King of the Bowery: Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany Hall, and New York City from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era

King of the Bowery: Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany Hall, and New York City from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era

King of the Bowery: Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany Hall, and New York City from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era

King of the Bowery: Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany Hall, and New York City from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era

Synopsis

This book is the first complete study of Timothy D. Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany chieftain and kingmaker, King of the Lower East Side, and, to some, King of the Underworld. Sullivan was a pivotal figure in the late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century urban politics. A master of the personal, paternalistic, and corrupt no-holds-barred politics of the nineteenth century, he heartily embraced progressive causes in his later years and anticipated many of the policies and initiatives later pursued by Al Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who were early acquaintances and sometimes antagonists of Sullivan. The story of Big Tim Sullivan is the story of New York City as it emerged from the nineteenth century to the onset of modernity. Sullivan was a rags-to-riches story, a poor Irish kid from the Five Points who rose through ambition, shrewdness, and charisma to become the most powerful single politician in New York by 1909. Sullivan was quick to embrace and harness the shifting demographic patterns of the Lower East Side, recruiting Jewish and Italian newcomers into his largely Irish organization--his machine within a machine--meeting the newcomers' needs, taking their votes, and creating a personal following that made him invincible in his downtown bastion. Richard F. Welch is a professor at C. W. Post College of Long Island University.

Excerpt

The figure of Timothy Daniel “Big Tim” Sullivan loomed over New York from the 1880s to 1913 in ways few others could match. Revered, respected, and loved in the congested neighborhoods of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he was feared and loathed in those precincts dominated by the “respectable classes.” Sullivan wielded more political power than any other contemporary, and though a member of the Tammany Hall Democratic machine, he ran his own fiefdom in the Bowery as a personal satrap. Although he declined the role of Tammany boss for himself, no one could assume that position without his consent. While the Lower East Side always remained his power base, Sullivan continuously broadened his political reach until it extended across the length and breadth of New York City. the open-handed social and economic support he provided his constituents was legendary long before he died, and his legitimate investments helped nurture live theater and film. On the other hand, his involvement with vice, especially gambling, and his friendships with underworld figures, tainted his personal and political reputation.

Paradoxically, Big Tim Sullivan became not only the last great practitioner of nineteenth-century urban politics, but an early supporter of progressive legislation in New York State, confounding his enemies and again delighting his followers. For the working classes and poor, the new immigrants and their children, Big Tim was leader, advisor, fixer, banker, employment officer, social worker and, when the need arose, funeral director. the day before his own funeral a steady stream of New Yorkers filed past his bier tendering their last respects. the following day the streets of the Bowery were jammed with 20,000 mourners straining for a glimpse of the cortege as it rolled through lower Manhattan and across the Williamsburg Bridge to Calvary Cemetery.

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