The American symbol of inner-city political corruption, William “Boss” Tweed brilliantly mastered the form of aiding his constituents and business partners in return for votes, money and power. Tweed, a Democrat, served as a member of and eventually headed New York’s Tammany Hall amidst heavy war profiteering during the Civil War. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1852, the New York City Board of Advisers four years later, and the New York State Senate in 1867.
The city’s debts jumped about $100 million dollars in just two years from 1868 to 1870. Tweed was convicted in 1873 for his role in a corruption ring that stole at least $1 billion in today’s dollars and given a 12-year sentence. Tweed was released a year later however after his prison term was reduced, though he was immediately rearrested, as the city sued him for $6 million. Tweed escaped and fled to Spain where he was arrested and sent back to New York City. Tweed died in prison from pneumonia in 1878. Many, including Tweed himself, believed that despite his crooked ways he did a lot of good for the city, especially for the poor.