, in politics now? Could a search
party find R. W. G. Welling? Have you seen the name of Fulton
McMahon or McMahon Fulton -I ain't sure which-in the papers
lately? Or Preble Tucker? Or-but it's no use to go through the list
of the reformers who said they sounded in the death knell of
Tammany in 1894. They're gone for good, and Tammany's pretty
well, thank you. They did the talkin' and posin', and the politicians
in the movement got all the plums. It's always the case.
The Citizens' Union has lasted a little bit longer than the reform
crowd that went before them, but that's because they learned a
thing or two from us. They learned how to put up a pretty good
bluff-and bluff Counts a lot in politics. With only a few thousand
members, they had the nerve to run the whole Fusion movement,
make the Republicans and other organizations come to their
headquarters to select a ticket and dictate what every candidate
must do or not do. I love nerve, and I've had a sort of respect for
the Citizens Union lately, but the Union can't last. Its people
haven't been trained to politics, and whenever Tammany calls their
bluff they lay right down. You'll never hear of the Union again
after a year or two.
And, by the way, what's become of the good government clubs, the
political nurseries of a few years ago?
Do you ever hear of Good Government Club D and P and Q and Z
any more? What's become of the infants who were to grow up and
show us how to govern the city? I know what's become of the
nursery that was started in my district. You can find pretty much
the whole outfit over in my headquarters, Washington Hall.
The fact is that a reformer can't last in politics. He can make a
show for a while, but he always comes down like a rocket. Politics
is as much a regular business as the grocery or the dry-goods or the
drug business. You've got to be trained up to it or you're sure to
fail. Suppose a man who knew nothing about the grocery trade
suddenly went into the business and tried to conduct it according
to his own ideas. Wouldn't he make a mess of it? He might make a
splurge for a while, as long as his money lasted, but his store
would soon be empty. It's just the same with a reformer. He hasn't
been brought up in the difficult business of politics and he makes a
mess of it every time.
I've been studyin' the political game for forty-five years, and ! don't
know it all yet. I'm learnin' somethin' all the time. How, then, can
you expect what they call "business men" to turn into politics all at
once and make a success of it? It is just as if I went up to
Columbia University and started to teach Greek. They usually last
about as long in politics as I would last at Columbia.
You can't begin too early in politics if you want to succeed at the
game. I began several years before I could vote, and so did every
successful leader in Tammany Hall. When I was twelve years old I
made myself useful around the district headquarters and did work
at all the polls on election day. Later on, I hustled about gettin' out
voters who had jags on or who were too lazy to come to the polls.
There's a hundred ways that boys can help, and they get an
experience that's the first real step in statesmanship. Show me a
boy that hustles for the organization on election day, and I'll show
you a comin' statesman.
That's the a, b, c of politics. It ain't easy work to get up to q and z.
You have to give nearly all your time and attention to it. Of course,
you may have some business or occupation on the side, but the
great business of your life must be politics if you want to succeed
in it. A few years ago Tammany tried to mix politics and business
in equal quantities, by havin' two leaders for each district, a
politician and a business man. They wouldn't mix. They were like
oil and water. The politician looked after the politics of his
district; the business man looked after his grocery store or his milk
route, and whenever he appeared at an executive meeting, it was
only to make trouble. The whole scheme turned out to be a farce
and was abandoned mighty quick.
Do you understand now, why it is that a reformer goes down and
out in the first or second round, while a politician answers to the
gong every time? It is because the one has gone into the fight
without trainin', while the other trains all the time and knows every
fine point of the game.
Chapter 5. New York City Is Pie for the Hayseeds
THIS city is ruled entirely by the hayseed legislators at Albany.
I've never known an upstate Republican who didn't want to run
things here, and I've met many thousands of them in my long
service in the Legislature. The hayseeds think we are like the
Indians to the National Government-that is, sort of wards of the
State, who don't know how to look after ourselves and have to be
taken care of by the Republicans of St. Lawrence, Ontario, and
other backwoods counties Why should any-body be surprised
because ex-Governor Odell comes down here to direct the
Republican machine? Newburg ain't big enough for him. He, like
all the other upstate Republicans, wants to get hold of New York
City. New York is their pie.
Say, you hear a lot about the downtrodden people of Ireland and
the Russian peasants and the sufferin' Boers. Now, let me tell you
that they have more real freedom and home rule than the people of
this grand and imperial city. In England, for example, they make a
pretense of givin' the Irish some self-government In this State the
Republican government makes no pretense at all. It says right out
in the open: "New York City is a nice big fat Goose. Come along
with your carvin' knives and have a slice." They don't pretend to
ask the Goose's consent.
We don't own our streets or our docks or our waterfront or
anything else. The Republican Legislature and Governor run the
whole shootin' match. We've got to eat and drink what they tell us
to eat and drink, and have got to choose our time for eatin' and
drinkin' to suit them. If they don't feel like takin' a glass of beer on
Sunday, we must abstain. If they have not got any amusements up
in their backwoods, we mustn't have none. We've got to regulate
our whole lives to suit them. And then we have to pay their taxes
Did you ever go up to Albany from this city with a delegation that
wanted anything from the Legislature? No? Well, don't. The
hayseeds who run all the committees will look at you as if you
were a child that didn't know what it wanted, and will tell you in
so many words to go home and be good and the Legislature will
give you whatever it thinks is good for you. They put on a sort of
patronizing air, as much as to say, "These children are an awful lot
of trouble. They're wantin' candy all the time, and they know that it
will make them sick. They ought to thank goodness that they have
us to take care of them." And if you try to argue with them, they'll
smile in a pityin' sort of way as if they were humorin' a spoiled
But just let a Republican farmer from Chemung or Wayne or
Tioga turn up at the Capital. The Republican Legislature will make
a rush for him and ask him what he wants and tell him if he doesn't
see what he wants to ask for it. If he says his taxes are too high,
they reply to him: "All right, old man, don't let that worry you.
How much do you want us to take off?"
"I guess about fifty per cent will about do for the present," says the
man. "Can you fix me up?"
"Sure," the Legislature agrees. "Give us somethin'
New York City Is Pie for the Hayseeds
harder, don't be bashful. We'll take off sixty per cent if you wish.
That's what we're here for."
Then the Legislature goes and passes a law increasin' the liquor tax
or some other tax in New York City, takes a half of the proceeds
for the State Treasury and cuts down the farmers' taxes to suit. It's
as easy as rollin' off a log-when you've got a good workin' majority
and no conscience to speak of.
Let me give you another example. It makes me hot under the collar
to tell about this. Last year some hay-seeds along the Hudson
River, mostly in Odell's neighborhood, got dissatisfied with the
docks where they landed their vegetables, brickbats, and other
things they produce in the river counties. They got together and
said: "Let's take a trip down to New York and pick out the finest
dock we can find. Odell and the Legislature will do the rest." They
did come down here, and what do you think they hit on? The finest
dock in my district Invaded George W. Plunkitt's district without
sayin' as much as "by your leave." Then they called on Odell to put
through a bill givin' them this dock, and he did.
When the bill came before Mayor Low I made the greatest speech
of my life. I pointed out how the Legislature could give the whole
waterfront to the hayseeds over the head of the Dock
Commissioner in the same way, and warned the Mayor that
nations had rebelled against their governments for less. But it was
no go. Odell and Low were pards and-well, my dock was stolen.
You heard a lot in the State campaign about Odell's great work in
reducin' the State tax to almost nothin', and you'll hear a lot more
about it in the campaign next year. How did he do it? By cuttin'
down the expenses of the State Government? Oh, no! The
expenses went up. He simply performed the old Republican act of
milkin' New York City. The only difference was that he nearly
milked the city dry. He not only ran up the liquor tax, but put all
sorts of taxes on corporations, banks, insurance companies, and
everything in sight that could be made to give up. Of course, nearly
the whole tax fell on the city. Then Odell went through the country
districts and said: "See what I have done for you. You ain't got any
more taxes to pay the State. Ain't I a fine feller?"
Once a farmer in Orange County asked him: "How did you do it,
"Dead easy," he answered. "Whenever I want any money for the
State Treasury, I know where to get it," and he pointed toward
New York City.
And then all the Republican tinkerin' with New York City's
charter. Nobody can keep up with it. When a Republican mayor is
in, they give him all sorts of power. If a Tammany mayor is elected
next fall I wouldn't be surprised if they changed the whole business
and arranged it so that every city department should have four
heads, two of them Republicans. If we make a kick, they would
say: "You don't know what's good for you. Leave it to us. It's our
Chapter 6. To Hold Your District: Study Human Nature and Act
There's only one way to hold a district: you must study human.
nature and act accordin'. You can't study human nature in books.
Books is a hindrance more than anything else. If you have been to
college, so much the worse for you. You'll have to unlearn all you
learned before you can get right down-to human nature, and
unlearnin' takes a lot of time. Some men can never forget what
they learned at college. Such men may get to be district leaders by
a fluke, but they never last.
To learn real human nature you have to go among the people, see
them and be seen. .1 know every man, woman, and child in the
Fifteenth District, except them that's been born this summer-and I
know some of them, too. I know what they like and what they don't
like, what they are strong at and what they are weak in, and I reach
them by approachin' at the right side.
For instance, here's how I gather in the young men. I hear of a
young feller that's proud of his voice, thinks that he can sing fine. I
ask him to come around to Washington Hall and join our Glee
Club. He comes and sings, and he's a follower of Plunkitt for life.
Another young feller gains a reputation as a baseball player in a
vacant lot. I bring him into our baseball dub. That fixes him. You'll
find him workin' for my ticket at the polls next election day. Then
there's the feller that likes rowin' on the river, the young feller that
makes a name as a waltzer on his block, the young feller that's
handy with his dukes-I rope thern all in by givin' them
opportunities to show themselves off. I don't trouble them with
political arguments. I just study human nature and act accordin'.
But you may say this game won't work with the high-toned fellers,
the fellers that go through college and then join the Citizens'
Union. Of course it wouldn't work. I have a special treatment for
them. I ain't like the patent medicine man that gives the same
medicine for all diseases. The Citizens' Union kind of a young
man! I love him! He's the daintiest morsel of the lot, and he don't
often escape me.
Before telling you how I catch him, let me mention that before the
election last year, the Citizens' Union said they had four hundred
or five hundred enrolled voters in my district. They had a lovely
headquarters, too, beautiful roll-top desks and the cutest rugs in
the world. If I was accused of havin' contributed to fix up the nest
for them, I wouldn't deny it under oath. What do I mean by that?
Never mind. You can guess from the sequel, if you're sharp.
Well, election day came. The Citizens' Union's candidate for
Senator, who ran against me, just polled five votes in the district,
while I polled something more than 14,000 votes. What became of
the 400 or 500 Citizens' Union enrolled voters in my district?
Some people guessed that many of them were good Plunkitt men
all along and worked with the Cits just to bring them into the
Plunkitt camp by election day. You can guess that way, too, if you
want to. I never contradict stories about me, especially in hot
weather. I just call your attention to the fact that on last election
day 395 Citizens' Union enrolled voters in my district were missin'
and unaccounted for.
I tell you frankly, though, how I have captured some of the
Citizens' Union's young men. I have a plan that never fails. I watch
the City Record to see when there's civil service examinations for
good things. Then I take my young Cit in hand, tell him all about
the good thing and get him worked up till he goes and takes an
examination. I don't bother about him any more. It's a cinch that he
comes back to me in a few days and asks to join Tammany Hall.
Come over to Washington Hall some night and I'll show you a list
of names on our roll' marked "C.S." which means, "bucked up
against civil service."
