Political machine

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In this 1899 cartoon from Puck, all of New York City politics revolves around boss Richard Croker

A political machine is an unofficial system of political organization based on patronage, the spoils system, "behind-the-scenes" control, and longstanding political ties within the structure of a representative democracy. Machines sometimes have a boss, and always have a long-term corps of dedicated workers who depend on the patronage generated by government contracts and jobs. Machine politics has existed in many United States cities, especially between about 1875 and 1950, but continuing in some cases down to the present day. It is also common (under the name clientelism or political clientelism) in Latin America, especially in rural areas. Japan's Liberal Democratic Party is often cited as another political machine, maintaining power in suburban and rural areas through its control of farm bureaus and road construction agencies.

The key to a political machine is patronage: holding public office implies the ability to do favors (and also the ability to profit from graft). Political machines generally steer away from issues-based politics, favoring a quid pro quo with certain aspects of a barter economy or gift economy: the patron or "boss" does favors for the constituents, who then vote as they are told to. Sometimes this system of favors is supplemented by threats of violence or harassment toward those who attempt to step outside of it. [1]


[edit] Political machines in the United States

In the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was mainly the larger cities that had machines — Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York City, Philadelphia, etc. — and each city's machine was run by a "boss," a man who had the allegiance of elected officials and who knew the buttons to push to get things done.

Many machines formed in cities to serve immigrants to the U.S. in the late nineteenth century; the immigrants were unfamiliar with the sense of civic duty that was part of American republicanism. They traded votes for jobs and inside favors from judges, policemen, and city inspectors. Some bosses were ruthless in their endeavor to retain power. The main role of the machine staffers was to win elections--usually by turning out large numbers of voters on election day. Occasionally illegal tactics were used in local elections (but rarely in state or presidential elections).

Civic minded citizens, such as the Mugwumps, denounced the corruption of the political machines. They achieved national civil service reform and worked to move local patronage systems to civil service, By Theodore Roosevelt's time, the Progressive Era mobilized millions of civic minded citizens to fight the machines. In the 1930s the Works Progress Administration (WPA) nationalized many of the job benefits machines provided. The New Deal allowed the machines to recruit for the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), but when those agencies were abolished in 1943 the machines suddenly lost much of their patronage. In any case the poor immigrants had become assimilated and prosperous and no longer needed the informal or extralegal aides provided by machines. In the 1940s most of the big city machines collapsed, with the notable exception of Chicago. A local political machine in Tennessee was forcibly removed in what was known as the Battle of Athens.

In the 1960s, historians have reevaluated political machines, considering them corrupt but also efficient. If machines were undemocratic, they were at least responsive. If they were corrupt, at least they were able to contain the spending demands of special interests. In Mayors and Money, a comparison of municipal government in Chicago and New York, Ester R. Fuchs credited the Chicago Democratic Machine with giving Mayor Richard J. Daley the political power to deny unions contracts that the city could not afford and to make the state assume burdensome costs like welfare and courts. Describing New York, Fuchs wrote, "New York got reform, but it never got good government."

Today, such smaller communities as Parma, Ohio in the post-Cold War Era under Prosecutor Bill Mason's "Good Old Boys" and especially communities in the Deep South, where small-town machine politics are relatively common also feature what might be classified as political machines, although these organizations do not have the power and influence of the larger boss networks listed in this article.

[edit] Notable "Bosses" and their political machines

[edit] State Bosses

[edit] County Bosses

[edit] City Bosses

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

  • John M. Allswang, Bosses, Machines, and Urban Voters (1986)
  • Erie, Steven P. Rainbow's End: Irish-Americans and the Dilemmas of Urban Machine Politics, 1840—1985 (1988).
  • Finegold, Kenneth. Experts and Politicians: Reform Challenges to Machine Politics in New York, Cleveland, and Chicago (1995) on Progressive Era
  • Harold F. Gosnell; Boss Platt and His New York Machine: A Study of the Political Leadership of Thomas C. Platt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Others. (1924)
  • Harold F. Gosnell; Machine Politics: Chicago Model (1937)
  • Kaufman, Robert R. "The Patron-Client Concept and Macro-Politics: Prospects and Problems" Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Jun., 1974) , pp. 284-308
  • Keefer, Philip. 2005. "Clientelism, Credibility and the Policy Choices of Young Democracies." Presented at The Quality of Government: What It Is, How to Get It, Why It Matters, International Conference, Göteborg, 17-19 November.
  • Mandelbaum, Seymour J. Boss Tweed's New York (1965) (ISBN 0-471-56652-7)
  • Nylen, William. 2003. Participatory Democracy versus Elitist Democracy: Lessons from Brazil. Palgrave-Macmillan, New York. [review]
  • Samuel P. Orth; The Boss and the Machine: A Chronicle of the Politicians and Party Organization (1919), short survey
  • M. Ostrogorski; Democracy and the Party System in the United States (1910)
  • William Riordan, Plunkett of Tammany Hall (1963) 1915 memoir of New York City ward boss
  • Scott, James C. "Corruption, Machine Politics, and Political Change" American Political Science Review, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Dec., 1969) , pp. 1142-1158
  • Stave, Bruce M. and Sondra Astor Stave, eds., Urban Bosses, Machines, and Progressive Reformers (1984).
  • Stave, Bruce M. , John M. Allswang, Terrence J. McDonald, Jon C. Teaford. "A Reassessment of the Urban Political Boss: An Exchange of Views" History Teacher, Vol. 21, No. 3 (May, 1988) , pp. 293-312
  • Steffens, Lincoln. The Shame of the Cities (1904) muckraking expose of machines in major cities
  • Harold B. Zink; City Bosses in the United States: A Study of Twenty Municipal Bosses (1930)

[edit] External links

de:Klientelismus es:Clientelismo político fr:Clientélisme nl:Cliëntelisme pt:Clientelismo

Political machine

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