Tweed, William

Tweed, (William Marcy) “Boss”

(1823–78) U.S. representative, political boss; born in New York City. He apprenticed as a saddler and then became an officer in a volunteer fire company. He was a city alderman and then served in the U.S. House of Representatives (Dem., N.Y.; 1853–55). By 1857, he was emerging as the major power in New York City's Tammany Hall Democrats, controlling patronage and nominations to public offices. By 1868 he was sitting in the state senate and he also became commissioner of public works for New York City, positions that further advanced his control of graft and corruption; the gigantic profits of the "Tweed Ring" were estimated at between 30 and 200 million dollars. He also joined Jay Gould and James Fisk in the illegal financial transactions that looted the Erie Railroad. Although everyone knew of his doings, he remained popular because of his generosity, but by 1871 reformers were able to organize against him. Finally convicted in 1873, he escaped to Cuba and Spain (1875–76) but was extradited and returned to jail, where he died.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.