As to the older voters, I reach them, too. No, I don't send them
campaign literature. That's rot. People can get all the political stuff
they want to read-and a good deal more, too-in the papers. Who
reads speeches, nowadays, anyhow? It's bad enough to listen to
them. You ain't goin' to gain any votes by stuffin' the letter boxes
with campaign documents. Like as not you'll lose votes for there's
nothin' a man hates more than to hear the letter carrier ring his bell
and go to the letter box ex pectin' to find a letter he was lookin'
for, and find only a lot of printed politics. I met a man this very
mornin' who told me he voted the Democratic State ticket last year
just because the Republicans kept crammin' his letter box with
What tells in holdin' your grip on your district is to go right down
among the poor families and help them in the different ways they
need help. I've got a regular system for this. If there's a fire in
Ninth, Tenth, or Eleventh Avenue, for example, any hour of the
day or night, I'm usually there with some of my election district
captains as soon as the fire engines. If a family is burned out I don't
ask whether they are Republicans or Democrats, and I don't refer
them to the Charity Organization Society, which would investigate
their case in a month or two and decide they were worthy of help
about the time they are dead from starvation. I just get quarters for
them, buy clothes for them if their clothes were burned up, and fix
them up till they get things runnin' again. It's philanthropy, but it's
politics, too-mighty good politics. Who can tell how many votes
one of these fires bring me? The poor are the most grateful people
in the world, and, let me tell you, they have more friends in their
neighborhoods than the rich have in theirs.
If there's a family in my district in want I know it before the
charitable societies do, and me and my men are first on the ground.
I have a special corps to look up such cases. The consequence is
that the poor look up to George W. Plunkitt as a father, come to
him in trouble-and don't forget him on election day.
Another thing, I can always get a job for a deservin' man. I make it
a point to keep on the track of jobs, and it seldom happens that I
don't have a few up my sleeve ready for use. I know every big
employer in the district and in the whole city, for that matter, and
they ain't in the habit of sayin' no to me when I ask them for a job.
And the children-the little roses of the district! Do I forget them?
Oh, no! They know me, every one of them, and they know that a
sight of Uncle George and candy means the same thing. Some of
them are the best kind of vote-getters. I'll tell you a case. Last year
a little Eleventh Avenue rosebud, whose father is a Republican,
caught hold of his whiskers on election day and said she wouldn't
let go till he'd promise to vote for me. And she didn't.
Chapter 7. On The Shame of the Cities
I'VE been readin' a book by Lincoln Steffens on The Shame of *he
Cities. Steffens means well but, like all reformers, he don't know
how to make distinctions. He can't see no difference between
honest graft and dishonest graft and, consequent, he gets things all
mixed up. There's the biggest kind of a difference between
political looters and politicians who make a fortune out of politics
by keepin' their eyes wide open. The looter goes in for himself
alone without considerin' his organization or his city. The
politician looks after his own interests, the organization's interests,
and the city's interests all at the same time. See the distinction? For
instance, I ain't no looter. The looter hogs it. I never hogged. I
made my pile in politics, but, at the same time, 1 served the
organization and got more big improvements for New York City
than any other livin' man. And I never monkeyed with the penal
The difference between a looter and a practical politician is the
difference between the Philadelphia Republican gang and
Tammany Hall. Steffens seems to think they're both about the
same; but he's all wrong. The Philadelphia crowd runs up against
the penal code. Tammany don't. The Philadelphians ain't satisfied
with robbin' the bank of all its gold and paper money. They stay to
pick up the nickels arid pennies and the cop comes arid nabs them.
Tammany ain't no such fool. Why, I remember, about fifteen or
twenty years ago, a Republican superintendent of the Philadelphia
almshouse stole the zinc roof off the buildin' and sold it for junk.
That was carryin' things to excess. There's a limit to every-thing,
and the Philadelphia Republicans go beyond the limit. It seems
like they can't be cool and moderate like real politicians. It ain't
fair, therefore, to class Tammany men with the Philadelphia gang.
Any man who undertakes to write political books should never for
a moment lose sight of the distinction between honest graft and
dishonest graft, which I explained in full in another talk. If he puts
all kinds of graft on the same level, he'll make the fatal mistake
that Steffens made and spoil his book.
A big city like New York or Philadelphia or Chicago might be
compared to a sort of Garden of Eden, from a political point of
view. It's an orchard full of beautiful apple trees. One of them has
got a big sign on it, marked: "Penal Code Tree-Poison." The other
trees have lots of apples on them for all. Yet the fools go to the
Penal Code Tree. Why? For the reason, I guess, that a cranky child
refuses to eat good food and chews up a box of matches with
relish. I never had any temptation to touch the Penal Code Tree.
The other apples are good enough for me, and 0 Lord! how many
of them there are in a big city!
Steffens made one good point in his book. He said he found that
Philadelphia, ruled almost entirely by Americans, was more
corrupt than New York, where the Irish do almost all the governin'.
I could have told him that before he did any investigatin' if he had
come to me. The Irish was born to rule, and they're the honestest
people in the world. Show me the Irishman who would steal a roof
off an almhouse! He don't exist. Of course, if an Irishman had the
political pull and the roof was much worn, he might get the city
authorities to put on a new one and get the contract for it himself,
and buy the old roof at a bargain-but that's honest graft. It's goin'
about the thing like a gentleman, and there's more money in it than
in tearin' down an old roof and cartin' it to the junkman's --more
money and no penal code.
One reason why the Irishman is more honest in politics than many
Sons of the Revolution is that he is grateful to the country and the
city that gave him protection and prosperity when he was driven by
oppression from the Emerald Isle. Say, that sentence is fine, ain't
it? I'm goin' to get some literary feller to work it over into poetry
for next St. Patrick's Day dinner.
Yes, the Irishman is grateful. His one thought is to serve the city
which gave him a home. He has this thought even before he lands
in New York, for his friends here often have a good place in one of
the city departments picked out for him while he is still in the old
country. Is it any wonder that he has a tender spot in his heart for
old New York when he is on its salary list the mornin' after he
Now, a few words on the general subject of the so called shame of
cities. I don't believe that the government of our cities is any
worse, in proportion to opportunities, than it was fifty years ago.
I'll explain what I mean by "in proportion to opportunities." A half
a century ago, our cities were small and poor. There wasn't many
temptations lyin' around for politicians. There was hardly anything
to steal, and hardly any opportunities for even honest graft. A city
could count its money every night before goin' to bed, and if three
cents was missin', all the fire bells would be rung. What credit was
there in bein' honest under them circumstances'? It makes me tired
to hear of old codgers back in the thirties or forties boastin' that
they retired from politics without a dollar except what they earned
in their profession or business. If they lived today, with all the
existin' opportunities, they would be just the same as
twentieth-century politicians. There ain't any more honest people
in the world just now than the convicts in Sing Sing. Not one of
them steals anything. Why? Because they can't. See the
Understand, I ain't defendin' politicians of today who steal. The
politician who steals is worse than a thief. He is a fool. With the
grand opportunities all around for the man with a political pull,
there's no excuse for stealin' a cent. The point I want to make is
that if there is some stealin' in politics, it don't mean that the
politicians of 1905 are, as a class, worse than them of 1835. It just
means that the old-timers had nothin' to steal, while the politicians
now are surrounded by all kinds of temptations and some of them
naturally-the fool ones -buck up against the penal code.
Chapter 8. Ingratitude in Politics
THERE's no crime so mean as ingratitude in politics, but every
great statesman from the beginnin' of the world has been up
against it. Caesar had his Brutus; that king of Shakespeare's-Leary,
I think you call him-had his own daughters go back on him; Platt
had his Odell, and I've got my "The" McManus. It's a real proof
that a man is great when he meets with political ingratitude. Great
men have a tender, trustin' nature. So have I, outside of the
contractin' and real estate business. In politics I have trusted men
who have told me they were my friends, and if traitors have turned
up in my camp well, I only had the same experience as Caesar,
Leary, and the others. About my Brutus. McManus, you know, has
seven brothers and they call him "The" because he is the boss of
the lot, and to distinguish him from all other McManuses. For
several years he was a political bushwhacker. In campaigns he was
sometimes on the fence, sometimes on both sides of the fence, and
sometimes under the fence. Nobody knew where to find him at any
particular time, and nobody trusted him-that is, nobody but me. I
thought there was some good in him after all and that, if I took him
in hand, I could make a man of him yet.
I did take him in hand, a few years ago. My friends told me it
would be the Brutus.Leary business all over again, but I didn't
believe them. I put my trust in "The." I nominated him for the
Assembly, and he was elected. A year afterwards, when I was
runnin' for re-election as Senator, I nominated him for the
Assembly again on the ticket with me. What do you think
happened? We both carried the Fifteenth Assembly District, but he
ran away ahead of me. Just think! Ahead of me in my own district!
I was just dazed. When I began to recover, my election district
captains came to me and said that McManus had sold me out with
the idea of knockin' me out of the Senatorship, and then tryin' to
capture the leadership of the district. I couldn't believe it. My
trustin' nature couldn't imagine such treachery.
I sent for McManus and said, with my voice tremblin' with
emotions: "They say you have done me dirt, 'The.' It can't be true.
Tell me it ain't true."
"The" almost wept as he said he was innocent.
"Never have I done you dirt, George," he declared. "Wicked
traitors have tried to do you. I don't know just who they are yet, but
I'm on their trail, and I'll find them or abjure the name of 'The'
McManus. I'm goin' out right now to find them."
Well, "The" kept his word as far as goin' out and findin' the traitors
was concerned. He found them all right-and put himself at their
head. Oh, no! He didn't have to go far to look for them. He's got
them gathered in his clubrooms now, and he's doin' his best to take
the leadership from the man that made him. So you see that Caesar
and Leary and me's in the same boat, only I'll come out on top
while Caesar and Leary went under.
Now let me tell you that the ingrate in politics never flourishes
long. I can give you lots of examples. Look at the men who done
up Roscoe Conkling when he resigned from the United States
Senate and went to Albany to ask for re-election! What's become
of them? Passed from view like a movin' picture. Who took
Conkling's place in the Senate? Twenty dollars even that you can't
remember his name without looking in the almanac. And poor old
Plattt He's down and out now and Odell is in the saddle, but that
don't mean that he'll always be in the saddle. His enemies are
workin' hard all the time to do him, and I wouldn't be a bit
surprised if he went out before the next State campaign.
The politicians who make a lastin' success in politics are the men
who are always loyal to their friends, even up to the gate of State
prison, if necessary; men who keep their promises and never lie.
Richard Croker used to say that tellin' the truth and stickin' to his
friends was the political leader's stock in trade. Nobody ever said
anything truer, and nobody lived up to it better than Croker. That is
why he remained leader of Tammany Hall as long as he wanted to.
Every man in the organization trusted him. Sometimes he made
mistakes that hurt in campaigns, but they were always on the side
of servin' his friends.
It's the same with Charles F. Murphy. He has always stood by his
friends even when it looked like he would be downed for doin' so.
Remember how he stuck to McClellan in 1903 when all the
Brooklyn leaders were against him, and it seemed as if Tammany
was in for a grand smash-up! It's men like Croker and Murphy that
stay leaders as long as they live; not men like Brutus and
Now I want to tell you why political traitors, in New York City
especially, are punished quick. It's because the Irish are in a
majority. The Irish, above all people in the world, hates a traitor.
You can't hold them back when a traitor of any kind is in sight and,
rememberin' old Ireland, they take particular delight in doin' up a
political traitor. Most of the voters in my district are Irish or of
Irish descent; they've spotted "The" McManus, and when they get a
chance at him at the polls next time, they won't do a thing to him.
The question has been asked: Is a politician ever justified in going'
back on his district leader? I answer: "No; as long as the leader
hustles around and gets all the jobs possible for his constituents."
When the voters elect a man leader, they make a sort of a contract
with him. They say, although it ain't written out: "We've put you
here to look out for our Interests. You want to see that this district
gets all the jobs that's comm' to it. Be faithful to us, and we'll be
faithful to you."
The district leader promises and that makes a solemn contract. If
he lives up to it, spends most of his time chasm' after places in the
departments, picks up jobs from railroads and contractors for his
followers, and shows himself in all ways a true statesman, then his
followers are bound in honor to uphold him, just as they're bound
to uphold the Constitution of the United States. But if he only
looks after his own interests or shows no talent for scenting out
jobs or ain't got the nerve to demand and get his share of the good
things that are going', his followers may be absolved from their
allegiance and they may up and swat him without bein' put down
as political ingrates.
Chapter 9. Reciprocity in Patronage
WHENEVER Tammany is whipped at the polls, the people set to
predictin' that the organization is going' to smash. They say we
can't get along without the offices and that the district leaders are
going' to desert wholesale. That was what was said after the
throwdowns in 1894 and 1901. But it didn't happen, did it? Not
one big Tam-many man deserted, and today the organization is
stronger than ever.
How was that? It was because Tammany has more than one string
to its bow.
