Matlin, John S. (2009)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.
This thesis is a study of American local government in the 1920s and 1930s and the role played by political party machines. It reviews the growth of overtly corrupt machines after the end of the Civil War, the struggle by the Progressives to reform city halls throughout America at the turn of the twentieth century and the rise of second phase machines at the end of the First World War. It analyses the core elements of machines, especially centralization of power, manipulation of incentives, leadership and “bossism”, and use of patronage. Throughout it emphasises that first and foremost, machines were small monopoly businesses whose vast profits, derived from improper and corrupt use of government levers, were allocated among a small group of senior players. Using the Kansas City Democratic machine of the infamous Tom Pendergast as a case study, it examines challenges to machines and the failure of the local press to expose Pendergast’s wrongdoing. It analyses elements of machine corruption, first in the conduct of elections where numerous fraudulent tactics kept machines in power and, second, in the way machines corruptly manipulated local government, often involving organized crime. Finally, the thesis examines the breach of ethics of machine politics, measuring the breaches against the pragmatism of bosses. Numerous larger-than-life characters appear in the thesis from bosses such as Tweed of Tammany Hall infamy, Alonzo “Nuckie” Johnson, Frank Hague and Tom Pendergast, the gangster John Lazia, as well as men who did business with or fought Pendergast, such as future president Harry S. Truman, Missouri U.S. Attorney Maurice Milligan and even Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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