George W. Plunkitt

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George W. Plunkitt
George Washington Plunkitt 4525453219 2ff5c45597 o.jpg
Member of the New York Senate
from the 17th district
In office
January 1, 1899 – December 31, 1904
Preceded byCharles B. Page
Succeeded byMartin Saxe
Member of the New York Senate
from the 11th district
In office
January 1, 1892 – December 31, 1893
Preceded byEugene S. Ives
Succeeded byJoseph C. Wolff
In office
January 1, 1884 – December 31, 1887
Preceded byFrank P. Treanor
Succeeded byEugene S. Ives
Member of the New York State Assembly
from the 17th district
In office
January 1, 1869 – December 31, 1870
Preceded byFrederick H. Flagge
Succeeded byEdmond Connelly
Personal details
George Washington Plunkitt

(1842-11-17)November 17, 1842
Manhattan, New York City, United States
DiedNovember 19, 1924(1924-11-19) (aged 82)
Manhattan, New York City, United States
Political partyDemocratic

George Washington Plunkitt (November 17, 1842 – November 19, 1924) was an American politician from New York State, who served in both houses of the New York State Legislature. He was a leader of the Tammany Hall political organization, a vehement critic of the Civil Service, and notably responsible for a series of colloquial and practical short talks recorded in "Plunkitt of Tammany Hall," which comprise his observations and successful mastery of machine politics.[1]


He was born on November 17, 1842 in Manhattan, New York City.[2]

He served in the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 17th D.) between 1869 to 1873.[3]

He was a member of the New York State Senate from 1884 to 1887 (11th D.),[3] in 1892 and 1893 (11th D.), and from 1899 to 1904 (17th D.). He sat in the 107th, 108th, 109th, 110th, 115th, 116th, 122nd, 123rd, 124th, 125th, 126th, and 127th New York State Legislatures.

George Washington Plunkitt, center

Plunkitt became wealthy by practicing what he called "honest graft" in politics.[4][5] 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.[6]

In one of his speeches, quoted in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, he describes the difference between dishonest and honest graft. For dishonest graft, one works solely for one's own interests. For honest graft, one pursues, at the same time, the interests of one's party, state, and person.[7][8]

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 and 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.[8][9]

Plunkitt defended his own actions, 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?"[10][11]

Plunkitt was also a thoroughgoing party man, believing in appointments, patronage, spoils, and all of the practices curtailed by the civil service law.[12][13] He saw such practices as both the rewards and cause of patriotism. He hated the civil service system and fought against it politically.[14]

Plunkitt is also remembered for the line he used to defend his actions: "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."[7][8][15]

On October 7, 1905, he underwent an operation for retro-peritoneal abscess, and almost died.[16]

He died on November 19, 1924 in Manhattan, New York City.[17][18] He was buried at the Calvary Cemetery in Queens.[19]


  1. ^ Plunkit of Tammany Hall. Penguin Group. 1995. pp. 97–. ISBN 978-0-451-47413-1.
  2. ^ The Tammany Times. Tammany Publishing Company. 1895. pp. 317–.
  3. ^ a b Annual Record of Assemblymen and Senators from the City of New York in the State Legislature. The Club. 1893. pp. 103–.
  4. ^ John Thomas Noonan (1987). Bribes. University of California Press. pp. 547–. ISBN 978-0-520-06154-5.
  5. ^ William Safire (2008). Safire's Political Dictionary. Oxford University Press. pp. 322–. ISBN 978-0-19-534061-7.
  6. ^ Jerome Krase; Charles LaCerra (1991). Ethnicity and Machine Politics. University Press of America. pp. 30–. ISBN 978-0-8191-8236-4.
  7. ^ a b William L. Riordon; Terrence J. McDonald (15 November 1993). Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. Bedford/St. Martin's. ISBN 978-0-312-08444-8.
  8. ^ a b c Margo Berman; David Berman (18 February 2015). State and Local Politics. Routledge. pp. 257–. ISBN 978-1-317-45944-6.
  9. ^ William L. Richter; Frances Burke (2007). Combating Corruption, Encouraging Ethics: A Practical Guide to Management Ethics. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 89–. ISBN 978-0-7425-4451-2.
  10. ^ Kenneth T. Jackson; David S. Dunbar (January 2002). Empire City: New York Through the Centuries. Columbia University Press. pp. 489–. ISBN 978-0-231-10908-6.
  11. ^ Stephen M. Bainbridge (1 January 2013). Research Handbook on Insider Trading. Edward Elgar Publishing. pp. 177–. ISBN 978-0-85793-185-6.
  12. ^ Martin Tolchin; Susan J. Tolchin (22 December 2015). PINSTRIPE PATRONAGE. Taylor & Francis. pp. 63–. ISBN 978-1-317-25418-8.
  13. ^ Sandy L. Maisel; Mark D. Brewer (16 November 2009). Parties and Elections in America: The Electoral Process. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 42–. ISBN 978-1-4422-0103-3.
  14. ^ George Washington Plunkitt (1 April 2007). Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. Filiquarian Publishing, LLC. pp. 66–. ISBN 978-1-59986-883-7.
  15. ^ New York Media, LLC (13 July 1992). "New York Magazine". New York Media, LLC: 58–. ISSN 0028-7369.
  16. ^ "Plunkitt Near Death After An Operation" (PDF). New York Times. October 9, 1905.
  17. ^ "Old-Time Tammany Leader Saw His Opportunities and Took Them". New York Times. November 23, 1924. Retrieved 2010-04-17. 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
  18. ^ Kenneth F. Warren (2008). Encyclopedia of U.S. campaigns, elections, and electoral behavior: A-M. SAGE. pp. 500–. ISBN 978-1-4129-5489-1.
  19. ^ Michael D'Antonio (19 March 2009). Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O'Malley, Baseball's Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Penguin Publishing Group. pp. 13–. ISBN 978-1-101-02451-5.

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 State Assembly
Preceded by New York State Assembly
New York County, 17th District

Succeeded by
New York State Senate
Preceded by New York State Senate
11th District

Succeeded by
Preceded by New York State Senate
11th District

Succeeded by
Preceded by New York State Senate
17th District

Succeeded by