Birthday: April 3, 1823
Died At Age: 55
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: William Marcy Tweed Jr.
Born in: Manhattan
Notorious As: Politician
political ideology: Political party - Democratic
Spouse/Ex-: Jane Skaden
Died on: April 12, 1878
place of death: New York City
Who was William M. Tweed?
William M. Tweed was an American politician notorious for his involvement in political corruption. Also referred to as “Boss” Tweed, he was the boss of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party political machine that played a major role in the politics of 19th century New York City and State. Born as the son of a third-generation Scottish-Irish chair-maker in Manhattan, he dropped out from school at the age of 11 to learn his father’s trade. He then apprenticed with a saddle maker and went on to work as a brush-maker before joining the family business. Tweed also joined a volunteer fire company. At that time, volunteer fire companies were also recruiting grounds for political parties and thus he came in contact with prominent politicians and went on to join politics himself. He won a term in Congress and gradually strengthened his position in Tammany Hall (the executive committee of New York City’s Democratic Party organization). Over the next few years he established himself as a very powerful politician, exercising great control over the politics in New York City. He gained notoriety for his involvement in political corruption and before long became a millionaire and the third largest land owner in Manhattan. Ultimately he was convicted for stealing millions of dollars and imprisoned. He died in the Ludlow Street Jail.
Childhood & Early Life
William M. Tweed was born on April 3, 1823, in Manhattan. His father was a third-generation Scottish-Irish chair-maker.
He did not receive much formal education and dropped out of school at the age of 11 to learn his father’s trade. A couple of years later he became an apprentice to a saddler.
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He worked as a brush-maker for a while before joining the family business in 1852. He was also a member of a volunteer fire company which served as a recruiting ground for political parties. He was actively courted by the Democrats and was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1852.
Tweed was by no means a trained lawyer, but his friend Judge George G. Barnard, certified him as an attorney and Tweed soon opened a law office.
In the 1860s, he became the chairman of the Democratic General Committee and was then chosen to be the head of Tammany's general committee in January 1863. He wasted no time in tightening his hold on power by using various means and within months began to be referred to as "Boss".
He now started increasing his wealth by adopting illegal means. He extorted large sums of money from various corporations for his so-called “legal services”, and bought the New-York Printing Company and the Manufacturing Stationers’ Company. Under his ownership, both the companies started overcharging for their goods and services.
In 1868, he became a state senator and also the grand sachem (principal leader) of Tammany Hall. By now he was one of the most powerful Democratic politicians in both the New York City and state. In order to strengthen his stance, he had his candidates elected as mayor of New York City, and governor, and speaker of the state assembly.
In April 1870, Tweed secured the passage of a city charter which put control of the city's finances in the hands of a Board of Audit, which consisted of Tweed, who was Commissioner of Public Works, Mayor A. Oakey Hall, and Comptroller Richard "Slippery Dick" Connolly, both Tammany men.
The men began stealing money from the New York City government and defrauded the taxpayers of several millions of dollars. New York City’s debts increased from $36 million in 1868 to about $136 million by 1870, with little to show for the debt.
By 1871, he had become a member of the board of directors of not only the Erie Railroad and the Brooklyn Bridge Company, but also the Third Avenue Railway Company and the Harlem Gas Light Company. He also amassed a big fortune through real estate dealings.
The citizens were growing increasingly frustrated at the rampant political corruption that Tweed and his associates engaged in and people desperately wanted to topple Tweed from power. His exploits were exposed by ‘The New York Times’ and ‘Harper’s Weekly’, and also by the efforts of a reform lawyer, Samuel J. Tilden.
William M. Tweed was finally brought to trial on charges of forgery and larceny, and was convicted and imprisoned in 1873. However he was released in 1875 and again arrested on a civil charge. He managed to escape and fled to Cuba and then to Spain.
He could not evade arrest for long and was captured again and imprisoned in a jail in New York City for the rest of his life.
William M. Tweed was a politician very deeply involved in political corruption. An alderman’s committee in 1877 estimated that he stole between $25 million and $45 million from New York City taxpayers though according to later estimates, he might have stolen as much as $200 million.
Personal Life & Legacy
William M. Tweed married Mary Jane C. Skaden on September 29, 1844.
He died on April 12, 1878, at the age of 55, in the Ludlow Street Jail.