Did political machines help or hurt city-dwellers?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One can, of course, argue both sides of this question and the answer might be different for different groups of city-dwellers.  I would argue that the political machines like Boss Tweed's Tammany Hall were good for poor immigrants but bad for much of the rest of the population of the city.

Political machines essentially bought votes from the poor and immigrants.  They bought the votes with city jobs, with informal welfare payments, and with other sorts of financial and in-kind help.  By doing these things, they provided a great deal of support for the poor immigrants who made up so much of American cities in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

However, someone had to pay for these votes and for the corrupt practices of the political machines.  Those who paid were generally the middle class.  It was their tax money that was used to buy the votes.  In addition, they were the ones who had to pay higher prices to make up for the bribes that businesses had to pay to machine bosses.  One way or another, most of the money that was going to help the poor was coming from the pockets of the middle class.

Therefore, I would argue that the political machines helped the poor at the expense of the middle class.

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