I acknowledge that you can't keep an organization together without
patronage. Men ain't in politics for nothin'. They want to get
somethin' out of it.
But there is more than one kind of patronage. We lost the public
kind, or a greater part of it, in 1901, but Tammany has an immense
private patronage that keeps things going' when it gets a setback at
Take me, for instance. When Low came in, some of my men lost
public jobs, but I fixed them all right. I don't know how many jobs
I got for them on the surface and elevated railroads-several
I placed a lot more on public works done by contractors, and no
Tammany man goes hungry in my district. Plunkitt's O.K. on an
application for a job is never turned down, for they all know that
Plunkitt and Tammany don't stay out long. See!
Let me tell you, too, that I got jobs from Republicans in
office-Federal and otherwise. When Tammany's on top I do good
turns for the Republicans. When they're on top they don't forget
Me and the Republicans are enemies just one day in the
year-election day. Then we fight tooth and nail The rest of the time
it's live and let live with us.
On election day I try to pile up as big a majority as I can against
George Wanmaker, the Republican leader of the Fifteenth. Any
other day George and I are the best of friends. I can go to him and
say: "George, I want you to place this friend of mine." He says: "Mi
right, Senator." Or vice versa.
You see, we differ on tariffs and currencies and all them things,
but we agree on the main proposition that when a man works in
politics, he should get something out of it.
The politicians have got to stand together this way or there
wouldn't be any political parties in a short time. Civil service
would gobble up everything, politicians would be on the bum, the
republic would fall and soon there would be the cry of "Vevey le
The very thought of this civil service monster makes my blood
boil. I have said a lot about it already, but another instance of its
awful work just occurs to me.
Let me tell you a sad but true story. Last Wednesday a line of
carriages wound into Cavalry Cemetery. I was in one of them. It
was the funeral of a young man from my district-a bright boy that I
had great hopes of.
When he went to school, he was the most patriotic boy in the
district. Nobody could sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" like him,
nobody was as fond of waving a flag, and nobody shot off as many
firecrackers on the Fourth of July. And when he grew up he made
up his mind to serve his country in one of the city departments.
There was no way of gettin' there without passin' a civil service
examination. Well, he went down to the civil service office and
tackled the fool questions. I saw him next day -it was Memorial
Day, and soldiers were marchin' and flags flyin' and people
Where was my young man? Standin' on the corner, scowlin' at the
whole show. When I asked him why he was so quiet, he laughed in
a wild sort of way and said: What rot all this is!"
Just then a band came along playing "Liberty." He laughed wild
again and said: "Liberty? Rats!"
I don't guess I need to make a long story of it.
From the time that young man left the civil service office he lost
all patriotism. He didn't care no more for his country'. He went to
He ain't the only one. There's a gravestone over some bright young
man's head for every one of them infernal civil service
examinations. They are underminin' the manhood of the nation and
makin' the Declaration of Independence a farce. We need a new
Declaration of Independence-independence of the whole fool civil
I mention all this now to show why it is that the politicians of two
big parties help each other along, and why Tammany men are
tolerably happy when not in power in the city. When we win I
won't let any deservin' Republican in my neighborhood suffer from
hunger or thirst, although, of course, I look out for my own people
Now, I've never gone in for nonpartisan business, but I do think
that all the leaders of the two parties should get together and make
an open, nonpartisan fight against civil service, their common
enemy. They could keep up their quarrels about imperialism and
free silver and high tariff. They don't count for much alongside of
civil service, which strikes right at the root of the government. The
time is fast coming when civil service or the politicians will have
to go. And it will be here sooner than they expect if the politicians
don't unite, drop all them minor issues for a while and make a
stand against the civil service flood that's sweepin' over the country
like them floods out West.
Chapter 10. Brooklynites Natural-Born Hayseeds
SOME people are wonderin' why it is that the Brooklyn Democrats
have been sidin' with David B. Hill and the upstate crowd. There's
no cause for wonder. I have made a careful study of the
Brooklynite, and I can tell you why. It's because a Brooklynite is a
natural-born hay. seed, and can never become a real New Yorker.
He can't be trained into it. Consolidation didn't make him a New
Yorker, and nothin' on earth can. A man born in Germany can
settle down and become a good New Yorker. So can an Irishman;
in fact, the first word an Irish boy learns in the old country is "New
York," and when he grows up and comes here, he is at home right
away. Even a Jap or a Chinaman can become a New Yorker, but a
Brooklynite never can.
And why? Because Brooklyn don't seem to be like any other place
on earth. Once let a man grow up amidst Brooklyn's cobblestones,
with the odor of Newton Creek and Gowanus Canal ever in his
nostrils, and there's no place in the world for him except Brooklyn.
And even if he don't grow up there; if he is born there and lives
there only in his boyhood and then moves away, he is still beyond
redemption. In one of my speeches in the Legislature, I gave an
example of this, and it's worth repeatin' now. Soon after I became a
leader on the West Side, a quarter of a century ago, I came across a
bright boy, about seven years old, who had just been brought over
from Brooklyn by his parents. I took an interest in the boy, and
when he grew up I brought him into politics. Finally, I sent him to
the Assembly from my district Now remember that the boy was
only seven years old when he left Brooklyn, and was twenty-three
when he went to the Assembly. You'd think he had forgotten all
about Brooklyn, wouldn't you? I did, but I was dead wrong. When
that young fellow got into the Assembly he paid no attention to
bills or debates about New York City. He didn't even show any
interest in his own district. But just let Brooklyn be mentioned, or
a bill be introduced about Gowanus Canal, or the Long Island
Railroad, and he was all attention. Nothin' else on earth interested
The end came when I caught him-what do you think I caught him
at? One mornin' I went over from the Senate to the Assembly
chamber, and there I found my young man readin'-actually readin'
a Brooklyn newspaper! When he saw me comm' he tried to hide
the paper, but it was too late. I caught him dead to rights, and I
said to him: "Jimmy, I'm afraid New York ain't fascinatin' enough
for you. You had better move back to Brooklyn after your present
term." And he did. I met him the other day crossin' the Brooklyn
Bridge, carryin' a hobbyhorse under one arm, and a doll's carriage
under the other, and lookin' perfectly happy.
McCarren and his men are the same way. They can't get it into
their heads that they are New Yorkers, and just tend naturally
toward supportin' Hill and his hay-seeds against Murphy. I had
some hopes of McCarren till lately. He spends so much of his time
over here and has seen so much of the world that I thought he
might be an exception, and grow out of his Brooklyn surroundings,
but his course at Albany shows that there is no exception to the
rule. Say, I'd rather take a Hottentot in hand to bring up as a good
New Yorker than undertake the job with a Brooklynite. Honest, I
And, by the way, come to think of it, is there really any upstate
Democrats left? It has never been proved to my satisfaction that
there is any. I know that some upstate members of the State
committee call themselves Democrats. Besides these, I know at
least six more men above the Bronx who make a livin' out of
professin' to be Democrats, and I have just heard of some few
more. But if there is any real Democrats up the State, what
becomes of them on election day? They certainly don't go near the
polls or they vote the Republican ticket. Look at the last three
State elections! Roosevelt piled up more than 100,000 majority
above the Bronx; Odell piled up about 160,000 majority the first
time he ran and 131,000 the second time. About all the
Democratic votes cast were polled in New York City. The
Republicans can get all the votes they want up the State. Even
when we piled up 123,000 majority for Coler in the city In 1902,
the Republicans went it 8000 better above the Bronx.
That's why it makes me mad to hear about upstate Democrats
controllin' our State convention, and sayin' who we shall choose
for President. It's just like Staten Island undertakin' to dictate to a
New York City convention. I remember once a Syracuse man
came to Richard Croker at the Democratic Club, handed him a
letter of introduction and said: "I'm lookin' for a job in the Street
Cleanin' Department; I'm backed by a hundred upstate Democrats."
Croker looked hard at the man a minute and then said: "Upstate
Democrats! Upstate Democrats! I didn't know there was any
upstate Democrats. Just walk up and down a while till I see what
an upstate Democrat looks like."
Another thing. When a campaign is on, did you ever hear of an
upstate Democrat makin' a contribution? Not much. Tammany has
had to foot the whole bill, and when any of Hill's men came down
to New York to help him in the campaign, we had to pay their
board. Whenever money is to be raised, there's nothin' doin' up the
State. The Democrats there-always providin' that there is any
Democrats there-take to the woods. Supposin' Tammany turned
over the campaigns to the Hill men and then held off, what would
happen? Why, they would have to hire a shed out in the suburbs of
Albany for a headquarters, unless the Democratic National
Committee put up for the campaign expenses. Tammany's got the
votes and the cash. The Hill crowd's only got hot air.
Chapter 11. Tammany Leaders Not Bookworms
You hear a lot of talk about the Tammany district leaders bein'
illiterate men. If illiterate means havin' common sense, we plead
guilty. But if they mean that the Tammany leaders ain't got no
education and ain't gents they don't know what they're talkin'
about. Of course, we ain't all bookworms and college professors. If
we were, Tammany might win an election once in four thousand
years. Most of the leaders are plain American citizens, of the
people and near to the people, and they have all the education they
need to whip the dudes who part their name in the middle and to
run the City Government. We've got bookworms, too, in the
organization. But we don't make them district leaders. We keep
them for ornaments on parade days.
Tammany Hall is a great big machine, with every part adjusted
delicate to do its own particular work. It runs so smooth that you
wouldn't think it was a complicated affair, but it is. Every district
leader is fitted to the district he runs and he wouldn't exactly fit
any other district. That's the reason Tammany never makes the
mistake the Fusion outfit always makes of sendin' men into the
districts who don't know the people, and have no sympathy with
their peculiarities- We don't put a silk stockin' on the Bowery, nor
do we make a man who is handy with his fists leader of the
Twenty-ninth. The Fusionists make about the same sort of a
mistake that a repeater made at an election in Albany several years
ago. He was hired to go to the polls early in a half-dozen election
districts and vote on other men's names before these men reached
the polls. At one place, when he was asked his name by the poll
clerk, he had the nerve to answer "William Croswell Doane."
"Come off. You ain't Bishop Doane," said the poll clerk.
"The hell I ain't, you--I" yelled the repeater.
Now, that is the sort of bad judgment the Fusionists are guilty of.
They don't pick men to suit the work they have to do.
Take me, for instance. My district, the Fifteenth, is made up of all
sorts of people, and a cosmopolitan is needed to run it successful.
I'm a cosmopolitan. When I get into the silk-stockin' part of the
district, I can talk grammar and all that with the best of them. I
went to school three winters when I was a boy, and I learned a lot
of fancy stuff that I keep for occasions. There ain't a silk stockin' in
the district who ain't proud to be seen talkin' with George
Washington Plunkitt, and maybe they learn a thing or two from
their talks with me. There's one man in the district, a big banker,
who said to me one day: "George, you can sling the most vigorous
English I ever heard. You remind me of Senator Hoar of
Massachusetts." Of course, that was puttin' it on too thick; but say,
honest, I like Senator Hoar's speeches. He once quoted in the
United States Senate some of my remarks on the curse of civil
service, and, though he didn't agree with me altogether, I noticed
that our ideas are alike in some things, and we both have the knack
of puttin' things strong, only he put on more frills to suit his
As for the common people of the district, I am at home with them
at all times. When I go among them, I don't try to show off my
grammar, or talk about the Constitution, or how many volts there
is in electricity or make it appear in any way that I am better
educated than they are. They wouldn't stand for that sort of thing.
No; I drop all monkeyshines. So you see, I've got to be several
sorts of a man in a single day, a lightnin' change artist, so to speak.
But I am one sort of man always in one respect: I stick to my
friends high and low, do them a good turn whenever I get a
chance, and hunt up all the jobs going for my constituents. There
ain't a man in New York who's got such a scent for political jobs as
I have. When I get up in the mornin' I can almost tell every time
whether a job has become vacant over night, and what department
it's in and I'm the first man on the ground to get it. Only last week I
turned up at the office of Water Register Savage at 9 A.M. and told
him I wanted a vacant place in his office for one of my
constituents. "How did you know that O'Brien had got out?" he
asked me. "I smelled it in the air when I got up this mornin'," I
answered. Now, that was the fact. I didn't know there was a man in
the department named O'Brien, much less that he had got out, but
my scent led me to the Water Register's office, and it don't often
lead me wrong.
