Tammany Hall, also known as the Society of St. Tammany, the Sons of St. Tammany, or the Columbian Order, was a New York City political organization founded in 1786 and incorporated on May 12, 1789 as the Tammany Society. It was the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in controlling New York City and New York State politics and helping immigrants, most notably the Irish, rise up in American politics from the 1790s to the 1960s. It controlled Democratic Party nominations and political patronage in Manhattan from the mayoral victory of Fernando Wood in 1854 through the election of John P. O’Brien in 1932.
The Tammany Society was named for Tamanend, a Native American leader of the Lenape, and emerged as the center for Democratic-Republican Party politics in the City in the early 19th Century. The “Hall” serving as the Society’s headquarters was built in 1830 on East 14th Street, marking an era when Tammany Hall became the city affiliate of the Democratic Party, controlling most of the New York City elections afterwards.
The Society expanded its political control even further by earning the loyalty of the city’s ever-expanding immigrant community, which functioned as a base of political capital. The Tammany Hall ward boss or ward heeler – “wards” were the city’s smallest political units from 1686 to 1938 – served as the local vote gatherer and provider of patronage. Beginning in late 1845, Tammany power surged with the influx of millions of Irish immigrants to New York. From 1872, Tammany had an Irish “boss,” and in 1928 a Tammany hero, New York Governor Al Smith won the Democratic presidential nomination. However, Tammany Hall also served as an engine for graft and political corruption, perhaps most infamously under William M. “Boss” Tweed in the mid-19th century.
Tammany Hall’s influence waned in the 20th Century; in 1932, Mayor Jimmy Walker was forced from office, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stripped Tammany of Federal patronage. Republican Fiorello La Guardia was elected Mayor on a Fusion ticket and became the first anti-Tammany Mayor to be re-elected. A brief resurgence in Tammany power in the 1950s was met with Democratic Party opposition led by Eleanor Roosevelt, Herbert Lehman, and the New York Committee for Democratic Voters. By the mid-1960s Tammany Hall ceased to exist.