Tammany Hall

by M. R. Werner. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Co. 1928. 8vo. xxi+586 pp. Illus, $5.00.
THE publication of Mr. M. R. Werner’s Tammany Hall has stirred sharp controversy, particularly among the journalist critics of New York City. Curiously enough, most of these critics — Democrats and Republicans alike — are indignant over what they term the ill treatment which Tammany has received at the hands of the historian. They revive the good deeds of the wigwam, point out that these good deeds have small place in the volume, and hurry to the conclusion that Mr. Werner has written a campaign document to be laid before the public on the eve of Tammany’s most ambitious bid for power.
I think that the intelligent critical attitude toward the book lies in another direction. Let us agree that this is not a complete or a thoroughly unbiased history of Tammany Hall. Let us agree that contemporary political organizations have often indulged in similar crimes. Let us even agree that inaccuracies creep into the text here and there. The fact remains that in Mr. Werner’s book we discover with striking effect the depths of depravity into which an uncontrolled political machine may sink. We find out approximately what happened to honor and to government on the three or four occasions when one particular organization achieved outright authority.
Reading this book, a melancholy pageant streams past the eye. In all of their uncomely stature, one sees the bosses who have, in their successive reigns, despoiled a city. Tweed lives again — gross, cruel, greedy, vulgar. He robs the people of their wealth, and then, beaten and close to death, whimpers out a confession of his wrongs, Croker stares from the pages-cold and strong and unscrupulous. He steals the elections by brute force, thugging his way into command, directing the decisions of the courts which he has purchased. Under the command of such men, we see the press sprawl, fight a little, and in one or two directions sell itself out bodily.
The sins of these men are set out in such forthright detail that they take on a faint splendor. One almost admires their tremendous audacity, their contempt for the herd which watches their crimes and then attempts to build monuments in their honor. But for the lesser figures no such perverse admiration is stirred. The spectacle provided by these fellows —by the simpering A. Oakey Hall, a clown in the mayor’s chair; by the infamous Judge Barnard; by Richard B. Connolly, the comptroller; by Peter B. Sweeny; by Hugh J. Grant, another mayor—this spectacle is degrading. The world perhaps no longer would endure a Tweed or a Croker. Such fellow s belong to a breed which faded out with the fading of the inflated nineteenth century. In this day they would destroy themselves by their own fraudulent immensity. But the lesser characters, sly, retiring, secretive, where their masters were bold—the type is eternal. It is good to be warned against them.
We may reach the end of Mr. Werner’s book with a very definite idea as to its worth. It is the true history of the evils that grow from machine government, nothing more. It is a valuable touch of bitters in a political draught that is like to grow too fascinatingly sweet in the days that are upon us. It is a palliative to campaigning hysteria that might even invoke thought in the minds of men who vote. I do not think it is to be taken quite literally — that men should hate and fear Tammany Hall because of it. Tammany Hall under Alfred E. Smith (a phase which is not mentioned in Mr. Werner’s study) has mended its ways. It has made a bid for respectability, and the bid has not been unsuccessful. It has brought itself to the point where it may honorably ask for national recognition, without drawing forth our scornful laughter. We may even decide to give it this recognition, even to place the government of the Republic in its hands. But with Mr. Werner’s story fresh in our minds we shall know that checkreins must be hitched very tightly here and there.