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Tammany Society

Posted By Dennis Partridge On In America,Native American,New York | No Comments

The practice of organizing American political and military societies on an Indian basis dates back to the French and Indian war, and was especially in favor among the soldiers of the Revolutionary army, most of whom were frontiersmen more or less familiar with Indian life and custom. Of several such societies organized about the Revolutionary period the only ones still existing are the secret Improved Order of Red Men and the famous Tammany Society, originally established as a patriotic and charitable organization, but now for many years best known as the dominating factor in the Democratic politics of New York city. It was founded in 1786 by William Mooney, a Revolutionary veteran and former leader of the “Sons of Liberty,” and regularly organized with a constitution in 1789 (most of the original members being soldiers of the Revolutionary War), for the purpose of guarding “the independence, the popular liberty, and the federal union of the country,” in opposition to the efforts of the aristocratic element, as represented by Hamilton and the Federalists, to make the new government practically a monarchy, with life tenure for President and Senate and a restricted property suffrage. Its two main purposes were declared to be

  1. The perpetuity of republican institutions, and
  2. The care of Revolutionary soldiers, their widows and orphans, “and of others who might be proper objects of charity.”

The Tammany society – occasionally at first known as the Columbian Order took an Indian title and formulated for itself a ritual based upon supposedly Indian custom. Thus, the name chosen was that of the traditional Delaware chief; the meeting place was called the “wigwam”; there were 13 “tribes” or branches corresponding to the 13 original states, the New York parent organization being the “Eagle Tribe,” New Hampshire the “Otter Tribe,” Delaware the “Tiger Tribe,” whence the famous “Tammany tiger,” etc. The principal officer of each tribe was styled the “sachem,” and the head of the whole organization was designated the kitcki okeemaw, or grand sachem, which office was held by Mooney himself for more than 20 years. Subordinate officers also were designated by other Indian titles, records were kept according to the Indian system by moons and seasons, and at the regular meetings the members attended in semi-Indian costume.

For the first 30 years of its existence, until the close of the War of 1812, nearly the whole effort of the society was directed to securing and broadening the foundations of the young republic, and it is possible that without Tammany’s constant vigilance the National Government could not have survived the open and secret attacks of powerful foes both within and without. In 1790 it was chiefly instrumental in the negotiation of a treaty with the Creek Indians, by which the peace of the southern border was secured.

About the same time it took steps for the establishment of an Indian museum, the germ of the New York Historical Society. In 1808 it collected and gave suitable burial to the bones of the Revolutionary victims of the prison ships at Wallabout bay. In the War of 1812 it furnished three generals to the United States army, and 1,200 men from its own membership for the construction of defenses about New York city. In 1817 it brought back from Canada and interred with fitting ceremony the body of Gen. Richard Montgomery, killed at the siege of Quebec. In 1820, after years of effort, it secured full manhood suffrage in the state of New York, and in 1831 it procured the abolition of imprisonment for debt in New York city. In 1861 it raised from its membership, equipped, and sent to the front, under its own Grand Sachem as colonel, the 42d N. Y. Infantry regiment. The original New York organization still survives, the other branches having long passed out of existence, but of late years it has devoted its energies chiefly to the control of local politics. Its central executive body is known as Tammany Hall. Theoretically the “Society” and the ” Hall” are two distinct bodies, the one representing the social and fraternal functions, the other the political “machine”; but as their officership is largely identical, their meetings held in the same “wigwam,” and the names similar, the distinction is of minor importance.

Consult further:

  1. Heckewelder, Ind. Nations, 1876;
  2. Drake, Aboriginal Races of N. Am., 1880;
  3. Haines, Am. Ind. (chapter on The Order of Red Men), 1888;
  4. Davis, Tammany Hall, in Munsey’s Mag., Oct. 1900;
  5. Encycl. Americana, art. Tammany, 1904.

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