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Political party machines of the 1920s and 1930s: Tom Pendergast and The Kansas City democratic machine.

Matlin, John S. (2009)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.

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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.

Type of Work:Ph.D. thesis.
Supervisor(s):Laville, Helen
School/Faculty:Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
Department:School of Historical Studies, Department of American & Canadian Studies
Subjects:JK Political institutions (United States)
E151 United States (General)
Institution:University of Birmingham
ID Code:449
This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.
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