A cosmopolitan ain't needed in all the other districts, but our men
are just the kind to rule. There's Dan Finn, in the Battery district,
bluff, jolly Dan, who is now on the bench. Maybe you'd think that
a court justice is not the man to hold a district like that, but you're
mistaken. Most of the voters of the district are the janitors of the
big office buildings on lower Broadway and their helpers. These
janitors are the most dignified and haughtiest of men. Even I
would have trouble in holding them. Nothin' less than a judge on
the bench is good enough for them. Dan does the dignity act with
the janitors, and when he is with the boys he hangs up the ermine
in the closet and becomes a jolly good fellow.
Big Tom Foley, leader of the Second District, fits in exactly, too.
Tom sells whisky, and good whisky, and he is able to take care of
himself against a half dozen thugs if he runs up against them on
Cherry Hill or in Chatharn Square. Pat Ryder and Johnnie Ahearn
of the Third and Fourth Districts are just the men for the places.
Ahearn's constituents are about half Irishmen and half Jews. He is
as popular with one race as with the other. He eats corned beef and
kosher meat with equal nonchalance, and it's all the same to him
whether he takes off his hat in the church or pulls it down over his
ears in the synagogue.
The other downtown leaders, Barney Martin of the Fifth, Tim
Sullivan of the Sixth, Pat Keahon of the Seventh, Florrie Sullivan
of the Eighth, Frank Goodwin of the Ninth, Julius Harburger of the
Tenth, Pete Dooling of the Eleventh, Joe Scully of the Twelfth,
Johnnie Oakley of the Fourteenth, and Pat Keenan of the Sixteenth
are just built to suit the people they have to deal with. They don't
go in for literary business much downtown, but these men are all
real gents, and that's what the people want-even the poorest
tenement dwellers. As you go farther uptown you find a rather
different kind of district leader. There's Victor Dowling who was
until lately the leader of the Twenty-fourth. He's a lulu. He knows
the Latin grammar backward. What's strange, he's a sensible young
fellow, too. About once in a century we come across a fellow like
that in Tammany politics. James J. Martin, leader of the
Twenty-seventh, is also something of a hightoner. and publishes a
law paper, while Thomas E. Rush, of the Twenty-ninth, is a
lawyer, and Isaac Hopper, of the Thirty-first, is a big contractor.
The downtown leaders wouldn't do uptown, and vice versa. So,
you see, these fool critics don't know what they're talkin' about
when they criticize Tammany Hall, the most perfect political
machine on earth.
Chapter 12. Dangers of the Dress Suit in Politics
PUTIN' on style don't pay in politics. The people won't stand for it.
If you've got an achin' for style, sit down on it till you have made
your pile and landed a Supreme Court Justiceship with a
fourteen-year term at $l7,OOO a year, or some job of that kind.
Then you've got about all you can get out of politics, and you can
afford to wear a dress suit all day and sleep in it all night if you
have a mind to. But, before you have caught onto your life meal
ticket, be simple. Live like your neighbors even if you have the
means to live better. Make 'the poorest man in your district feel
that he is your equal, or even a bit superior to you.
Above all things, avoid a dress suit. You have no idea of the harm
that dress suits have done in politics. They are not so fatal to young
politicians as civil service reform and drink, but they have scores
of victims. I will mention one sad case. After the big Tammany
victory in 1897, Richard Croker went down to Lakewood to make
up the slate of offices for Mayor Van Wyck to distribute. All the
district leaders and many more Tammany men went down there,
too, to pick up anything good that was goin.' There was nothin' but
dress suits at dinner at Lakewood, and Croker wouldn't let any
Tammany men go to dinner without them. Well, a bright young
West Side politician, who held a three-thousan dollar job in one of
the departments, went to Lakewood to ask Croker for something
better. He wore a dress suit for the first time in his hie. It was his
undoin'. He got stuck on himself. He thought he looked too
beautiful for anything, and when he came home he was a changed
man. As soon as he got to his house every evenin' he put on that
dress Suit and set around in it until bedtime. That didn't satisfy him
long. He wanted others to see how beautiful he was in a dress suit;
so he joined dancin' clubs and began goin' to all the balls that was
given in town. Soon he began to neglect his family. Then he took
to drinkin', and didn't pay any attention to his political work in the
district. The end came in less than a year. He was dismissed from
the department and went to the dogs. The other day I met him
rigged out almost like a hobo, but he still had a dress-suit vest on.
When I asked him what he was doin', he said: "Nothin' at present,
but I got a promise of a job enrollin' voters at Citizens' Union
head-quarters." Yes, a dress Suit had brought him that low!
I'll tell you another case right in my own Assembly District. A few
years ago I had as one of my lieutenants a man named Zeke
Thompson. He did fine work for me and I thought he had a bright
future. One day he came to me, said he intended to buy an option
on a house, and asked me to help him out. I like to see a young
man acquirin' property and I had so much confidence in Zeke that I
put up for him on the house,
A month or so afterwards I heard strange rumors. People told me
that Zeke was beginnin' to put on style. They said he had a billiard
table in his house and had hired Jap servants. I couldn't believe it.
The idea of a Democrat, a follower of George Washington Plunkitt
in the Fifteenth Assembly District havin' a billiard table and Jap
servants! One mornin' I called at the house to give Zeke a chance
to clear himself. A Jap opened the door for me. I saw the billiard
table- Zeke was guilty! When I got over the shock, I said to Zeke:
"You are caught with the goods on. No excuses will go. The
Democrats of this district ain't used to dukes and princes and we
wouldn't feel comfortable in your company. You'd overpower us.
You had better move up to the Nineteenth or Twenty-seventh
District, and hang a silk stocking on your door." He went up to the
Nineteenth, turned Republican, and was lookin' for an Albany job
the last I heard of him.
Now, nobody ever saw me puttin' on any style. I'm the same
Plunkitt I was when I entered politics forty years ago. That is why
the people of the district have confidence in me. If I went into the
stylish business, even I, Plunkitt, might be thrown down in the
district. That was shown pretty clearly in the senatorial fight last
year. A day before the election, my enemies circulated a report that
I had ordered a $10,000 automobile and a $l25 dress suit. I sent
Out contradictions as fast as I could, but I wasn't able to stamp out
the infamous slander before the votin' was over, and I suffered
some at the polls. The people wouldn't have minded much if I had
been accused of robbin' the city treasury, for they're used to
slanders of that kind in campaigns, but the automobile and the
dress suit were too much for them.
Another thing that people won't stand for is showin' off your
learnin'. That's just puttin' on style in another way. If you're makin'
speeches in a campaign, talk the language the people talk. Don't try
to show how the situation is by quotin' Shakespeare. Shakespeare
was all right in his way, but he didn't know anything about
Fifteenth District politics. If you know Latin and Greek and have a
hankerin' to work them off on somebody, hire a stranger to come
to your house and listen to you for a couple of hours; then go out
and talk the language of the Fifteenth to the people. I know it's an
awful temptation, the hankerin' to show off your learnin'. I've felt it
myself, but I always resist it. I know the awful consequences.
Chapter 13. On Municipal Ownership
I AM for municipal ownership on one condition: that the civil
service law be repealed. It's a grand idea-the city the railroads, the
gas works and all that. Just see how many thousands of new places
there would be for the workers in Tammany. Why, there would be
almost enough to go around, if no civil service law stood in the
way. My plan is this: first get rid of that infamous law, and then go
ahead and by degrees get municipal ownership.
Some of the reformers are sayin' that municipal ownership won't
do because it would give a lot of patronage to the politicians. How
those fellows mix things up when they argue! They're givin' the
strongest argument in favor of municipal ownership when they say
that. Who is better fitted to run the railroads and the gas plants and
the ferries than the men who make a business of lookin' after the
interests of the city? Who is more anxious to serve the city? Who
needs the jobs more?
Look at the Dock Department! The city owns the docks, and how
beautiful Tammany manages them! I can't tell you how many
places they provide for our workers. I know there is a lot of talk
about dock graft, but that talk comes from the outs. When the
Republicans had the docks under Low and Strong, you didn't hear
them sayin' anything about graft, did you? No; they' just went in
and made hay while the sun shone- That's always the case. When
the reformers are out they raise the yell that Tammany men should
be sent to jail. When they get in, they're so busy keepin' out of jail
themselves that they don't have no time to attack Tammany.
All I want is that municipal ownership be postponed till I get my
bill repealin' the civil service law before the next legislature. It
would be all a mess if every man who wanted a job would have to
run up against a civil service examination. For instance, if a man
wanted a job as motorman on a surface car, it's ten to one that they
would ask him: "Who wrote the Latin grammar, and, if so, why did
he write it? How many years were you at college? Is there any part
of the Greek language you don't know? State all you don't know,
and why you don't know it. Give a list of all the sciences with full
particulars about each one and how it came to be discovered.
Write out word for word the last ten decisions of the United States
Supreme Court and show if they conflict with the last ten decisions
of the police courts of New York City."
Before the would-be motorman left the civil service room, the
chances are he would be a raving lunatic Anyhow I wouldn't like to
ride on his car. Just here I want to say one last final word about
civil service. In the last ten years I have made an investigation
which I've kept quiet till this time. Now I have all the figures
together, and I'm ready to announce the result. My investigation
was to find out how many civil service reformers and how many
politicians were in state prisons. I discovered that there was forty
per cent more civil service reformers among the jailbirds. If any
legislative committee wants the detailed figures, I'll prove what I
say. I don't want to give the figures now, because I want to keep
them to back me up when I go to Albany to get the civil service
law repealed. Don't you think that when I've had my inning, the
civil service law will go down, and the people will see that the
politicians are all right, and that they ought to have the job of
runnin' things when municipal ownership comes?
One thing more about municipal ownership. If the city owned the
railroads, etc., salaries would be sure to go up. Higher salaries is
the cryin' need of the day. Municipal ownership would increase
them all along the line and would stir up such patriotism as New
York City never knew before. You can't be patriotic on a salary
that just keeps the wolf from the door. Any man who pretends he
can will bear watchin'. Keep your hand on your watch and
pocketbook when he's about. But, when a man has a good fat
salary, he finds himself hummin' "Hail Columbia," all unconscious
and he fancies, when he's ridin' in a trolley car, that the wheels are
always sayin': "Yankee Doodle Came to Town." I know how it is
myself. When I got my first good job from the city I bought up all
the firecrackers in my district to salute this glorious country. I
couldn't wait for the Fourth of July 1 got the boys on the block to
fire them off for me, and I felt proud of bein' an American. For a
long time after that I use to wake up nights singin' "The
Chapter 14. Tammany the Only Lastin' Democracy
I've seen more than one hundred "Democracies" rise and fall in
New York City in the last quarter of a century. At least a
half-dozen new so-called Democratic organizations are formed
every year. All of them go in to down Tammany and take its place,
but they seldom last more than a year or two, while Tammany's
like the everlastin' rocks, the eternal hills and the blockades on the
"L" road-it goes on forever.
I recall offhand the County Democracy, which was the only real
opponent Tammany has had in my time, the Irving Hall
Democracy, the New York State Democracy, the
German-American Democracy, the Protection Democracy, the
Independent County Democracy, the Greater New York
Democracy, the Jimmy O'Brien Democracy, the Delicatessen
Dealers' Democracy, the Silver Democracy, and the Italian
Democracy. Not one of them is livin' today, although I hear
somethin' about the ghost of the Greater New York Democracy
bein' seen on Broadway once or twice a year.
In the old days of the County Democracy, a new Democratic
organization meant some trouble for Tammany-for a time anyhow.
Nowadays a new Democracy means nothin' at all except that about
a dozen bone-hunters have got together for one campaign only to
try to induce Tammany to give them a job or two, or in order to get
in with the reformers for the same purpose. You might think that it
would cost a lot of money to get up one of these organizations and
keep it goin' for even one campaign, but, Lord bless you! it costs
next to nothin'. Jimmy O'Brien brought the manufacture of
"Democracies" down to an exact science, and reduced the cost of
production so as to bring it within the reach of all. Any man with
$50 can now have a "Democracy" of his own.
I've looked into the industry, and can give rock-bottom figures.
