Written by Bryant Tufino, 11th Grade Teen Historian
The picture above depicts an old metallic toy of a large man sitting on a chair. In addition, on the sides of the chair, it says “Tammany Bank.” The toy is made of metal and colored with paint, however, due to age, it has faded. Although it may be difficult to see, on the right hand of the man is a hole in which coins can be dropped when the left hand moves . Patented in 1875, this object is a mechanical bank created by the J & E Stevens Company.
The man sitting on the chair represents William M. Tweed, better known as the notorious Boss Tweed, whose corrupt political organization was called Tammany Hall. Throughout his life, William M. Tweed worked in a number of powerful positions on the state level, such as a U.S. representative from New York in the early 1850s for one term. However, in 1856, he began to focus primarily on local politics and held positions such as a member of the city board of supervisors, chairman of the state finance committee, school commissioner, and a number of others. After his long years of experience in local politics, in 1860 he turned to law, became a lawyer, and helped to provide “legal services.” In reality, these services were ruthless illegal methods that led to him creating Tammany Hall and becoming the head of this organization.
After Tammany Hall took control of the city treasury in 1870, New York City fell under the control of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall, leaving the people powerlessness. Using its power, Boss Tweed’s organization began to financially drain New York City by faking leases, making false vouchers, issuing high bills, and employing other tactics in order to get the most money they possibly could. Through these ruthless tactics, Boss Tweed had full control of New York City, all of its businesses, and all transactions that occurred. Boss Tweed and his group of associates were all part of the Democratic Party, and because of the party’s influence all over the city, it allowed Tammany Hall to control every aspect of politics locally within the city, thus allowing Boss Tweed and his associates to take advantage of this situation. They used unethical strategies, such as giving newly arrived immigrants necessities like food, jobs, working papers, and money in order to get their vote. In addition to bribing a large number of immigrant voters, Tammany Hall funneled millions of dollars to the candidate they wanted to win during elections.
Although Tammany Hall provided certain necessities that helped many immigrant families survive, it also had consequences such as making immigrants helpless when it came to having a voice in the political system. In an attempt to rebel against this cruel but necessary system, people created these mechanical banks to voice their thoughts and feelings about the political and economic situation they were living under. In the factories, workers made Boss Tweed large on the bank intentionally in order to show how he was greedy and stole money from both the working and middle class. On the side of the bank, it says “Tammany Bank” showing how people making these toys were criticizing Tammany Hall. This portrays how although the working class did not have a voice in the political system, they were able to make simple household items and show them in a manner that expressed the situation they were in and how they felt about it.
However, there were a number of views on Tammany Hall and the impact it had on various social classes. The upper-class society of New York City was angry that they were now, politically, the minority and did not have much of a say when it came to politics as a result of the large number of immigrant voters Tammany Hall had bought. This caused the upper class to be furious at the corrupt power of Tammany Hall, which they claimed “stole” the upper classes’ political power. The rising middle class was also angry because of the small political impact they had compared with the immigrant workers, showing how Tammany Hall had a big impact on the working class as well. This ordinary-looking toy intended for kids may look simple, but this toy had a powerful representation of the situation at the time and showed the intense emotions felt by a number of different people from a variety of social classes.
The image above shows a jug that is made of stoneware and was crafted by Anna Pottery, William Wallace, and Cornwall Kirkpatrick in 1871. Around the jug it shows a number of snakes circling it and has the faces of members of the Tammany Hall political machine. On the top of the jug it shows the head of Thomas Nast, which is above everyone, and it’s topped off with a coiled snake. Around the jug are a number of statements that show political satire against Tammany Hall.
“Snake Jug” connects to “Tammany Bank” in a number of ways. They both show the sentiments that poor working class and other social class groups in New York City felt towards Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed and the manner in which they wanted to present their voice. The “Snake Jug” shows how one specific man was against the tactics and ideals of this group. This man’s name was Thomas Nast, who created political cartoons in order to go against Tammany Hall. Nast was a very well-known and influential, and his cartoons showed the political scene to people who were not well educated, which was a majority of the city at the time. Thomas Nast’s ideals and background were the opposite of Boss Tweed: Nast was a German-born immigrant and embodied the American dream by rising through the social and economic ladder through his creation of illustrations in a number of writings. What really caused Nast to go against Tammany Hall was his strong belief regarding political reform; he wanted to give people their voices back.
This sparked Thomas Nast, who wanted to expose the group for their evil intention and tactics, to create political cartoons against Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. Nast’s cartoons had a powerful impact because they allowed illiterate people to be able to understand his political message. This allowed uneducated immigrants to go against Tammany Hall and demand justice. Although it took longer than expected, Thomas Nast finally got the justice he wanted when Boss Tweed and his corrupt group were finally arrested in 1873. Everyone learned of the millions of dollars Boss Tweed stole from the people and the city. He was released in 1875 but soon after, New York State filed a lawsuit in order to attempt to recover the millions stolen, and he was arrested again. In an attempt to escape, Tweed fled to Cuba and then Spain; however, he was caught in November 1876, and after a year and a half of being in custody, he died of pneumonia.
After Tweed’s death, a couple of artists made this jug as a gift for Thomas Nast as a reminder of the work he did in order to send this corrupt group of people to jail. This work of art has a strong connection to the previous artifact as they both show the strong voices of the people and how they wanted to end the rule of Tammany Hall. Although they may have a different background, both items show powerful sentimental value and how a group of people can make a difference if they fight for a common cause.
“Snake Jug.” New-York Historical Society. Accessed August 2, 2016. http://www.nyhistory.org/exhibit/snake-jug
“Tammany Bank.” New-York Historical Society. Accessed August 2, 2016. http://www.nyhistory.org/exhibit/tammany-bank
“Tammany Hall.” George Washington University. Accessed August 2, 2016. https://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/tammany-hall.cfm
“Boss Tweed.” Digital History. Accessed August 2, 2016. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtID=2&psid=3052
“Boss Tweed.” Wiles, David. University at Albany. Accessed August 2, 2016. http://www.albany.edu/~dkw42/tweed.html
“The Case For Tammany Hall Being On The Right Side of History.” National Public Radio. Accessed August 2, 2016. http://www.npr.org/2014/03/05/286218423/the-case-for-tammany-hall-being-on-the-right-side-of-history