The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War

By Iver Bernstein | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 6
The Rise and Decline of Tweed's Tammany Hall

William M. Tweed's Tammany Democracy was the most successful attempt to resolve the problem of political rule exposed by the volcanic social eruption of July 1863. Tweed and Tammany's domination of the Democratic Party dated from late 1864 and 1865. In the eighteen months after the riots, a loyal Tammany Hall gained ascendancy after the Peace Democracy was branded the provocateur of an insurrectionary working class and traitor to the Northern cause. Tweed's political domination began with the electoral victories of December 1865 and in the state with the victories of December 1869. His regime lasted until the Orange riot and revelations of fraud in July 1871. During this six-year tenure, Tweed's organization managed to negotiate tensions between contesting groups of wage earners and elites, an accomplishment which had eluded a host of Republican and Democratic predecessors during the middle decades.1

This account of the rise and decline of the Tweed regime side-steps both the demonology of countless narratives of the Tweed Ring as well as other historians' attempts to rehabilitate the Tweed Democracy as a successful albeit corrupt experiment in municipal government. The concern here is not with the extent of the Tweed Ring]'s peculations--Alexander Callow has argued persuasively that the theft of public moneys and fraud were vast. Nor is the aim here to demonstrate the success or failure of Tweed and his associates in administering an expanding metropolis and bringing public funds and services to the immigrant poor. Dispensing altogether with the Tweed chroniclers' cults of demonology and rehabilitation, this account seeks to situate the Tweed regime in its historical moment. The Tweed Democracy can be understood only in the context of the dramatic social and ideological conflicts of the Civil War and Reconstruction.2

At first glance, one might mistake the post-riot disappointment of Radical Republicanism in New York City and the advent of white supremacist and conservative Tammany rule for the dawning of the Gilded Age in the me-

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