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King of the Bowry: Big Tim Sullivan, Tammany Hall, and New York City from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era
by Robert F. Welch
Publisher: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press 2008
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King of the Bowery is the first complete study of Timothy D. "Big Tim" Sullivan, Tammany chieftain and kingmaker. "King of the Lower East Side" to many, and to some "King of the Underworld," Sullivan was a pivotal figure in the late nineteenth-and early twentieth century urban politics. A master of the personal, paternalistic, and corrupt no-holds-barred politics of the nineteenth century, he heartily embraced progressive causes in his later years and anticipated many of the policies and initiatives later pursued by Al Smith and Franklin D. Roosevelt, early acquaintances and sometimes antagonists. The story of Big Tim Sullivan is the story of New York City as it emerged from the nineteenth century to the onset of modernity. Sullivan was a rags-to-riches story, a poor Irish kid from the Five Points who rose through ambition, shrewdness, and charisma to become the most powerful single politician in New York by 1909. Sullivan was quick to embrace and then harness the shifting demographic patterns of the Lower East Side, recruiting Jewish and Italian newcomers into his largely Irish organization - his "machine within a machine" - meeting the newcomers' needs, taking their votes, and creating a personal following that made him invincible in his downtown bastion. Politics was Sullivan's major occupation and he served as state assemblyman, Congressman, and state senator. He also played a significant role in the bankrolling and promotion of mass entertainment such as vaudeville, sports, and motion pictures, investments that were as lucrative to him as they were enjoyable to his constituents. A significant amount of Sullivan's income derived from his involvement with the underworld, especially gambling, a vice to which he was personally addicted. Throughout his career he also dodged and vehemently denied accusations that he profited from prostitution, which was rife in New York City. His underworld connections led to a swirl of conspiracy theories following his bizarre death in the wake of sensational gangland shooting in 1913. Sullivan was a major transitional figure in urban politics, whose multifaceted, contradictory life and careers graphically illustrate the story of New York City's troubled emergence into the modern world and exemplify the transformation of urban - and national - politics in the three decades before the outbreak of the Great War. Despite his significance, this dynamic, charismatic, and engaging figure has been generally neglected by historians. The product of several years of research and study, King of the Bowery draws extensively on contemporary sources resulting in a rich, flavorful, and accurate portrayal of the Gilded Age in New York through the life of one of its dominant personalities. The book should prove attractive to all interested in American history and politics, the Progressive Era, urban history, ethnicity, and New York, as well as those who value an excursion into the life of a colorful rogue-reformer whose life - and his times - cannot appear again.



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