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bossism,in U.S. history, system of political control centering about a single powerful figure (the boss) and a complex organization of lesser figures (the machine) bound together by reciprocity in promoting financial and social self-interest. Bossism depends upon manipulation of the voters and thus always has some aspects of corruption and fraud, even though particular bosses and particular machines may do much good service for the community, the state, or the nation. Control of blocks of votes enables boss and machine to secure the nomination and election or appointment of candidates for public office; the officers thus chosen respond by advancing the interests of the machine. The boss became important in U.S. political life in the mid-19th cent., when many poor immigrants crowded into the cities. In return for their votes the boss offered them protection; he saw that the newcomers got financial and other help. The contact was direct and personal; the boss and his cohorts gave away coal and food, got the sick into hospitals, obtained leniency for the wayward through the courts, and secured government jobs and other work for the unemployed. Bossism was primarily on the local level, but the machines in very large cities soon exerted state and national influence, sometimes very powerful. The highly invidious implications of the term date from the exposure of the Tweed Ring (see under Tweed, William MarcyTweed, William Marcy,
1823–78, American politician and Tammany leader, b. New York City. A bookkeeper, he became (1848) a volunteer fireman and as a result acquired influence in his ward. He was an alderman (1852–53) and sat (1853–55) in Congress.
..... Click the link for more information. ) in New York City in 1872 (see also TammanyTammany
or Tammany Hall,
popular name for the Democratic political machine in Manhattan. Origins
After the American Revolution several patriotic societies sprang up to promote various political causes and economic interests.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Some of the men who came to nationwide notice as connected with bossism and machines in the late 19th and 20th cent. were Richard CrokerCroker, Richard,
1841–1922, American politician, head of Tammany Hall from 1886 to 1902, b. Co. Cork, Ireland. He became prominent as Democratic leader of New York City's East Side and as an aide of John Kelly.
..... Click the link for more information. and Charles MurphyMurphy, Charles Francis,
1858–1924, American political boss, b. New York City. He was the owner of many saloons in New York City and took a keen interest in Democratic politics. His services to Tammany Hall brought him a job as dock commissioner.
..... Click the link for more information. of New York, Frank HagueHague, Frank
, 1876–1956, American politician, mayor of Jersey City, N.J., b. Jersey City. He worked his way up through the ranks of the local Democratic machine and was elected (1913) to the city board of commissioners.
..... Click the link for more information. of New Jersey, Thomas J. PendergastPendergast, Thomas Joseph,
1872–1945, American political boss, b. St. Joseph, Mo. After holding minor political offices (1899–1910) in Kansas City, Mo., he became the acknowledged Democratic leader in city and state. Harry S. Truman entered politics under his aegis.
..... Click the link for more information. of Kansas City, James M. CurleyCurley, James Michael,
1874–1958, American political leader, b. Boston. He held many municipal offices, served (1902–3) in the Massachusetts legislature, and became a power in the Democratic party of Boston before he served (1911–14) in the U.S.
..... Click the link for more information. of Boston, William Hale ThompsonThompson, William Hale,
1869–1944, American politician, b. Boston. His family moved to Chicago when he was nine years old, and there he later entered politics as an alderman (1900–1902). He became commissioner of Cook co.
..... Click the link for more information. of Chicago, William VareVare, William Scott,
1867–1934, American political leader, b. Philadelphia. He engaged in machine politics and became (1898) a member of the select council of Philadelphia.
..... Click the link for more information. of Philadelphia, and Abraham RuefRuef, Abraham
(Abe Ruef) , 1864–1936, American political boss, b. San Francisco. He practiced law in San Francisco after 1886 and became a familiar figure in San Francisco ward politics.
..... Click the link for more information. of San Francisco. The original sort of bossism gradually declined with the assimilation of older immigrant stocks and reduction of new immigration, growing literacy, extension of government into the social-welfare area previously cared for by the machine, and increase in the number of jobs falling under civil-service requirements. In contemporary politics a new and more sophisticated type of boss has come into being; he uses techniques of public relations rather than personal contacts to build up his power and that of the machine.
See H. F. Gosnell, Machine Politics (1937, repr. 1968); S. Lubell, The Future of American Politics (3d ed. 1965); E. C. Banfield and J. Q. Wilson, City Politics (1963, repr. 1966).