Boss Tweed

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ISSUE 5
Did William M. Tweed Corrupt Post - Civil War New York?

YES:Alexander B. Callow, Jr., from The Tweed Ring (Oxford University Press, 1966)

NO:Leo Hershkowitz, from Tweed’s New York: Another Look (Anchor Press, 1977)

ISSUE SUMMARY

YES: Professor emeritus of history Alexander B. Callow, Jr., insists that by exercising a corrupting influence over the city arid state government, as well as over key elements within the business community, William M. “Boss” Tweed and his infamous “ring” extracted enormous sums of ill-gotten money for their own benefit in post-Civil War New York

NO: Professor of history Leo Hershkowitz portrays Tweed as a devoted public servant who championed New York City’s interests during his 20-year career and whose reputation as the symbol for urban political corruption is grossly undeserved.

On the eve of the Civil War, the United States remained primarily a rural, agrarian nation. Of the country’s 31 million inhabitants, 80 percent were characterized as “rural” dwellers by the U.S. Bureau of the Census; only 392 “urban” places (incorporated towns with 2,500 or more residents, or unincorporated areas with at least 2,500 people per square mile) dotted the national landscape; a mere nine U.S. cities contained populations in excess of 100,000. By 1920 the population of the United States had more than tripled, and for the first time in American history a majority of those residents lived in cities. The number of places defined as “urban” had increased to 2,722, and 68 cities housed over 100,000 residents each.

After 1865 the growth of urban America was directly linked to the economic and technological changes that produced the country’s industrial revolution, as well as to rapid immigration, which filled the nation’s cities with what seemed to native-born Americans to be a multitude of foreigners from around the globe. Reflecting many of the characteristics of modem America, these industrial cities produced a number of...
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