Corruption always has been a part of American politics. No one exemplifies this more than William “Boss” Tweed. Tweed was active in New York City politics in the mid-19th century. He was portrayed by Jim Broadbent in the 2002 film The Gangs of New York, and is best known for his role as head of in the city’s political machine, Tammany Hall.
Tweed was born in the Big Apple in 1823 and had a typical childhood for the era. He learned bookkeeping but opted not to go into this father’s chair-making business. When he was a teenager, he became a street thug and a volunteer firefighter.
The film depicts two fire companies brawling while a fire blazes. This depiction isn’t too far from the truth. Fire companies were politically oriented and often fought.
Tweed first ran for political office in 1852, winning the position of alderman. His next position was in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served one term. After returning to New York, he immersed himself into city politics.
New York City at the time was witnessing an influx of immigrants. This population boom meant it was necessary for the city to build new infrastructure and buildings.
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