The Gilded Age
George Washington Plunkitt in The Gilded Age
George Washington Plunkitt (1842-1924) was an influential leader in Tammany Hall, New York's Democratic political machine. He served as a state senator and a representative to the New York Assembly. But he exercised greater political influence through his work as a ward boss in New York's Fifteenth Assembly District.
Plunkitt was born in poverty and only received three years of formal education. But he rose through the ranks of Tammany Hall by building a following among the working-class Irish of the Fifteenth District. Plunkitt also acquired considerable personal wealth by trading his political support for information; in return for useful inside information, he guaranteed that his loyal followers would vote as he directed.
In 1905, reporter William Riordon published "a series of very plain talks" in which Plunkitt frankly described his political methods and philosophy. In explaining the difference between "honest and dishonest graft," and the legitimacy of using political power to advance his own personal interests, Plunkitt challenged conventional ideas about corruption and disinterested public service.