The New International Encyclopædia/Tweed, William Marcy

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TWEED, William Marcy (1823-78). A notorious American politician, leader of the so-called ‘Tweed Ring,’ born in New York City. He was the son of a chair-maker, was prepared for the same occupation, receiving slight education, and early entered politics, becoming an alderman of New York City, and taking a seat in Congress in 1853. Subsequently he was a School Commissioner; became a member of the Board of Supervisors of New York County, and was president of the board for four successive terms. From 1867 to 1871 he was a State Senator. A member of the Tammany Society for many years, he was grand sachem in 1869-71. He was appointed Deputy Street Commissioner in 1861, and when in 1870 that department was changed to the Department of Public Works, he was the Commissioner at its head, a position which enabled him to initiate, as is generally believed, the formation of the combination known as the ‘Tammany Ring,’ or the ‘Tweed Ring.’ The ‘ring,’ having placated the Mozart Hall faction of Fernando Wood (q.v.), elected its candidate for Mayor in 1865, and its candidate for Governor in 1868, and so controlled the Legislature as to secure such a modification of the city's charter as greatly to increase the power of the offices held by the ‘ring.’ Legislators and judges were bribed, and bills were passed and decisions rendered in favor of the members of the ‘ring.’ Gigantic schemes of city improvement were organized and carried out successfully, though accompanied generally with much peculation. Fraudulent bills were audited, and their sum divided among the thieves. Probably no other such complete plan of public spoliation was ever devised and executed in any country. The exposure of this vast system of peculation was made largely by the New York Times, through the intervention of a disappointed enemy of the ‘ring,’ in July, 1871; a vigorous investigation and prosecution was undertaken by a committee of seventy citizens, under the lead of Samuel J. Tilden (q.v.); and Tweed was indicted in 1872 for forgery and grand larceny. Two trials were held, and in 1873 Tweed was convicted, and sentenced to twelve years' confinement in the penitentiary, and to pay a fine of $12,300.18. He was confined on Blacknell's Island from November, 1873, until June, 1875, when he was released by a decision of the Court of Appeals, on a legal technicality. He was immediately rearrested on a warrant issued in a civil suit for $6,198,957.85, and sent to Ludlow Street Jail. Being permitted to go out to drive with an officer, he made his escape, and fled to Spain. He was returned in November, 1876, and again incarcerated in Ludlow Street Jail until April 12, 1878, when he died. Much material relative to Tweed is to be found in Myers's History of Tammany Hall (New York), and in Breen's Thirty Years of New York Politics (ib., 1899). See also chapter 88 of James Bryce, The American Commonwealth (ib., 1889), on “The Tweed Ring,” by F. J. Goodnow.