Austin Community College
November 30, 2011
The purpose of this book report is to analyze the themes in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall by William L. Riordon. Riordon’s purpose is to educate people about politics and to stimulate reform in their corrupt political system.
The first theme of this book is Plunkitt’s use of patronage. He openly discusses quid pro quo: he gives people jobs, opportunities, and welfare services in exchange for their political allegiance. For example, he talks about giving young men opportunities to play in the baseball club or sing in the glee club. In exchange, they vote the way he tells them to. Plunkitt also supports his voters in other ways. If there is a fire in his district he would be on the scene as quickly as the fire department. He then helps displaced families get back on their feet giving them shelter, food, and even clothes.1 Using these methods, Plunkitt controls more then 14,000 votes. He has so much power that he controls both the private sector and the public sector. For instance, the railroad company hires his followers in exchange for public contracts. No job offer is turned down if it has his name on it.
The second theme in this book: corruption. Plunkitt uses his political power to make money. Indeed, this theme is discussed in the very first lines of the book where Plunkitt defends himself on the issue of graft. “Everyone is talkin’ these days about Tammany men growin’ rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s all the difference in the world between the two.” Then Plunkitt claims that he is “gettin’ richer every day, but I’ve not gone in for dishonest graft.”2
Plunkitt’s main “honest” money-making scheme: buying land that he knows will be needed for a public project like a park or a bridge. Then he arranges to sell the land to the city at an inflated price. He also talks...