Here's the items of cost of a new "Democracy
A dinner to twelve bone-hunters $12.00
A speech on Jeffersonian Democracy 00.00
A proclamation of principles (typewriting) 2.00
Rent of a small room one month for headquarters 12.00
Twelve secondhand chairs 6.00
One secondhand table 2.00
Twenty-nine cuspidors 9.00
Sign painting 5.00
Is there any reason for wonder, then, that "Democracies" spring up
all over when a municipal campaign is comm' on? If you land even
one small job, you get a big return on your investment. You don't
have to pay for advertisin' in the papers. The New York papers
tumble over one another to give columns to any new organization
that comes out against Tammany. In describin' the formation of a
"Democracy" on the $50 basis, accordin' to the items I give, the
papers would say somethin' like this: "The organization of the
Delicatessen Democracy last night threatens the existence of
Tam-many Hall. It is a grand move for a new and pure Democracy
in this city. Well may the Tammany leaders be alarmed; panic has
already broke loose in Fourteenth Street. The vast crowd that
gathered at the launching of the new organization, the stirrin'
speeches and the proclamation of principles mean that, at last,
there is an uprisin' that will end Tammany's career of corruption.
The Delicatessen Democracy will open in a few days spacious
headquarters where all true Democrats may gather and prepare for
Say, ain't some of the papers awful gullible about politics? Talk
about come-ons from Iowa or Texas they ain't in it with the
childlike simplicity of these papers.
It's a wonder to me that more men don't go into this kind of
manufacturin' industry. It has bigger profits generally than the
green-goods business and none of the risks. And you don't have to
invest as much as the green-goods men. Just see what good things
some of these "Democracies" got in the last few years! The New
York State Democracy in 1897 landed a Supreme Court
Justiceship for the man who manufactured the concern-a
four-teen-year term at $17,500 a year, that is $245,000. You see,
Tammany was rather scared that year and was bluffed into givin'
this job to get the support of the State Democracy which, by the
way, went out of business quick and prompt the day after it got this
big plum. The next year the German Democracy landed a place of
the same kind. And then see how the Greater New York
Democracy worked the game on the reformers in 1901! The men
who managed this concern were former Tammanyites who had lost
their grip; yet they made the Citizens' Union innocents believe that
they were the real thing in the way of reformers, and that they had
100,000 voter back of them. They got the Borough President of
Manhattan, the President of the Board of Aldermen, the Register
and a lot of lesser places. it was the greatest bunco game of
And then, in 1894, when Strong was elected mayor, what a harvest
it was for all the little "Democracies', that was made to order that
year! Every one of them got somethin' good. In one case, all the
nine men in an organization got jobs payin' from $2000 to $5000. I
happen to know exactly what it cost to manufacture that
organization. It was $42.04. They left out the stationery, and had
only twenty-three cuspidors. The extra four cents was for two
The only reason I can imagine why more men don't go into this
industry is because they don't know about it. And just here it
strikes me that it might not be wise to publish what I've said.
Perhaps if it gets to be known what a snap this manufacture of
"Democracies" is, all the green-goods men, the bunco-steerers, and
the young Napoleons of finance will go into it and the public will
be humbugged more than it has been. But, after all, what
difference would it make? There's always a certain number of
suckers and a certain number of men lookin' for a chance to take
them in, and the suckers are sure to be took one way or another. It's
the everlastin' law of demand and supply.
Chapter 15. Concerning Gas in Politics
SINCE the eighty-cent gas bill was defeated in Albany,
everybody's talkin' about senators bein' bribed. Now, I wasn't in the
Senate last session, and I don't know the ins and outs of everything
that was done, but I can tell you that the legislators are often
hauled over the coals when they are all on the level I've been there
and I know. For instance, when I voted in the Senate in 1904, for
the Remsen Bill that the newspapers called the "Astoria Gas Grab
Bill," they didn't do a thing to me. The papers kept up a howl about
all the supporters of the bill bein' bought up by the Consolidated
Gas Company, and the Citizens' Union did me the honor to call me
the commander-in-chief of the "Black Horse Cavalry."
The fact is that I was workin' for my district all this time, and I
wasn't bribed by nobody. There's several of these gashouses in the
district, and I wanted to get them over to Astoria for three reasons:
first, because they're nuisances; second, because there's no votes in
them for me any longer; third, because-well, I had a little private
reason which I'll explain further on. I needn't explain how they're
nuisances. They're worse than open sewers. Still, I might have
stood that if they hadn't degenerated so much in the last few years.
Ah, gashouses ain't what they used to be! Not very long ago, each
gashouse was good for a couple of hundred votes. All the men
employed in them were Irish-men and Germans who lived in the
district. Now, it is all different. The men are dagoes who live
across in Jersey and take no interest in the district. What's the use
of havin' ill-smellin' gashouses if there's no votes in them?
Now. as to my private reason. Well, I'm a business man and go in
for any business that's profitable and honest. Real estate is one of
my specialties. I know the value of every foot of ground in my
district, and I calculated long ago that if them gashouses was
removed, surroundin' property would go up 100 per cent. When the
Remsen Bill, providin' for the removal of the gashouses to Queens
County came up. I said to myself: "George, hasn't your chance
come?" I answered: "Sure." Then I sized up the chances of the bill.
I found it was certain to pass the Senate and the Assembly, and I
got assurances straight from headquarters that Governor Odell
would sign it. Next I came down to the city to find out the mayor's
position. I got it straight that he would approve the bill, too.
Can't you guess what I did then? Like any sane man who had my
information, I went in and got options on a lot of the property
around the gashouses. Well, the bill went through the Senate and
the Assembly all right and the mayor signed it, but Odell
backslided at the last minute and the whole game fell through. If it
had succeeded, I guess I would have been accused of graftin'. What
I want to know is, what do you call it when I got left and lost a pot
I not only lost money, but I was abused for votin' for the bill.
Wasn't that outrageous? They said I was in with the Consolidated
Gas Company and all other kinds of rot, when I was really only
workin' for my district and tryin' to turn an honest penny on the
side. Anyhow I got a little fun out of the business. When the
Remsen Bill was up, I was tryin' to put through a bill of my own,
the Spuyten Duyvil Bill, which provided for fillin' in some land
under water that the New York Central Railroad wanted. Well, the
Remsen managers were afraid of bein' beaten and they went
around offerin' to make trades with senators and assemblymen who
had bills they were anxious to pass. They came to me and offered
six votes for my Spuyten Duyvil Bill in exchange for my vote on
the Remsen Bill. I took them up in a hurry, and they felt pretty sore
afterwards when they heard I was goin' to vote for the Remsen Bill
A word about that Spuyten Duyvil Bill-I was criticized a lot for
introducin' it. They said I was workin' in the interest of the New
York Central, and was goin' to get the contract for fillin' in. The
fact is, that the fillin' in was a good thing for the city, and if it
helped the New York Central, too, what of it? The railroad is a
great public institution, and I was never an enemy of public
institutions. As to the contract, it hasn't come along yet. If it does
come, it will find me at home at all proper and reasonable hours, if
there is a good profit in sight.
The papers and some people are always ready to find wrong
motives in what us statesmen do. If we bring about some big
improvement that benefits the city and it just happens, as a sort of
coincidence, that we make a few dollars out of the improvement,
they say we are grafters. But we are used to this kind of
ingratitude. It falls to the lot of all statesmen, especially Tammany
statesmen. All we can do is to bow our heads in silence and wait
till time has cleared our memories.
Just think of mentionin' dishonest graft in connection with the
name of George Washington Plunkitt, the man who gave the city
its magnificent chain of parks, its Washington Bridge, its
Speedway, its Museum of Natural History, its One Hundred and
Fifty-fifth Street Viaduct and its West Side Courthouse! 1 was the
father of the bills that provided for all these; yet, because I
supported the Remsen and Spuyten Duyvil bills, some people have
questioned my honest motives. If that's the case, how can you
expect legislators to fare who are not the fathers of the parks, the
Washington Bridge, the Speedway and the Viaduct?
Now, understand; I ain't defendin' the senators who killed the
eighty-cent gas bill. I don't know why they acted as they did; I only
want to impress the idea to go slow before you make up your mind
that a man, occupyin' the exalted position that 1 held for so many
years, has done wrong. For all I know, these senators may have
been as honest and high minded about the gas bill as I was about
the Remsen and Spuyten Duyvil bills.
Chapter 16. Plunkitt's Fondest Dream
The time is comm' and though I'm no youngster, I may see it, when
New York City will break away from the State and become a state
itself. It's got to come. The feelin' between this city and the
hayseeds that make a livin' by plunderin' it is every bit as bitter as
the feelin' between the North and South before the war. And, let
me tell you, if there ain't a peaceful separation before long, we
may have the horrors of civil war right here in New York State.
Why, I know a lot of men in my district who would like nothin'
better today than to go out gunnin' for hayseeds!
New York City has got a bigger population than moat of the states
in the Union. It's got more wealth than any dozen of them. Yet the
people here, as I explained before, are nothin' but slaves of the
Albany gang. We have stood the slavery a long, long time, but the
uprisin' is near at hand. It will be a fight for liberty, just like the
American Revolution. We'll get liberty peacefully if we can; by
cruel war if we must.
Just think how lovely things would be here if we had a Tammany
Governor and Legislature meetin', say in the neighborhood of
Fifty-ninth Street, and a Tammany Mayor and Board of Aldermen
doin' business in City Hall! How sweet and peaceful everything
would go on!
The people wouldn't have to bother about nothin'. Tammany would
take care of everything for them in its nice quiet way. You
wouldn't hear of any conflicts between the state and city
authorities. They would settle every-thing pleasant and
comfortable at Tammany Hall, and every bill introduced in the
Legislature by Tammany would be sure to go through. The
Republicans wouldn't count.
Imagine how the city would be built up in a short time! At present
we can't make a public improvement of any consequence without
goin' to Albany for permission, and most of the time we get turned
down when we go there. But, with a Tammany Governor and
Legislature up at Fifty-ninth Street, how public works would hum
here! The Mayor and Aldermen could decide on an improvement,
telephone the Capitol, have a bill put through in a jiffy and-there
you are. We could have a state constitution, too, which would
extend the debt limit so that we could issue a whole lot more
bonds. As things are now, all the money spent for docks, for
instance, is charged against the city in calculatin' the debt limit,
although the Dock Department provides immense revenues. It's the
same with some other departments. This humbug would be
dropped if Tammany ruled at the Capitol and the City Hall, and
the city would have money to burn.
Another thing-the constitution of the new state wouldn't have a
word about civil service, and if any man dared to introduce any
kind of a civil service bill in the Legislature, he would be fired out
the window. Then we would have government of the people by the
people who were elected to govern them. That's the kind of
government Lincoln meant. 0 what a glorious future for the city!
Whenever I think of it I feel like goin' out and celebratin', and I'm
really almost sorry that I don't drink.
You may ask what would become of the upstate people if New
York City left them in the lurch and went into the State business
on its own account. Well, we wouldn't be under no obligation to
provide for them; still I would be in favor of helpin' them along for
a while until they could learn to work and earn an honest livin',
just like the United States Government looks after the Indians.
These hayseeds have been so used to livin' off of New York City
that they would be helpless after we left them. It wouldn't do to let
them starve. We might make some sort of an appropriation for
them for a few years, but it would be with the distinct
understandin' that they must get busy right away and learn to
support themselves. If, after say five years, they weren't
self-supportin', we could withdraw the appropriation and let them
shift for themselves. The plan might succeed and it might not.
We'd be doin' our duty anyhow.
Some persons might say: "But how about it if the hayseed
politicians moved down here and went in to get control of the
government of the new state?" We could provide against that easy
by passin' a law that these politicians couldn't come below the
Bronx without a sort of passport limitin' the time of their stay here,
and forbiddin' them to monkey with politics here. I don't know just
what kind of a bill would be required to fix this, but with a
Tammany Constitution, Governor, Legislature and Mayor, there
would be no trouble in settlin' a little matter of that sort.
Say, I don't wish I was a poet, for if I was, I guess I'd be livin' in a
garret on no dollars a week instead of runnin' a great contractin'
and transportation business which is doin' pretty well, thank you;
but, honest, now, the notion takes me sometimes to yell poetry of
the red-hot.hail-glorious-land kind when I think of New York City
as a state by itself.
