Plunkitt of Tammany Hall

Author: George Washington Plunkitt

Chapter 17. Tammany’s Patriotism

TAMMANY’s the most patriotic organization on earth, notwithstandin’ the fact that the civil service law is sappin’ the foundations of patriotism all over the country. Nobody pays any attention to the Fourth of July any longer except Tammany and the small boy. When the Fourth comes, the reformers, with Revolutionary names parted in the middle, run off to Newport or the Adirondacks to get out of the way of the noise and everything that reminds them of the glorious day. How different it is with Tammany! The very constitution of the Tammany Society requires that we must assemble at the wigwam on the Fourth, regardless of the weather, and listen to the readin’ of the Declaration of Independence and patriotic speeches.

You ought to attend one of these meetin’s. They’re a liberal education in patriotism. The great hall upstairs is filled with five thousand people, suffocatin’ from heat and smoke. Every man Jack of these five thousand knows that down in the basement there’s a hundred cases of champagne and two hundred kegs of beer ready to flow when the signal is given. Yet that crowd stick to their seats without turnin’ a hair while, for four solid hours, the Declaration of Independence is read, long-winded orators speak, and the glee dub sings itself hoarse.

Talk about heroism in the battlefield! That comes and passes away in a moment. You ain’t got time to be anything but heroic. But just think of five thousand men sittin’ in the hottest place on earth for four long hours, with parched lips and gnawin’ stomachs, and knowin’ all the time that the delights of the oasis in the desert were only two flights downstairs! Ah, that is the highest kind of patriotism, the patriotism o[ long sufferin’ and endurance. What man wouldn’t rather face a cannon for a minute or two than thirst for four hours, with champagne and beer almost under his nose?

And then see how they applaud and yell when patriotic things are said! As soon as the man on the platform starts off with "when, in the course of human events," word goes around that it’s the Declaration of Independence, and a mighty roar goes up. The Declaration ain’t a very short document and the crowd has heard it on every Fourth but they give it just as fine a send off as if it was brand-new and awful excitin’. Then the "long talkers" get in their work, that is two or three orators who are good for an hour each. Heat never has any effect on these men. They use every minute of their time. Sometimes human nature gets the better of a man in the audience and he begins to nod, but he always wakes up with a hurrah for the Declaration of Independence.

The greatest hero of the occasion is the Grand Sachem of the Tammany Society who presides. He and the rest of us Sachems come on the stage wearin’ stovepipe hats, accordin’ to the constitution, but we can shed ours right off, while the Grand Sachem is required to wear his hat all through the celebration. Have you any idea what that means? Four hours under a big silk hat in a hall where the heat registers 110 and the smoke 250! And the Grand Sachem is expected to look pleasant all the time and say nice things when introducin’ the speakers! Often his hand goes to his hat, unconscious-like, then he catches himself up in time and looks around like a man who is in the tenth story of a burnin’ building’ seekin’ a way to escape. I believe that Fourth-of-July silk hat shortened the life of one of our Grand Sachems, the late Supreme Court Justice Smyth, and I know that one of our Sachems refused the office of Grand Sachem because he couldn’t get up sufficient patriotism to perform this four-hour hat act. You see, there’s degrees of patriotism just as there’s degrees in everything else.

You don’t hear of the Citizens’ Union people holdin’ Fourth-of-July celebrations under a five-pound silk hat, or any other way, do you? The Cits take the Fourth like a dog I had when I was a boy. That dog knew as much as some Cits and he acted just like them about the glorious day. Exactly forty-eight hours before each Fourth of July, the dog left our house on a run and hid himself in the Bronx woods. The day after the Fourth he turned up at home as regular as clockwork. He must have known what a dog is up against on the Fourth. Anyhow, he kept out of the way. The name-parted-in-themiddle aristocrats act in just the same way. They don’t want to be annoyed with firecrackers and the Declaration of Independence, and when they see the Fourth comm’ they hustle off to the woods like my dog.

Tammany don’t only show its patriotism at Fourth-of-July celebrations. It’s always on deck when the country needs its services. After the Spanish-American War broke Out, John J. Scannell, the Tammany leader of the Twenty-fifth District, wrote to Governor Black offerin’ to raise a Tammany regiment to go to the front. If you want proof, go to Tammany Hall and see the beautiful set of engrossed resolutions about this regiment. It’s true that the Governor didn’t accept the offer, but it showed Tammany’s patriotism. Some enemies of the organization have said that the offer to raise the regiment was made after the Governor let it be known that no more volunteers were wanted, but that’s the talk of envious slanderers.

Now, a word about Tammany’s love for the American flag. Did you ever see Tammany Hall decorated for a celebration? It’s just a mass of flags. They even take down the window shades and put flags in place of them. There’s flags everywhere except on the floors. We don’t care for expense where the American flag is concerned, especially after we have won an election. In 1904 we originated the custom of givin’ a small flag to each man as he entered Tammany Hall for the Fourth-of-July celebration. It took like wildfire. The men waved their flags whenever they cheered and the sight made me feel so patriotic that I forgot all about civil service for a while. And the good work of the flags didn’t stop there. The men carried them home and gave them to the children, and the kids got patriotic, too. Of course, it all cost a pretty penny, but what of that? We had won at the polls the precedin’ November, had the offices and could afford to make an extra investment in patriotism.


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Chicago: George Washington Plunkitt, "Chapter 17. Tammany’s Patriotism," Plunkitt of Tammany Hall in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall Original Sources, accessed July 24, 2024,

MLA: Plunkitt, George Washington. "Chapter 17. Tammany’s Patriotism." Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, Original Sources. 24 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Plunkitt, GW, 'Chapter 17. Tammany’s Patriotism' in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. cited in , Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. Original Sources, retrieved 24 July 2024, from