At its peak during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, machine politics was a response to the needs of the growing urban populations. Operating under a spoils system, many late nineteenth century political machines offered new immigrants jobs and housing in exchange for votes.
The birth of the American political machine can be traced to the waves of immigration to the United States during the late nineteenth century. Following the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), America saw tremendous expansion in industry and a rapid increase in urbanization. Many immigrants who entered the United States between 1860 and 1890 were poorly educated and unable to speak English. Urban political machines emerged to help alleviate abject poverty, as they could address the needs of the immigrants better than government agencies could. Many immigrants needed jobs and resources faster than traditional means could provide them. Thus, in large cities such as Chicago, New York City, and
Machine “bosses,” as the leaders of the machines came to be known, provided immigrants help with naturalization, finding jobs, and negotiating rent agreements. Although not often in charge of hiring immigrants directly, bosses persuaded elected officials to give jobs to immigrants or to ensure that government contracts were made with businesses that would employ the faithful immigrants. Machine bosses were seen as beacons of hope for the downtrodden and in many cases took on paternalistic roles. In return for their patronage they expected unwavering loyalty at the
In 1922 and 1926, Pendergast got
The Pendergast machine was practically invincible within Missouri and might have lasted decades longer had not the immigration pattern in Kansas City changed. Most immigrants settling in
Cornwell, Elmer E., Jr. “Bosses, Machines, and Ethnic Groups.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 353, no. 1 (1964): 27-39. Traces the influence of ethnic groups on politics after the decline of the machines during the 1920’s. Gerstle, Gary, and John H. Mollenkopf. E Pluribus Unum? Contemporary and Historical Perspectives on Immigrant Political Incorporation. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2005. Highlights the struggles of immigrants to assimilate into American political society. Heidenheimer, Arnold J., and Michael Johnston. Political Corruption: Concepts and Contexts. 3d ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2002. This compilation explores the historical concept of political corruption via the nineteenth century political machines. McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. Chapters 5 and 6 give a detailed account of how the Pendergast machine selected Harry S. Truman for the U.S. Senate. Roosevelt, Theodore. “Machine Politics in New York City.” The Century 33, no 1 (1886): 74-83. Timely look at political machines operating in New York City and a rationalization of why they exist. Royko, Mike. Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago. New York: Penguin Books, 1971. Classic work in the field of machine politics, Royko explores the only major political machine to survive in the second half of the twentieth century.
New York City