Chapter 17. Tammany's Patriotism
TAMMANY's the most patriotic organization on earth,
notwithstandin' the fact that the civil service law is sappin' the
foundations of patriotism all over the country. Nobody pays any
attention to the Fourth of July any longer except Tammany and the
small boy. When the Fourth comes, the reformers, with
Revolutionary names parted in the middle, run off to Newport or
the Adirondacks to get out of the way of the noise and everything
that reminds them of the glorious day. How different it is with
Tammany! The very constitution of the Tammany Society requires
that we must assemble at the wigwam on the Fourth, regardless of
the weather, and listen to the readin' of the Declaration of
Independence and patriotic speeches.
You ought to attend one of these meetin's. They're a liberal
education in patriotism. The great hall upstairs is filled with five
thousand people, suffocatin' from heat and smoke. Every man Jack
of these five thousand knows that down in the basement there's a
hundred cases of champagne and two hundred kegs of beer ready
to flow when the signal is given. Yet that crowd stick to their seats
without turnin' a hair while, for four solid hours, the Declaration of
Independence is read, long-winded orators speak, and the glee dub
sings itself hoarse.
Talk about heroism in the battlefield! That comes and passes away
in a moment. You ain't got time to be anything but heroic. But just
think of five thousand men sittin' in the hottest place on earth for
four long hours, with parched lips and gnawin' stomachs, and
knowin' all the time that the delights of the oasis in the desert were
only two flights downstairs! Ah, that is the highest kind of
patriotism, the patriotism o[ long sufferin' and endurance. What
man wouldn't rather face a cannon for a minute or two than thirst
for four hours, with champagne and beer almost under his nose?
And then see how they applaud and yell when patriotic things are
said! As soon as the man on the platform starts off with "when, in
the course of human events," word goes around that it's the
Declaration of Independence, and a mighty roar goes up. The
Declaration ain't a very short document and the crowd has heard it
on every Fourth but they give it just as fine a send off as if it was
brand-new and awful excitin'. Then the "long talkers" get in their
work, that is two or three orators who are good for an hour each.
Heat never has any effect on these men. They use every minute of
their time. Sometimes human nature gets the better of a man in the
audience and he begins to nod, but he always wakes up with a
hurrah for the Declaration of Independence.
The greatest hero of the occasion is the Grand Sachem of the
Tammany Society who presides. He and the rest of us Sachems
come on the stage wearin' stovepipe hats, accordin' to the
constitution, but we can shed ours right off, while the Grand
Sachem is required to wear his hat all through the celebration.
Have you any idea what that means? Four hours under a big silk
hat in a hall where the heat registers 110 and the smoke 250! And
the Grand Sachem is expected to look pleasant all the time and say
nice things when introducin' the speakers! Often his hand goes to
his hat, unconscious-like, then he catches himself up in time and
looks around like a man who is in the tenth story of a burnin'
building' seekin' a way to escape. I believe that Fourth-of-July silk
hat shortened the life of one of our Grand Sachems, the late
Supreme Court Justice Smyth, and I know that one of our Sachems
refused the office of Grand Sachem because he couldn't get up
sufficient patriotism to perform this four-hour hat act. You see,
there's degrees of patriotism just as there's degrees in everything
You don't hear of the Citizens' Union people holdin' Fourth-of-July
celebrations under a five-pound silk hat, or any other way, do you?
The Cits take the Fourth like a dog I had when I was a boy. That
dog knew as much as some Cits and he acted just like them about
the glorious day. Exactly forty-eight hours before each Fourth of
July, the dog left our house on a run and hid himself in the Bronx
woods. The day after the Fourth he turned up at home as regular as
clockwork. He must have known what a dog is up against on the
Fourth. Anyhow, he kept out of the way. The name-parted-in-the-
middle aristocrats act in just the same way. They don't want to be
annoyed with firecrackers and the Declaration of Independence,
and when they see the Fourth comm' they hustle off to the woods
like my dog.
Tammany don't only show its patriotism at Fourth-of-July
celebrations. It's always on deck when the country needs its
services. After the Spanish-American War broke Out, John J.
Scannell, the Tammany leader of the Twenty-fifth District, wrote
to Governor Black offerin' to raise a Tammany regiment to go to
the front. If you want proof, go to Tammany Hall and see the
beautiful set of engrossed resolutions about this regiment. It's true
that the Governor didn't accept the offer, but it showed Tammany's
patriotism. Some enemies of the organization have said that the
offer to raise the regiment was made after the Governor let it be
known that no more volunteers were wanted, but that's the talk of
Now, a word about Tammany's love for the American flag. Did
you ever see Tammany Hall decorated for a celebration? It's just a
mass of flags. They even take down the window shades and put
flags in place of them. There's flags everywhere except on the
floors. We don't care for expense where the American flag is
concerned, especially after we have won an election. In 1904 we
originated the custom of givin' a small flag to each man as he
entered Tammany Hall for the Fourth-of-July celebration. It took
like wildfire. The men waved their flags whenever they cheered
and the sight made me feel so patriotic that I forgot all about civil
service for a while. And the good work of the flags didn't stop
there. The men carried them home and gave them to the children,
and the kids got patriotic, too. Of course, it all cost a pretty penny,
but what of that? We had won at the polls the precedin' November,
had the offices and could afford to make an extra investment in
Chapter 18. On the Use of Money in Politics
THE civil service gang is always howlin' about candidates and
officeholders puttin' up money for campaigns and about
corporations chippin' in. They might as well howl about givin'
contributions to churches. A political organization has to have
money for its business as well as a church, and who has more right
to put up than the men who get the good things that are goin'?
Take, for instance, a great political concern like Tammany Hall It
does missionary work like a church, it's got big expenses and it's
got to be supported by the faithful. If a corporation sends in a
check to help the good work of the Tammany Society, why
shouldn't we take it like other missionary societies? Of course, the
day may come when we'll reject the money of the rich as tainted,
but it hadn't come when I left Tammany Hall at 11:25 A.M. today.
Not long ago some newspapers had fits became the Assemblyman
from my district said he had put up $500 when he was nominated
for the Assembly last year. Every politician in town laughed at
these papers. I don't think there was even a Citizens' Union man
who didn't know that candidates of both parties have to chip in for
campaign expenses. The sums they pay are accordin' to their
salaries and the length of their terms of office, if elected. Even
candidates for the Supreme Court have to fall in line. A Supreme
Court Judge in New York County gets $17,500 a year, and he's
expected, when nominated, to help along the good cause with a
year's salary. Why not? He has fourteen years on the bench ahead
of him, and ten thousand other lawyers would be willin' to put up
twice as much to be in his shoes. Now, I ain't sayin' that we sell
nominations. That's a different thing altogether. There's no auction
and no regular biddin'. The man is picked out and somehow he
gets to understand what's expected of him in the way of a
contribution, and he ponies up-all from gratitude to the
organization that honored him, see?
Let me tell you an instance that shows the difference between
sellin' nominations and arrangin' them in the way I described. A
few years ago a Republican district leader controlled the
nomination for Congress in his Congressional district. Four men
wanted it. At first the leader asked for bids privately, but decided
at last that the best thing to do was to get the four men together in
the back room of a certain saloon and have an open auction. When
be had his men lined up, he got on a chair, told about the value of
the goods for sale, and asked for bids in regular auctioneer style.
The highest bidder got the nomination for $5000. Now, that wasn't
right at all. These things ought to be always fixed up nice and
As to officeholders, they would be ingrates if they didn't contribute
to the organization that put them in office. They needn't be
assessed. That would be against the law. But they know what's
expected of them, and if they happen to forget they can be
reminded polite and courteous. Dan Donegan, who used to be the
Wiskinkie of the Tammany Society, and received contributions
from grateful officeholders, had a pleasant way of remindin'. If a
man forgot his duty to the organization that made him, Dan would
call on the man, smile as sweet as you please and say: "You haven't
been round at the Hall lately, have you?" If the man tried to slide
around the question, Dan would say: "It's gettin' awful cold." Then
he would have a fit of shiverin' and walk away. What could be
more polite and, at the same time, more to the point? No force, no
threats-only a little shiverin' which any man is liable to even in
Just here, I want to charge one more crime to the infamous civil
service law. It has made men turn ungrateful. A dozen years ago,
when there wasn't much civil service business in the city
government, and when the administration could turn out almost
any man holdin' office, Dan's shiver took effect every time and
there was no ingratitude in the city departments. But when the civil
service law came in and all the clerks got lead-pipe cinches on
their jobs, ingratitude spread right away. Dan shivered and shook
till his bones rattled, but many of the city employees only laughed
at him. One day, I remember, he tackled a clerk in the Public
Works Department, who used to give up pretty regular, and, after
the usual question, began to shiver. The clerk smiled. Dan shook
till his hat fell off. The clerk took ten cents out of his pocket,
handed it to Dan and said: "Poor man! Go and get a drink to warm
yourself up." Wasn't that shameful? And yet, if it hadn't been for
the civil service law, that clerk would be contributin' right along to
The civil service law don't cover everything, however. There's lots
of good jobs outside its clutch, and the men that get them are
grateful every time. I'm not speakin' of Tammany Hall alone,
remember! It's the same with the Republican Federal and State
officeholders, and every organization that has or has had jobs to
give out-except, of course, the Citizens' Union. The Cits held
office only a couple of years and, knowin' that they would never be
in again, each Cit officeholder held on for dear life to every dollar
that came his way.
Some people say they can't understand what becomes of all the
money that's collected for campaigns. They would understand fast
enough if they were district lead-em. There's never been half
enough money to go around. Besides the expenses for meetin's,
bands and all that, there's the bigger bill for the district workers
who get men to the polls. These workers are mostly men who want
to serve their country but can't get jobs in the city departments on
account of the civil service law. They do the next best thing by
keepin' track of the voters and seem' that they come to the polls
and vote the right way. Some of these deservin' citizens have to
make enough on registration and election days to keep them the
rest of the year. Isn't it right that they should get a share of the
Just remember that there's thirty-five Assembly districts in New
York County, and thirty-six district leaders reachin' out for the
Tammany dough-bag for somethin' to keep up the patriotism of ten
thousand workers, and you wouldn't wonder that the cry for more,
more, is goin' up from every district organization now and
Chapter 19. The Successful Politician Does Not Drink
I HAVE explained how to succeed in politics. I want to add that no
matter how well you learn to play the political game, you won't
make a lastin' success of it if you're a drinkin' man. I never take a
drop of any kind of intoxicatin' liquor. I ain't no fanatic. Some of
the saloonkeepers are my best friends, and I don't mind goin' into a
saloon any day with my friends. But as a matter of business I leave
whisky and beer and the rest of that stuff alone. As a matter of
business, too, I take for my lieutenants in my district men who
don't drink. I tried the other kind for several years, but it didn't pay.
They cost too much. For instance, I had a young man who was one
of the best hustlers in town. He knew every man in the district, was
popular everywhere and could induce a half-dead man to come to
the polls on election day. But, regularly, two weeks before
election, he started on a drunk, and I had to hire two men to guard
him day and night and keep him sober enough to do his work. That
cost a lot of money, and I dropped the young man after a while.
Maybe you think I'm unpopular with the saloonkeepers because 1
don't drink. You're wrong. The most successful saloonkeepers
don't drink themselves and they understand that my temperance is
a business proposition. just like their own. I have a saloon under
my headquarters. If a saloonkeeper gets into trouble. he always
knows that Senator Plunkitt is the man to help him out. If there is a
bill in the Legislature makin' it easier for the liquor dealers, I am
for it every time. I'm one of the best friends the saloon men
have-but I don't drink their whisky. I won't go through the
temperance lecture dodge and tell you how many' bright young
men I've seen fall victims to intemperance, but I'll tell you that I
could name dozens-young men who had started on the road to
statesmanship. who could carry their districts every time, and who
could turn out any vote you wanted at the primaries. I honestly
believe that drink is the greatest curse of the day. except. of
course. civil service. and that it has driven more young men to ruin
than anything except civil service examinations.
