At the Irish Cultural Society meeting on November 12, 2014, Terry Golway did what great historians do — he made uncommon connections among historical facts. During his presentation, Professor Golway helped the members of his audience at the Garden City Library to connect the dots between Tammany Hall and New York politics and Ireland.
Terry Golway’s subject at the meeting was material taken from his well-received book Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern Politics. Professor Golway is the Director of the Kean University Center for History, Politics and Policy. He earned his PhD from Rutgers University, the book Machine Made being an outgrowth of his dissertation for his doctoral degree. He is read every week in the Irish Echo as a columnist, journalism being in Golway’s genes. Legitimately called a prolific author by host Clare Curtin, vice president of the Irish Cultural Society, Golway is author of Irish Rebel, a biography of John Devoy; The Irish in America; Let Every Nation Know: JFK in His Own Words; and So Others Might Live, a history of the FDNY.
Dr. Golway captivated the members of his audience from the start by escorting them back to Daniel O’Connell in Ireland in the 1820s. He reminded the audience of O’Connell’s seemingly futile campaign to become a member of Parliament in London, seats in which were open only to those who took a Test Oath, an impediment for Roman Catholics. Golway connected O’Connell’s campaign among the Irish Catholic freeholders, who had the right to vote, to Tammany Hall’s working among Irish immigrants to secure votes for Tammany candidates. O’Connell had the genius to know that the vote contained power and that if a candidate could accumulate votes, the candidate had power. The political genius of O’Connell, Golway told his audience, was to show the freeholders how to leverage their block of votes to gain advantage. The result in Ireland of this block voting was the overthrowing of the Test Oath and O’Connell’s becoming the first Roman Catholic to be seated in Parliament. The result in America was that immigrants from Ireland to New York, often Famine immigrants, came to their new land acculturated to the power of the vote. These were people who knew that a political entity like Tammany Hall could be used to advocate for their issues. Much of the progressive legislation in New York City, New York State and later the Nation emerged from the Tammany Hall model of trading off.
Tammany Hall, Terry Golway admitted to a rapt audience, for some of its time as the Democratic Party machine in Manhattan was every bit as corrupt as its reputation proclaims. Tammany’s “Boss” Tweed — not an Irishman, Golway assured the predominantly Irish and Irish-American audience — is well known for being the face of political corruption. The infamous Tweed Courthouse that was unused for more than 100 years until Mayor Bloomberg made it the headquarters of his Department of Education stood as a symbol of Tammany Hall’s greedy past. As the Famine grandkids reached New York, Archbishop John Hughes used their power for his purposes, such as to oppose what he regarded as the sectarian textbooks in the public schools and to protect the Catholic Church buildings (the genesis of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade), and so too did Tammany Hall use the Irish political consciousness to amass political power in New York as Tammany itself was being used to advance the needs of the working class, such as working hours legislation.
“Boss” Tweed was succeeded by the honest John Kelly. No doubt some rapscallions remained in the Tammany Hall power structure, but then in 1902 Charles Francis Murphy took over and ran Tammany Hall until 1924. Terry Golway calls Murphy the hero in the story of Machine Made and the Murphy era he calls the Golden Age of Tammany Hall. A son of Famine immigrants, Charles Murphy led the reforms that changed New York. When the Triangle Shirtwaist fire killed 145 women in 1911, most resistance to social legislation faded away. We are most aware of the fire codes instituted after that fire as a direct response to the tragedy, but indirectly came other reforms in workplace safety and in minimum wage standards. It was Murphy, too, who appointed young elected officials to powerful positions in Albany to advance the progressive reforms Tammany Hall supported. Those young men, Al Smith in the Assembly and Robert Wagner in the Senate, carried the ball for Tammany for many years to come. Al Smith, of course, became the first Roman Catholic to be nominated for the Presidency.
Terry Golway — college administrator, historian, earner of a doctorate, prolific author — was Teacher Golway at the Garden City Library on the evening of November 12, 2014. As great teachers do, Terry Golway brought humor, gesture, voice variety, excitement and passion to his class. He asked his students questions, he dramatized FDR’s painful walk to the podium at Madison Square Garden in 1924, and he won his audience’s attention in the best possible way — through the mastery of his material and the brilliance of his presentation.