Statement of Question
Political machines, political organizations controlled by a boss or group that gives constituents services in exchange for their votes, at one time ruled political climate of the nation. Popular reports recall times and tales of the past that included kickbacks, thefts, bribery, insider trading, and criminal cover-ups. George William Plunkitt and his dealings with Tammany Hall is one of the many lessons students of political policy and public administration are taught throughout their coursework. However, does this machine style politics still exist today? With the emergence of the merit system in the 1900s, has the old patronage system been done away with the machine? This analysis seeks to provide more information on the historical context political machines: the height of its rise and its ultimate decline. In addition, this analysis will focus on the changes of the patronage system and how it contrasts the merit system; precisely, looking into the theories of power that are at play. The author seeks to provide information on how the changes in the system created a shift in power structure. Finally, this analysis will examine if the patronage system has disappeared or is it being masked as something else in today’s political climate. Literature Review
The evolution of cities helped spur the growth of the political machines and the boss culture grew together is one central focus in William Shannon’s article, “The Political Machine I: Rise and Fall the Age of the Bosses (1969).” He researches cities where growth far exceeded expectations and were made up of people from throughout the world with a wide-range of backgrounds. In American cities at this time, he says newcomers had nothing in common with one another except their poverty and their hopes (Shannon, 1969). From this chaos the author cites the emergence of political bosses during a period of change and growth. Bosses, he describes as “acting out of greed, a ruthless will for mastery, and imperfect understanding of what they were about, bosses imposed upon these conglomerations called cities a certain feudal order and direction (p. 01).” He also points out that by 1890 virtually every major city had a political boss or was actively moving in that direction; but by 1950, only sixty years later, almost every political machine was in advance state of obsolescence and its boss in trouble (p. 01). He attributes the decrease in the boss system to the rapid and overwhelming growth and changes that took place in cities, coupled with the slow and limited growth of political bosses. Although the bosses didn’t survive the system their memories sometimes did. Shannon examines former bosses and their contributions and use of power. George Cox is just one of the bosses Shannon writes about. Cox, according to Shannon, was the turn-of the century Republican boss of Cincinnati, pasted together a coalition of Germans, African Americans, and old families like the Tafts and the Long-worths. The bosses would made all sorts of deals with members of each group, and even join community organizations such as the N.A.A.C. P. The bosses built “organized neighborhoods, smoothed out antagonisms, arranged ethnically balanced tickets, and distributed patronage in accordance with voting strength as part of their effort to win and hold power,” which was typical of most cities according to the researcher (p. 03). He adds that bosses like, William Tweed, first and famous big city boss who died in jail, were romanticized. The bulk of poor people revered him, and looked at him as victim of elite power, whereas, others saw him as criminal and deserving of imprisonment; these types of split of reverence and disgust were indicative of many cities. Community action organizations and city antipoverty planners stimulated apathy and disorganization of the slums, and this lead to a change from the political boss system to the merit system. Joseph Reid and Michael Kurth study, “The Rise...
Bibliography: Boulay, H. and DiGaetano, A. 1985. “Why Did Political Machines Disappear?” Journal of Urban History 12 (Nov): pp. 25-49
DiGaetano, A. 1991. “Urban Political Reform: Did It Kill the Machine?” Journal of Urban History 18 (Nov.) pp. 37-67
King, D. “The New Political Machine,” Harvard University, JFK School of Government Bulletin (January, 2000), p. 1-3.
Kurth, M. and Reid, J. 1992. “The Rise and Fall of Urban Political Patronage Machines”. Strategic Factos in Nineteenth Century American Economic History (January, 1992) University of Chicago Press; pp. 427-445.
Reynolds, John. 1980. “The Silent Dollar’: Vote Buying in New Jersey.” New Jersey History 98: 191-211
Shannon, W. 1969. “The Political Machine I: Rise and Fall the Age of the Bosses.” American Heritage Collections, Travel, and Great Writing on History (June 1969) American Heritage Publishing Company, Vol. 20, Issue No. 4, pp. 1 – 5.
Stokes, S. 2005. “Perverse Accountability: A Formal Model of Machine Politics with Evidence from Argentina”. American Political Science Review, Vol. 99, No. 3, pp. 315–325.
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