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A significant corruption


Erie canal in New York
Erie canal in New York

The corruption that was characteristic of the United States in the years after the Civil War flourished in New York. In New York City, William M. Tweed became an important figure in the Tammany Society, the Democratic political machine, and formed the Tweed Ring with other politicians. The ring openly bought votes, encouraged judicial corruption, and controlled New York City politics, costing the city an estimated $30 million to $200 million. Tammany Hall, the society’s headquarters, became a synonym for a corrupt political machine.

Upstate politicians and legislators from both parties matched “Boss Tweed” in their enthusiasm for graft but lacked his success. The two major parties were dominated by bosses who cared mostly about patronage, the practice of giving out jobs for political advantage.

Tammany Hall, even after Tweed’s downfall in 1872, remained a power in Democratic politics. The Republicans were ruled by men like U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling and Thomas C. Platt, experts in using the spoils system, under which they bestowed jobs and political offices on their friends and supporters rather than appointing the most qualified candidates.

Periodically, reformers succeeded in restoring honest government to New York State. Samuel J. Tilden, a New York City lawyer, led the exposé of the Tweed Ring and in 1874 was elected governor of New York. Corruption was so widespread throughout the country that in 1876 Tilden’s reputation for honesty formed a basis for him to run for president on the Democratic ticket. Although Tilden won more popular votes than his Republican opponent, Rutherford B. Hayes, the electoral vote was contested in several states and an electoral commission declared Hayes the winner. In 1882 Grover Cleveland was elected governor on a reform ticket and was elected to the presidency in 1884 and 1892.

In addition to politicians, New York business leaders also practiced gross corruption, especially during the unprecedented industrial growth that occurred from 1877 to 1893. Because New York was the financial, commercial, and industrial center of the nation, financial misdeeds there were more spectacular than in other areas of the country. Through widespread bribery, the major corporations all but controlled the New York legislature. Stock manipulation and legislative bribery helped create fortunes for railroad barons such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Daniel Drew, and James Fisk.

By the end of the 19th century a progressive movement developed to combat corruption, regulate trusts, expand democracy, and reform the worst abuses of urban industrial life. Theodore Roosevelt was elected in 1898 as New York’s first important progressive governor. Because of his reform efforts and his independence from the Republican Party machine, the party boss, Thomas Platt, arranged to get him out of state politics by having him made the party’s vice presidential nominee in 1900. This led Roosevelt to the presidency after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.

Even more successful than Roosevelt in passing progressive measures was Charles Evans Hughes, an independent Republican, who was New York governor from 1907 to 1910. Hughes brought the public utilities and the railroads under stricter government control, sponsored legislation to tighten state regulation of banking and finance companies, passed a law to compensate workers injured on the job, and championed measures to improve social welfare and public health. He also instituted important administrative reforms.

Hughes resigned as governor in 1910 to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. During the next four years, while the Democratic Party controlled the governor’s office, laws were passed to regulate the Wall Street securities industry, create direct primary elections, revise and strengthen workers’ compensation, and advance social welfare programs. "New York" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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