Look at the great leaders of Tammany Hall! No regular drinkers
among them. Richard Croker's strongest drink was vichy. Charlie
Murphy takes a glass of wine at dinner sometimes. but he don't go
beyond that A drinkin' man wouldn't last two weeks as leader of
Tam-many Hall. Nor can a man manage an assembly district long
if he drinks. He's got to have a clear head all the time. I could
name ten men who, in the last few years. lost their grip in their
districts because they began drink-in'. There's now thirty-six
district leaders in Tammany Hall, and I don't believe a half-dozen
of them ever drink anything except at meals. People have got an
idea that because the liquor men are with us in campaigns. our
district leaders spend most of their time leanin' against bars. There
couldn't be a wronger idea. The district leader makes a business of
politics. gets his livin' out of it, and, in order to succeed. he's got to
keep sober just like in any other business.
Just take as examples "Big Tim" and "Little Tim" Sullivan. They're
known all over the country as the Bowery leaders and, as there's
nothin' but saloons on the Bowery, people might think that they are
hard drinkers. The fact is that neither of them has ever touched a
drop of liquor in his life of even smoked a cigar. Still they don't
make no pretenses of being better than anybody else, and don't go
around deliverin' temperance lectures. Big Tim made money out of
liquor-sellin' it to other people. That's the only way to get good out
Look at all the Tammany heads of city departments? There's not a
real drinkin' man in the lot. Oh, yes, there are some prominent men
in the organization who drink sometimes, but they are not the men
who have power. They're ornaments, fancy speakers and all that,
who make a fine show behind the footlights, but am I in it when it
comes to directin' the city government and the Tammany
organization. The men who sit in the executive committee room at
Tammany Hall and direct things are men who celebrate on
apollinaris or vichy. Let me tell you what I saw on election night in
1897, when the Tammany ticket swept the city: Up to 10 P.M.
Croker, John F. Carroll, Tim Sullivan, Charlie Murphy, and myself
sat in the committee room receivin' returns. When nearly all the
city was heard from and we saw that Van Wyck was elected by a
big majority, I invited the crowd to go across the street for a little
celebration. A lot of small politicians followed us, expectin' to see
magnums of champagne opened. The waiters in the restaurant
expected it, too, and you never saw a more disgusted lot of waiters
when they got our orders. Here's the orders: Croker, vichy and
bicarbonate of soda; Carroll, seltzer lemonade; Sullivan,
apollinaris; Murphy, vichy; Plunkitt, ditto. Before midnight we
were all in bed, and next mornin' we were up bright and early
attendin' to business, while other men were nursin' swelled heads.
Is there anything the matter with temperance as a pure business
Chapter 20. Bosses Preserve the Nation
WHEN I retired from the Senate, I thought I would take a good,
long rest, such a rest as a man needs who has held office for about
forty years, and has held four different offices in one year and
drawn salaries from three of them at the same time. Drawin' so
many salaries is rather fatiguin', you know, and, as I said, I started
out for a rest; but when I seen how things were goin' in New York
State, and how a great big black shadow hung over us, I said to
myself: "No rest for you, George. Your work ain't done. Your
country still needs you and you mustn't lay down yet."
What was the great big black shadow? It was the primary election
law, amended so as to knock out what are called the party bosses
by lettin' in everybody at the primaries and givin' control over them
to state officials. Oh, yes, that is a good way to do up the so-called
bosses, but have you ever thought what would become of the
country if the bosses were put out of business, and their places
were taken by a lot of cart-tail orators and college graduates? It
would mean chaos. It would be just like takin' a lot of dry-goods
clerks and settin' them to run express trains on the New York
Central Railroad. It makes my heart bleed to think of it. Ignorant
people are always talkin' against party bosses, but just wait till the
bosses are gone! Then, and not until then, will they get the right
sort of epitaphs, as Patrick Henry or Robert Emmet said.
Look at the bosses of Tammany Hall in the last twenty years. What
magnificent men! To them New York City owes pretty much all it
is today. John Kelly, Richard Croker, and Charles F. Murphy-what
names in American history compares with them, except
Washington and Lincoln? They built up the grand Tammany
organization, and the organization built up New York. Suppose the
city had to depend for the last twenty years on irresponsible
concerns like the Citizens' Union, where would it be now? You can
make a pretty good guess if you recall the Strong and Low
administrations when there was no boss, and the heads of
departments were at odds all the time with each other, and the
Mayor was at odds with the lot of them. They spent so much time
in arguin' and makin' grandstand play, that the interests of the city
were forgotten. Another administration of that kind would put
New York back a quarter of a century.
Then see how beautiful a Tammany city government runs, with a
so-called boss directin' the whole shootin' match! The machinery
moves so noiseless that you wouldn't think there was any. If there's
any differences of opinion. the Tammany leader settles them
quietly. and his orders go every time. How nice it is for the people
to feel that they can get up in the mornin' without hem' afraid of
seem' in the papers that the Commissioner of Water Supply has
sandbagged the Dock Commissioner, and that the Mayor and
heads of the departments have been taken to the police court as
witnesses! That's no joke. I remember that, under Strong, some
commissioners came very near sandbaggin' one another.
Of course, the newspapers like the reform administration. Why?
Because these administrations, with their daily rows, furnish as
racy news as prizefights or divorce cases. Tammany don't care to
get in the papers. It goes right along attendin' to business quietly
and only wants to be let alone. That's one reason why the papers
are against us.
Some papers complain that the bosses get rich while devotin' their
lives to the interests of the city. What of it? If opportunities for
turnin' an honest dollar comes their 'way, why shouldn't they take
advantage of them, just as I have done? As I said, in another talk,
there is honest graft and dishonest graft. The bosses go in for the
former. There is so much of it in this big town that they would be
fools to go in for dishonest graft.
Now, the primary election law threatens to do away with the boss
and make the city government a menagerie. That's why I can't take
the rest I counted on. I'm goin' to propose a bill for the next session
of the legislature repealin' this dangerous law, and leavin' the
primaries entirely to the organizations themselves, as they used to
be. Then will return the good old times, when our district leaders
could have nice comfortable primary elections at some place
selected by themselves and let in only men that they approved of
as good Democrats. Who is a better judge of the Democracy of a
man who offers his vote than the leader of the district? Who is
better equipped to keep out undesirable voters?
The men who put through the primary law are the same crowd that
stand for the civil service blight and they have the same objects in
view-the destruction of governments by party, the downfall of the
constitution and hell generally.
Chapter 21. Concerning Excise
ALTHOUGH I'm not a drinkin' man myself, I mourn with the poor
liquor dealers of New York City, who are taxed and oppressed for
the benefit of the farmers up the state. The Raines liquor law is
infamous It takes away nearly all the profits of the saloonkeepers,
and then turns in a large part of the money to the State treasury to
relieve the hayseeds from taxes. Ah, who knows how many honest,
hard-workin' saloonkeepers have been driven to untimely graves
by this law! I know personally of a half-dozen who committed
suicide- because they couldn't pay the enormous license fee, arid I
have heard of many others. Every time there is an increase of the
fee, there is an increase in the suicide record of the city. Now,
some of these Republican hayseeds are talkin' about makin' the
liquor tax $1500, or even $2000 a year. That would mean the
suicide of half of the liquor dealers in the city.
Just see how these poor fellows are oppressed all around! First,
liquor is taxed in the hands of the manufacturer by the United
States Government; second, the wholesale dealer pays a special tax
to the government; third, the retail dealer is specially taxed by the
United States Government; fourth, the retail dealer has to pay a big
tax to the State government.
Now, liquor dealing is criminal or it ain't. If it's criminal, the men
engaged in it ought to be sent to prison. If it ain't criminal, they
ought to be protected and encouraged to make all the profit they
honestly can. If it's right to tax a saloonkeeper $1000, it's right to
put a heavy tax on dealers in other beverages-in milk, for
instance-and make the dairyrnen pay up. But what a howl would
be raised if a bill was introduced in Albany to compel the farmers
to help support the State government! What would be said of a law
that put a tax of, say $60 on a grocer, $150 on a dry-goods man,
and $500 more if he includes the other goods that are kept in a
If the Raines law gave the money extorted from the saloonkeepers
to the city, there might be some excuse for the tax. We would get
some benefit from it, but it gives a big part of the tax to local
option localities where the people are always shoutin' that liquor
dealin' is immoral. Ought these good people be subjected to the
immoral influence of money taken from the saloon tainted
money? Out of respect for the tender consciences of these pious
people, the Raines law ought to exempt them from all
contamination from the plunder that comes from the saloon traffic.
Say, mark that sarcastic. Some people who ain't used to fine
sarcasm might think I meant it.
The Raines people make a pretense that the high license fee
promotes temperance. It's just the other way around. It makes more
intemperance and, what is as bad, it makes a monopoly in dram
shops. Soon the saloons will be in the hands of a vast trust' and any
stuff can be sold for whisky or beer. It's gettin' that way already.
Some of the poor liquor dealers in my district have been forced to
sell wood alcohol for whisky, and many deaths have followed. A
half-dozen men died in a couple of days from this kind of whisky
which was forced down their throats by the high liquor tax. If they
raise the tax higher, wood alcohol will be too costly, and I guess
some dealers will have to get down to kerosene oil and add to the
The way the Raines law divides the different classes of licenses is
also an outrage. The sumptuous hotel saloons, with $10,000
paintin's and bricky-brac and Oriental splendors gets off easier
than a shanty on the rocks, by the water's edge in my district where
boatmen drink their grog, and the only ornaments is a three-
cornered mirror nailed to the wall, and a chromo of the fight
between Tom Hyer and Yankee Sullivan. Besides, a premium is
put on places that sell liquor not to be drunk on the premises, but
to be taken home. Now, I want to declare that from my experience
in New York City, I would rather see rum sold in the dram-shops
unlicenced, provided the rum is swallowed on the spot, than to
encourage, by a low tax, "bucket-shops" from which the stuff is
carried into the tenements at all hours of the day and night and
make drunkenness and debauchery among the women and
children. A "bucket-shop" in the tenement district means a cheap.
so-called distillery, where raw spirits, poisonous colorin' matter
and water are sold for brandy and whisky at ten cents a quart, and
carried away in buckets and pitchers; I have always noticed that
there are many undertakers wherever the "bucket-shop" flourishes,
and they have no dull seasons.
I want it understood that I'm not an advocate of the liquor dealers
or of drinkin'. I think every man would be better off if he didn't
take any intoxicatin' drink at all, but as men will drink, they ought
to have good stuff without impoverishin' themselves by goin' to
fancy places and without riskin' death by goin' to poor places. The
State should look after their interests as well as the interests of
those who drink nothin' stronger than milk. Now, as to the liquor
dealers themselves. They ain't the criminals that cantin' hypocrites
say they are. I know lots of them and I know that, as a rule, they're
good honest citizens who conduct their business in a straight,
honorable way. At a convention of the liquor dealers a few years
ago, a big city official welcomed them on behalf of the city and
said: "Go on elevatin' your standard higher and higher. Go on with
your good work. Heaven will bless YOU!" That was puttin' it just a
little strong, but the sentiment was all right and I guess the speaker
went a bit further than he intended in his enthusiasm over meetin'
such a fine set of men and, perhaps, dinin' with them.
Chapter 22. A Parting Word on the Future of the Democratic Party
THE Democratic party of the nation ain't dead, though it's been
givin' a lifelike imitation of a corpse for several years. It can't die
while it's got Tammany for its backbone. The trouble is that the
party's been chasm' after theories and stayin' up nights readin'
books instead of studyin' human nature and actin' accordin', as I've
ad-vised in tellin' how to hold your district. In two Presidential
campaigns, the leaders talked themselves red in the face about
silver bein' the best money and gold hem' no good, and they tried
to prove it out of books. Do you think the people cared for all that
guff? No. They heartily indorsed what Richard Croker said at die
Hoffman House one day in 1900. "What's the use of discus-sin'
what's the best kind of money?" said Croker. "I'm in favor of all
kinds of money-the more the better." See how a real Tammany
statesman can settle in twenty-five words a problem that
monopolized two campaigns!
Then imperialism. The Democratic party spent all its breath on
that in the last national campaign. Its position was all right, sure,
but you can't get people excited about the Philippines. They've got
too much at home to interest them; they're too busy makin' a livin'
to bother about the niggers in the Pacific. The party's got to drop
all them put-you-to-sleep issues and come out in 1908 for
somethin' that will wake the people up; somethin' that will make it
worth while to work for the party.
