Topics: Tammany Hall, New York City, Al Smith Pages: 6 (2289 words) Published: March 12, 2013
The fire that changed America

Our nation has grown to what it is today because we have continued to learn from past mistakes in an effort to grow and be better than ever. Disasters are no exception. In 1911, a disastrous fire in New York City took the lives of 146 people. This could have been prevented had we known how important building safety codes really are. Their fruitless efforts deepened the despair on the faces of the gathering crowds. Nothing could save the hopeless workers. People could only watch them suffer from afar. This devastating fire forevermore transformed the working class of America. The Triangle Factory Fire’s loss of life was fueled by non-existent fire prevention, inadequate safety codes, lack of proper firefighting equipment, poorly planned fire escapes, and inaccessible exits. The 146 lives lost were the ultimate martyrs for worker safety. Even though it is not perfect and our country has some of the best working conditions in the world. Tammany Hall was the political machine that dominated New York for half a century and it represented the opposite idea of pure possibility. Before it was called Tammany Hall, it was founded in the revolutionary days for philosophical reasons: to oppose elitism and resist British sympathizers. The name derived from a Delaware Indian chief (Tamamend) and from that, it became a political organization, the Democratic Party. They kept a tight grip on law enforcement agencies. Also the government ensured both power and money for Tammany. They consistently paid off police officers to ignore scandals and incidents in which a Tammany Hall figure had been involved. David Von Drehle demonstrated this scheme in his book Triangle: The Fire That Changed America. Tammany hired several street thugs to intimidate a chairman of the Triangle strike committee. Joe Zeinfield, threatened their authority as an industrialist powerhouse protecting a major company. After these gangsters physically beat Zeinfield, several other strikers pointed them out to a policeman. Of course, the police would intervene on the side of the owners of the Triangle because in the eyes of Tammany Hall, the strikers “added nothing to the stream of graft that powered the political machine” (Von Drehle 16). The officer casually dismissed them without pressing charges, validating suspicions that Tammany Hall had corrupted the police force. The police no longer worked for justice in Manhattan. Instead, these officers served the higher powers of the Tammany Hall Society. Individuals such as Charles Francis Murphy and Big Tim Sullivan established their reputations throughout New York and nationally as great leaders of the administration in the 1900s. The people of New York praised and cheered as they saw Charles Murphy. He was often considered the best “Grand Sachem” in the days of Tammany Hall. Some had even described Murphy “the most perceptive and intelligent leader in Tammany’s history”. Franklin D. Roosevelt considered him a “genius” (Von Drehle 28). Shortly after taking office in 1902, Murphy realized the dire necessity for Tammany to improve with the rest of the United States. The Progressive Movement would carry on the nation to a new era of political and social reform without political machines like Tammany Hall. In fact, “Tammany also feared them. The progressives wanted a civil service system, in which municipal jobs and promotions were given without regard for politics. This was a bullet aimed directly at the heart of the machine”, (Von Drehle 21). Murphy understood the threat of this and took precautions. He eliminated much of the corruption in the Society and focused on advancing the administration through actual ideas. According to one chronicler of the Hall, “as a political chess player, he never met his match”, (Von Drehle 28). However, it seemed as if the only man capable of challenging Murphy worked alongside him in Tammany. Timothy Sullivan, better known as Big Tim Sullivan, made his name by...
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