Explain the rise of political machines and boss rule in American cities.Explain the rise of political machines and boss rule in American cities.

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Political machines and political bosses developed in American politics in the 1800s. During this time, many immigrants came to the United States. Many were poor and had little to no command of the English language. These immigrants settled in cities, often in ethnic neighborhoods. As a result of this immigration to the United States, the population in many cities grew very quickly. The growth was so fast, the existing form of city government was not able to deal with the demands the people placed upon the government as the population rose rapidly.

Political machines, led by the party boss, stepped in to take care of the needs of these immigrants. Whether it was providing health care, getting a job, or getting somebody out of trouble, the political machine helped these people. In return, the political machine and party boss expected that these people would vote for their candidates to run the city government. The immigrants were more than happy to do this because they felt the political machine was meeting some of their needs. Eventually, the political machine and party boss method gained significant power. Using corrupt methods, these political machines got bribes from people to get things done in city government. Because the existing government was unable to solve many of the issues created by a rapidly growing urban population, political machines stepped to fill the void and eventually controlled the city government.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Political machines arose in cities—like Boston, New York, and Chicago—that were increasing in population and complexity but lacked fundamental municipal services. As a result of immigration and increasing urbanization in the  late 19th century, cities had grown in complexity, but there were few services to provide for people's needs. Political machines and bosses operated in this void, using graft and personal connections to provide people with services.

For example, if there were a fire, a political boss such as Plunkitt of Tammany Hall in New York City would call on his district captains and personally attend to helping the victims. He might provide the victims with clothes, new housing, and even jobs. In return, they would be more likely to vote for him and for the machine. The system relied on patronage, or doling out jobs and favors to people who voted for the machines, as well as criminal activity such as voter fraud and extortion of local businesses in return for protection. In the absence of public sector services such as garbage removal, welfare, public housing, and so on, people were often willing to give their votes to political machines who they saw as helping them in times of need. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Political machines arose as a response to a need for welfare-type programs for immigrants and because the presence of large immigrant communities gave potential bosses a way to make sure that they could stay in power.

Machines were possible because of the large immigrant communities, which were mostly relatively poor.  These groups needed help of the sort that the government could provide (city jobs, welfare payments) and could be mobilized pretty easily because they tended to be close-knit.  This allowed the bosses to set up the "jobs for votes" deal that was at the heart of the political machine.

Machines were also possible because of the lack of "good-government" laws at the time.  These types of laws were gradually passed and the immigrant communities dispersed as their members gained access to the middle class.  This is what broke up the machines.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
The political machines developed due to criminal organizations, such as the mafia, and also from unions in general. Unions allowed bosses to rise to power, and keep it. They were able to keep thier influence by maintaining goverment contracts.