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Historical Insights New York City Politics in the Mid-1800s

From 1836 to 1852, the Whig Party became one of New York City’s most powerful and influential political groups. Whig leaders appealed to diverse social classes, advocating economic growth, humanitarian reform, and morality in politics. About 1881, Washington, D.C.. Credit: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/UIG via Getty Images

New York City Politics in the Mid-1800s

Ethnic diversity and economic challenges in the mid-1800s led some New York City politicians to take unorthodox measures to gain political office and prestige.

By the mid-1800s, New York City was the American center for trade, commerce, and industry. People of every race and religion flocked to the Big Apple and by 1850 the city was teeming with more than 500 million residents. Although business was booming, the average person lived in squalor. Politicians were called upon to improve conditions, but offices were often appointed to those who were willing to be bribed and not those who were most qualified. Soon New York City politics became riddled with “swindlers, liars, and thieves.” By 1870, tens of millions of dollars had been illegally siphoned from the public into politicians’ pocketbooks. Investigations finally curtailed the corruption, but not before New York City had been branded as a center of political corruption and fraud.