There's just one issue that would set this country on fire. The
Democratic party should say in the first plank of its platform: "We
hereby declare, in national convention assembled, that the
paramount issue now, always and forever, is the abolition of the
iniquitous and villainous civil service laws which are destroyin' all
patriotism, ruin in' the country and takin' away good jobs from
them that earn them. We pledge ourselves, if our ticket is elected,
to repeal those laws at once and put every civil service reformer in
Just imagine the wild enthusiasm of the party, if that plank was
adapted, and the rush of Republicans to join us in restorin' our
country to what it was before this college professor's nightmare,
called civil service reform, got hold of it! Of course, it would he
all right to work in the platform some stuff about the tariff and
sound money and the Philippines, as no platform seems to he
complete without them, but they wouldn't count. The people would
read only the first plank and then hanker for election day to come
to put the Democratic party in office.
I see a vision. I see the civil service monster lyin' flat on the
ground. I see the Democratic party standin' over it with foot on its
neck and wearin' the crown of victory. I see Thomas Jefferson
lookin' out from a cloud and sayin': "Give him another
sockdologer; finish him"' And I see millions of men wavin' their
hats and singin' "Glory Hallelujah!"
Chapter 23. Strenuous Life of the Tammany District Leader
Note: This chapter is based on extracts from Plunkitt's Diary and
on my daily observation of the work of the district leader.-W.L.R.
THE life of the Tammany district leader is strenuous. To his work
is due the wonderful recuperative power of the organization.
One year it goes down in defeat and the prediction is made that it
will never again raise its head. The district leader, undaunted by
defeat, collects his scattered forces, organizes them as only
Tammany knows how to organize, and in a little while the
organization is as strong as ever.
No other politician in New York or elsewhere is exactly like the
Tammany district leader or works as he does. As a rule, he has no
business or occupation other than politics. He plays politics every
day and night in the year, and his headquarters bears the
inscription, "Never closed."
Everybody in the district knows him. Everybody knows where to
find him, and nearly everybody goes to him for assistance of one
sort or another, especially the poor of the tenements.
He is always obliging. He will go to the police courts to put in a
good word for the "drunks and disorderlies" or pay their fines, if a
good word is not effective. He will attend christenings, weddings,
and funerals. He will feed the hungry and help bury the dead.
A philanthropist? Not at all He is playing politics all the time.
Brought up in Tammany Hall, he has learned how to reach the
hearts of the great mass of voters. He does not bother about
reaching their heads. It is his belief that arguments and campaign
literature have never gained votes.
He seeks direct contact with the people, does them good turns
when he can, and relies on their not forgetting him on election day.
His heart is always in his work, too, for his subsistence depends on
If he holds his district and Tammany is in power, he is amply
rewarded by a good office and the opportunities that go with it.
What these opportunities are has been shown by the quick rise to
wealth of so many Tammany district leaders. With the examples
before him of Richard Croker, once leader of the Twentieth
District; John F. Carroll, formerly leader of the Twenty-ninth;
Timothy ("Dry Dollar") Sullivan, late leader of the Sixth, and
many others, he can always look forward to riches and ease while
he is going through the drudgery of his daily routine.
This is a record of a day's work by Plunkitt:
2 A.M.: Aroused from sleep by the ringing Of his doorbell; went to
the door and found a bartender, who asked him to go to the police
station and ball out a saloon-keeper who had been arrested for
violating the excise law. Furnished bail and returned to bed at
6 .A.M.: Awakened by fire engines passing his house. Hastened to
the scene of the fire, according to the custom of the Tammany
district leaders, to give assistance to the fire sufferers, if needed.
Met several of his election district captains who are always under
orders to look out for fires, which are considered great
vote-getters. Found several tenants who had been burned out, took
them to a hotel, supplied them with clothes, fed them, and
arranged temporary quarters for them until they could rent and
furnish new apartments.
8:30 A.M.: Went to the police court to look after his constituents.
Found six "drunks." Secured the discharge of four by a timely
word with the judge, and paid the fines of two.
9 A.M.: Appeared in the Municipal District Court. Directed one of
his district captains to act as counsel for a widow against whom
dispossess proceedings had been instituted and obtained an
extension of time. Paid the rent of a poor family about to be
dispossessed and gave them a dollar for food.
11 A.M.: At home again. Found four men waiting for him. One
had been discharged by the Metropolitan Rail way Company for
neglect of duty, and wanted the district leader to fix things.
Another wanted a job on the road. The third sought a place on the
Subway and the fourth, a plumber, was looking for work with the
Consolidated Gas Company. The district leader spent nearly three
hours fixing things for the four men, and succeeded in each case.
3 P.M.: Attended the funeral of an Italian as far as the ferry.
Hurried back to make his appearance at the funeral of a Hebrew
constituent. Went conspicuously to the front both in the Catholic
church and the synagogue, and later attended the Hebrew
confirmation ceremonies in the synagogue.
7 P.M.: Went to district headquarters and presided over a meeting
of election district captains. Each captain submitted a list of all the
voters in his district, reported on their attitude toward Tammany,
suggested who might be won over and how they could be won, told
who were in need, and who were in trouble of any kind and the
best way to reach them. District leader took notes and gave orders.
8 P.M.: Went to a church fair. Took chances on every-thing,
bought ice cream for the young girls and the children. Kissed the
little ones, flattered their mother: and took their fathers out for
something down at the comer.
9 P.M.: At the clubhouse again. Spent $l0 on tickets for a church
excursion and promised a subscription for a new church bell.
Bought tickets for a baseball game to be played by two nines from
his district. Listened to the complaints of a dozen pushcart
peddlers who said they were persecuted by the police and assured
them he would go to Police Headquarter: in the morning and see
10:30 P.M.: Attended a Hebrew wedding reception and dance. Had
previously sent a handsome wedding present to the bride.
12 P.M.: In bed.
That is the actual record of one day in the life Of Plunkitt. He does
some of the same things every day, but his life is not so
monotonous as to be wearisome. Sometimes the work of a district
leader is exciting, especially if he happens to have a rival who
intends to make a contest for the leadership at the primaries. In
that case, he is even more alert, tries to reach the fires before his
rival, sends out runners to look for "drunks and disorderlies" at the
police stations, and keeps a very dose watch on the obituary
columns of the newspapers. A few years ago there was a bitter
contest for the Tam-many leadership of the Ninth District between
John C. Sheehan and Frank J. Goodwin. Both had had long
experience in Tammany politics and both understood every move
of the game.
Every morning their agents went to their respective headquarters
before seven o'clock and read through the death notices in all the
morning papers. If they found that anybody in the district had died,
they rushed to the homes of their principals with the information
and then there was a race to the house of the deceased to offer
condolences, and, if the family were poor, some-thing more
On the day of the funeral there was another contest. Each faction
tried to surpass the other in the number and appearance of the
carriages it sent to the funeral, and more than once they almost
came to blows at the church or in the cemetery.
On one occasion the Goodwinites played a trick on their
adversaries which has since been imitated in other districts. A
well-known liquor dealer who had a considerable following died,
and both Sheehan and Good-win were eager to become his
political heir by making a big showing at the funeral.
Goodwin managed to catch the enemy napping. He went to all the
livery stables in the district, hired all the carriages for the day, and
gave orders to two hundred of his men to be on hand as mourners.
Sheehan had never had any trouble about getting all the carriages
that he wanted, so he let the matter go until the night before the
funeral. Then he found that he could not hire a carriage in the
He called his district committee together in a hurry and explained
the situation to them. He could get all the vehicles he needed in the
adjoining district, he said, but if he did that, Goodwin would rouse
the voters of the Ninth by declaring that he (Sheehan) had
patronized foreign industries.
Finally, it was decided that there was nothing to do but to go over
to Sixth Avenue and Broadway for carriages. Sheehan made a fine
turnout at the funeral, but the deceased was hardly in his grave
before Goodwin raised the cry of "Protection to home industries,"
and denounced his rival for patronizing livery-stable keepers
outside of his district. The err' had its effect in the primary
campaign. At all events, Goodwin was elected leader.
A recent contest for the leadership of the Second District
illustrated further the strenuous work of the Tam-many district
leaders. The contestants were Patrick Divver, who had managed
the district for years, and Thomas F. Foley.
Both were particularly anxious to secure the large Italian vote.
They not only attended all the Italian christenings and funerals, but
also kept a close lookout for the marriages in order to be on hand
with wedding presents.
At first, each had his own reporter in the Italian quarter to keep
track of the marriages. Later, Foley conceived a better plan. He
hired a man to stay all day at the City Hall marriage bureau, where
most Italian couples go through the civil ceremony, and telephone
to him at his saloon when anything was doing at the bureau.
Foley had a number of presents ready for use and, whenever he
received a telephone message from his man, he hastened to the
City Hall with a ring or a watch or a piece of silver and handed it
to the bride with his congratulations. As a consequence, when
Divver got the news and went to the home of the couple with his
present, he always found that Foley had been ahead of him.
Toward the end of the campaign, Divver also stationed a man at
the marriage bureau and then there were daily foot races and fights
between the two heelers.
Sometimes the rivals came into conflict at the death-bed. One
night a poor Italian peddler died in Roosevelt Street. The news
reached Divver and Foley about the same time, and as they knew
the family of the man was destitute, each went to an undertaker
and brought him to the Roosevelt Street tenement.
The rivals and the undertakers met at the house and an altercation
ensued. After much discussion the Divver undertaker was selected.
Foley had more carriages at the funeral, however, and he further
impressed the Italian voters by paying the widow's rent for a
month, and sending her half a ton of coal and a barrel of flour.
The rivals were put on their mettle toward the end of the campaign
by the wedding of a daughter of one of the original Cohens of the
Baxter Street region. The Hebrew vote in the district is nearly as
large as the Italian vote, and Divver and Foley set out to capture
the Cohens and their friends.
They stayed up nights thinking what they would give the bride.
Neither knew how much the other was prepared to spend on a
wedding present, or what form it would take; so spies were
employed by both sides to keep watch on the jewelry stores, and
the jewelers of the district were bribed by each side to impart the
At last Foley heard that Divver had purchased a set of silver
knives, forks and spoons. He at once bought a duplicate set and
added a silver tea service. When the presents were displayed at the
home of the bride, Divver was not in a pleasant mood and he
charged his jeweler with treachery. It may be added that Foley won
at the primaries.
One of the fixed duties of a Tammany district leader is to give two
outings every summer, one for the men of his district and
the other for the women and children, and a beefsteak dinner and
a ball every winter. The scene of the outings is, usually, one of the
groves along the Sound.
The ambition of the district leader on these occasions is to
demonstrate that his men have broken all records in the matter of
eating and drinking. He gives out the exact number of pounds of
beef, poultry, butter, etc., that they have consumed and professes
to know how many potatoes and ears of corn have been served.
According to his figures, the average eating record of each man at
the outing is about ten pounds of beef, two or three chickens, a
pound of butter, a half peck of potatoes, and two dozen ears of
corn. The drinking records, as given out, are still more
phenomenal. For some reason, not yet explained, the district leader
thinks that his popularity will be greatly increased if he can show
that his followers can eat and drink more than the followers of any
other district leader.
The same idea governs the beefsteak dinners in the winter. It
matters not what sort of steak is served or how it is cooked; the
district leader considers only the question of quantity, and when he
excels all others in this particular, he feels, somehow, that he is a
bigger man and deserves more patronage than his associates in the
Tammany Executive Committee.
As to the balls, they are the events of the winter in the extreme
East Side and West Side society. Mamie and Maggie and Jennie
prepare for them months in advance, and their young men save up
for the occasion just as they save for the summer trips to Coney
The district leader is in his glory at the opening of the ball He
leads the cotillion with the prettiest woman present-his wife, if he
has one, permitting-and spends almost the whole night shaking
hands with his constituents. The ball costs him a pretty penny, but
he has found that the investment pays.
By these means the Tammany district leader reaches out into the
homes of his district, keeps watch not only on the men, but also on
the women and children; knows their needs, their likes and
dislikes, their troubles and their hopes, and places himself in a
position to use his knowledge for the benefit of his organization
and himself. Is it any wonder that scandals do not permanently
disable Tammany and that it speedily recovers from what seems to
be crushing defeat?
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