George W. Plunkitt

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George Washington Plunkitt, center

George Washington Plunkitt (November 17, 1842 – November 19, 1924) was an American politician from New York. He served in both Houses of the State Legislature, and was as a member of the Tammany Hall machine in New York City.

Biography[edit]

He was born on November 17, 1842.

He was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 17th D.) in 1869 and 1870.

He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1884 to 1887 (11th D.), in 1892 and 1893 (11th D.), and from 1899 to 1904 (17th D.); sitting in the 107th, 108th, 109th, 110th, 115th, 116th, 122nd, 123rd, 124th, 125th, 126th and 127th New York State Legislatures.

Plunkitt became wealthy by practicing what he called "honest graft" in politics. He was a cynically honest practitioner of what today is generally known as "machine politics," patronage-based and frank in its exercise of power for personal gain. In one of his speeches, quoted in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, he describes the difference between dishonest and honest graft: for dishonest graft one worked solely for one's own interests, while for honest graft one pursued the interests of one's party, one's state, and one's personal interests all together.

He made most of his money through the purchase of land that he knew would be needed for public projects. He would buy such parcels, then resell them at an inflated price. (This was "honest graft". "Dishonest graft" according to Plunkitt, would be buying land and then using influence to have a project built on it.) He defends himself, saying, "I could get nothin' at a bargain but a big piece of swamp, but I took it fast enough and held on to it. What turned out was just what I counted on. They couldn't make the park complete without Plunkitt's swamp, and they had to pay a good price for it. Anything dishonest in that?" Plunkitt was also a thoroughgoing party man, believing in appointments, patronage, spoils, and all of the practices that were curtailed by the civil service law. He saw such practices as both the rewards and cause of patriotism. He hated the civil service system that he believed would be the downfall of the entire United States governmental system.

Plunkitt is also remembered for the line he used to defend his actions: "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."

On October 7, 1905, he underwent an operation for retro-peritoneal abscess, and almost died.[1]

He died on November 19, 1924;[2] and was buried at the Calvary Cemetery in Queens

References[edit]

  1. ^ "PLUNKITT NEAR DEATH AFTER AN OPERATION". New York Times. October 9, 1905. 
  2. ^ "Old-Time Tammany Leader Saw His Opportunities and Took Them". New York Times. November 23, 1924. Retrieved 2010-04-17. (subscription required (help)). "In George Washington Plunkitt, the eighty-two-year-old veteran Tammany politician who died last week, was a picturesque character that in these days seems to belong to the realm of fiction than to chronicles of fact" 

Further reading[edit]

Riordon, William L., Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics, Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1993. (Originally published in 1905)

External links[edit]

New York Assembly
Preceded by
Frederick H. Flagge
New York State Assembly
New York County, 17th District

1869–1870
Succeeded by
Edmond Connelly
New York State Senate
Preceded by
Frank P. Treanor
New York State Senate
11th District

1884–1887
Succeeded by
Eugene S. Ives
Preceded by
Eugene S. Ives
New York State Senate
11th District

1892–1893
Succeeded by
Joseph C. Wolff
Preceded by
Charles B. Page
New York State Senate
17th District

1899–1904
Succeeded by
Martin Saxe