City Bosses in the United States: A Study of Twenty Municipal Bosses

By Harold B. Zink | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
MUNICIPAL BOSSES AS POLITICIANS

Not one of the score of city bosses under study has enjoyed an unbroken rule of absolutism throughout his career as overlord, however powerful he may ordinarily have been. Only a few have approached complete domination even for a majority of the years that they have ruled. Some bosses, in spite of all their efforts, find it impossible ever to control completely. The Tammany bosses have usually had at their disposal all offices in New York County on at least one occasion during their time, for a much longer period they have exercised partial control, and with few exceptions they have at times lost everything in the way of public offices. "Honorable" Tweed, "Honest John" Kelly, Dick Croker, "Commissioner" Murphy, and "Judge" Olvany all had at times good working majorities in the board of aldermen, a faithful group in the state legislature, loyal heads of all city departments, a sizable representation among the judges, a few henchmen in the United States Congress, and a sympathetic mayor of the city. But Kelly and Murphy experienced recalcitrant mayors and at intervals had trouble with the board of aldermen. "King" James McManes at times practically owned the government of Philadelphia. Yet on several occasions he suffered defeat and once stepped down as boss for a time. His successors, "Judge" Durham and "Sunny Jim" McNichol, failed to reach complete control even for a short time. And although "Duke" Vare succeeded to a larger extent, it has been disputed whether he ever absolutely ruled. "Senators" Magee and Flinn dictated to Pittsburgh for an aggregate of many years but several times found themselves with a disobedient city. Seventeen of the twenty barons have for at least a brief period ruled almost absolutely.1 "Doc" Ames seems to have had the slightest control.

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1
This number excludes Ames, Durham, and probably R. Sullivan.

-47-

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