Political Machine Examples

Examples of Political Machines?

Find a famous political machine from American history

Who organized it?
Whom did they help get elected?
Who was the leader of it?
Where was it located? (geography)
When did it come to an end?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One famous political machine not yet mentioned is the Boston machine headed by James Michael Curley. He started as a US Senator, then was elected mayor of Boston. His first mayoral term was the real beginning of his political machine. Curley favored the working class and the Irish Catholic votes in Boston and built them parks and hospitals at the cost of near-bankruptcy to the city. When Roosevelt's New Deal funds were paid to Curley, he used them unstintingly to build an infrastructure of public works including roads and bridges. Imprisoned for mail fraud, Curley was pardoned by President Truman. He titled his 1957 autobiography I'd Do It Again (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia).

Political machines are characterized by manipulation of votes in order to gain and or retain control of local politics. Originally, as city governments became too weak to control such largely growing and diversifying cities as New York, Chicago, and Boston, governments gave advantages to citizens in return for votes. Potentially and in some cases, this led to urban improvements. Yet when political machines awarded government positions to incompetents and labor contracts to the highest bidder and when advantages to voters turned into advantages to politicians through kickbacks, urban centers became ripe locations for corruption and ethnic prejudice.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most famous political machines was named Tammany Hall and was located in New York City.  This political machine actually started out pretty innocently and as more of a patriotic club, but by the time the Gilded Age rolled around, Tammany Hall was knee-deep in fixing elections, buying votes, and embezzling millions of dollars from the city of New York. 

The ring leader was William Macy Tweed, also known as "Boss Tweed."  He used his political connections and 'good old boy' system to organize some amazing building projects in New York City: a new town hall, better roads, bridges.  Construction costs sky-rocketed, and much of the money was being funnelled back into Tammany Hall and the Boss's personal pocket.

Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall were eventually taken down by investigative reporting through the newspaper due to suspicions of corruption.  One of the cartoonists, Thomas Nast, who later became famous for his depictions of Tweed, created such scathing cartoons of the man that the public became insistent on pressing charges against him for corruption.  He was found guilty, and the far-reaching power of Tammany Hall was broken at last.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is as much a question as a possible answer.

Does it strike anyone else that we are witnessing the birth of another political machine equivalent that has named itself the Tea Party? In reflecting on the questions suggested at the beginning of this strand, it would be possible to provide answers relating to the Tea Party and its development that just might qualify it as being considered a "political machine."

As with most machines, there isn't one specific organizer or leader, but there seem to be a core of recognizable individuals who are becoming particularly identified with the Tea Party and its philosophies and efforts. The group has certainly demonstrated the ability to rally followers and organize efforts to turn out numbers of voters interested in electing officials who will promote specific legislative agendas - the distinguishing mark of a political machine.

Going forward, its lack of geographical centralization may be one of its major challenges. The lack of a centralized leadership may present another serious liability to its continued existence and/or effectiveness, although there are many pages yet to be written in its story, I suspect!

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another famous political machine was the one in Chicago.  This one did not have a catchy name like Tammany Hall, but it lasted into the late 1900s (and some claim it still exists today).

Political machines are not organized by any one person.  The Chicago machine in its classic form was first completely consolidated under Mayor Anton Cermak in the early 1930s.  But it is not as if he created it all on his own.  He was killled in an assassination attempt on President Roosevelt, with whom he was shaking hands.  Control then passed to Irish politicians, who made the machine stronger.

The most famous leader of the machine was Mayor Richard Daley, who led it as mayor from 1955 until his death in 1976.

Some say that the machine still exists, but if it does it lacks the power it once had.  It lost this power as immigrant groups stopped needing as much government help, as African Americans started taking political power on their own, and as concerns about "good government" came to the fore.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Political machines can often be associated with unions or political parties.  The AFL-CIO had a lot of power.  In many coastal cities, Longshoremen unions controlled the ports.  Some political machines have been connected to organized crime, such as in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

I love this quote from Kansas City boss James Pendergast:

I've been called a boss. All there is to it is having friends, doing things for people, and then later on they'll do things for you... You can't coerce people into doing things for you —; you can't make them vote for you. (wikipedia)

This quote demonstrates how political machines really work.  People gather power and influence through favors (and sometimes blackmail and bribery).  Pendergast is sometimes called the founder of one of the first politcal machines in Kansas City, Missouri.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another famous example of a political machine (though none as powerful and famous as Tammany) was the Pendergast ring in Kansas City, Missouri. Led by "Big Tom" Pendergast, this machine rose to power during the early twentieth century, particularly after Prohibition. Pendergast, who eventually went to prison for income tax evasion, manipulated politics in Kansas City, using his powers to essentially control the Democratic Party. He influenced the police force, the mayor's office, the local courts, and especially public works. He delivered Kansas City, and basically the state of Missouri, for the national Democratic Party, playing a role in getting Franklin D. Roosevelt elected, as well as many governors, congressmen and senators. Most famously, he advanced the political career of a young Missourian named Harry Truman, who advanced through the ranks of Missouri politics as a Pendergast protege.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The above post's comment about the Tea Party as a new rising political machine is a really interesting idea to consider.  Some one could do a great political science research paper on this topic.  Beyond being a political machine, the tea party could signal the emergence of a new political party.  Now, wouldn't that be interesting?

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