Discuss the activities of the urban political machines, noting not only the corruption present but also the social reforms they helped institute. After evaluating both facets of the machines, do you believe they were good or bad for the development of America? Why?
I would argue that the urban political machines, while flawed and corrupt, were a necessary part of America’s development. That is, I believe that they did more good than bad for our development.
Of course, political machines were corrupt. They took taxpayer money and spent it enriching the members of the machines. They extorted money from people who wanted to do business with the cities. They often tolerated various sorts of crime in return for bribes. All of these are things that are objectionable and are bad for the development of a country.
However, the political machines also did things that were important for the development of our country. Let us look at two such things. First, the machines provided a welfare system for poor immigrants that might otherwise have been missing. This was a time when American governments did not really believe in providing public assistance even though many people needed it. The machines provided this assistance, even if they did so in exchange for votes. Second, the machines provided the immigrants with a way to feel that they were a part of the US political system. Immigrants would not likely have gotten much representation in city governments had it not been for machines. Machines gave them a way to get involved with American politics. This allowed them to feel more as if they were a part of the country rather than feeling separate and alienated. This was a very important thing because it helped create the “melting pot” effect that has made our society as united as it is.
In these ways, machines did do bad things that hurt the country, but they also performed necessary services that helped immigrants assimilate during a time when large numbers of poor immigrants were coming to this country.