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Scandal::William M. Tweed

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Scandal Tweed's downfall came in the wake of the Orange riot of 1871, which came after Tammany Hall banned a parade of Irish Protestants celebrating a historical victory against Catholicism, because of a riot the year before in which eight people died when a crowd of Irish Catholic laborers attacked the paraders. Under strong pressure from the newspapers and the Protestant elite of the city, Tammany reversed course, and the march was allowed to proceed, with protection from city policemen and state militia. The result was an even larger riot in which over 60 people were killed and more than 150 injured.

Although Tammany's electoral power base was largely centered in the Irish immigrant population, it also needed the city's elite to acquiesce in its rule, and this was conditional on the machine's ability to control the actions of their people, but the July riot showed that this capability was not nearly as strong as had been supposed.<ref>Burrows & Wallace, pp.1003-1008</ref>

Nast shows Tweed's source of power: control of the ballot box. "As long as I count the Votes, what are you going to do about it?"

Tweed had for months been under attack from the New York Times and Thomas Nast, the cartoonist from Harper's Weekly – regarding Nast's cartoons, Tweed reportedly said, "Stop them damned pictures. I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them damned pictures!"<ref>{{#invoke:citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=web }}</ref> – but their campaign had only limited success in gaining traction. They were able to force an examination of the city's books, but the blue-ribbon commission of six businessmen appointed by Mayor A. Oakey Hall, a Tammany man, which included John Jacob Astor III, banker Moses Taylor and others who benefited from Tammany's actions, found that the books had been "faithfully kept", letting the air out of the effort to dethrone Tweed.<ref name=g1008>Burrows & Wallace, pp.1008-1011</ref>

The response to the Orange riot changed everything, and only days afterwards the Times/Nast campaign began to garner popular support.<ref name=g1008 /> More importantly, the Times started to receive inside information from County Sheriff James O'Brien, whose support for Tweed had fluctuated during Tammany's reign. O'Brien had tried to blackmail Tammany by threatening to expose the ring's embezzlement to the press, and when this failed he provided the evidence he had collected to the Times.<ref name="Ellis347-8">Ellis, pp. 347–348.</ref> Shortly afterward, county auditor Matthew J. O'Rourke supplied additional details to the Times,<ref name="Ellis347-8" /> which was reportedly offered $5 million to not publish the evidence.<ref>Paine, p. 170.</ref> The Times also obtained the accounts of the recently deceased James Watson, who was the Tweed Ring's bookkeeper, and these were published daily, culminating in a special four-page supplement on July 29 headlined "Gigantic Frauds of the Ring Exposed".<ref name=g1008 /> In August, Tweed began to transfer ownership in his real-estate empire and other investments to his family members.<ref name=encnyc />

The exposes provoked an international crisis of confidence in New York City's finances, and, in particular, in its ability to repay its debts. European investors were heavily positioned in the city's bonds and were already nervous about its management – only the reputations of the underwriters were preventing a run on the city's securities. New York's financial and business community knew that if the city's credit was to collapse, it could potentially bring down every bank in the city with it.<ref name=g1008 />

Thus, the city's elite met at Cooper Union in September to discuss political reform: but for the first time, the conversation included not only the usual reformers, but also Democratic bigwigs such as Samuel J. Tilden, who had been thrust aside by Tammany. The general consensus was that the "wisest and best citizens" should take over the governance of the city and attempt to restore investor confidence. The result was the formation of the Executive Committee of Citizens and Taxpayers for Financial Reform of the City (also known as "the Committee of Seventy"), which attacked Tammany by cutting off the city's funding. Property owners refused to pay their municipal taxes, and a judge – Tweed's old friend George Barnard, no less – enjoined the city Comptroller from issuing bonds or spending money. Unpaid workers turned against Tweed, marching to City Hall demanding to be paid. Tweed doled out some funds from his own purse – $50,000 – but it was not sufficient to end the crisis, and Tammany began to lose its essential base.<ref name=g1008 />

Shortly thereafter, the Comptroller resigned, appointing Andrew Haswell Green, an associate of Tilden's, as his replacement. Green loosened the purse strings again, allowing city departments not under Tammany control to borrow money to operate. Green and Tilden had the city's records closely examined, and discovered money that went directly from city contractors into Tweed's pocket. The following day, they had Tweed arrested.<ref name=g1008 />


William M. Tweed sections
Intro  Early life  Corruption  Scandal  Imprisonment, escape, and death  Evaluations   Middle name  In popular culture   See also   References  External links  

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