The Democratic National Platform of 1900 labeled imperialism “the paramount issue of the campaign.” For cartoonist W. A. Rogers, it was the iron rule of Tammany boss Richard Croker that exemplified imperialism in New York City government and politics. Croker appears here as an emperor sitting on a regal throne, flanked by two bulldogs that mimic his scowl. His tiger-skin robe, tiger-head medallion, and club all refer to Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine in New York City. The organization also had significant influence in state politics, and in 1900 looked toward gaining entrée at the federal level through its backing of Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan. The bag of tribute in the cartoon refers to the wealth that Croker accumulated during his tenure as Tammany boss, and the hem of his robe alludes to his status as a breeder of racehorses (in 1907 his horse, Orby, would win the Irish Derby). His foot firmly planted atop a policeman’s helmet represents Police Department corruption that flourished during his reign.
In 1894, an investigating committee uncovered police involvement in extortion, bribery, counterfeiting, voter intimidation, election fraud, brutality, and scams. Attention focused on Captain William Devery, who stonewalled before the committee by only responding vaguely to questions: “touchin’ on and appertainin’ to that matter, I disremember.” Charged with accepting bribes, Devery feigned illness and his case never reached trial, although he was temporarily demoted. Because of the investigation, Croker spent three years out of the country, but returned in 1897 to see Tammanyite Robert Van Wyck elected mayor of New York. The next year, Van Wyck complied with Croker’s directive to appoint Devery as the chief of police. The Police Department had recently become a force of nearly 7000 officers under the recent consolidation of the five boroughs into Greater New York.
In October 1898, Harper’s Weekly ran an exposé on “‘Wide-Open’ New York,” by journalist-reformer Franklin Matthews. The multi-page article detailed police corruption and increased crime under the watch of Devery and Croker. It alleged that Devery and his Tammany-affiliated police extorted money from pool halls, gambling dens, saloons, dancehalls, and brothels; paid the bail bonds when the proprietors and employees were arrested; allowed blatant violations of the liquor and vice laws; and ignored the brutality of illicit prizefights*.
In 1899, Governor Theodore Roosevelt and Republican state legislators established another committee to investigate Tammany Hall corruption. In April, the committee questioned Police Chief Devery. Soon after the investigatory committee concluded its work with a blistering denunciation of Croker and Devery, The New York Times reported that gambling-house owners paid over $3 million annually in protection money (note the tribute money in the cartoon).
In the October 13, 1900 issue of Harper’s Weekly, Matthews revealed more details of Tammany police and political corruption, including the Ice Trust scandal. Dramatically entitled “The Cost of Tammany Hall in Flesh and Blood,” the article concentrated on the increases in homicides, deaths from unsanitary conditions, and juvenile crime. It also brought attention to the women and children who often were the victims of a lack of honest and effective law enforcement. In November, Devery came under fire for alleged involvement in vote fraud, although he characterized the election as the “fairest ever held in New York City.”
Governor Roosevelt, in one of his final acts before becoming vice president in March 1901, signed legislation replacing the Police Board and the office of police chief with a single police commissioner. With Devery’s job thus eliminated, Croker arranged for him to become the chief inspector (the highest ranking uniformed officer). However, in November 1901, the Tammany Hall slate was defeated in the city elections, putting Devery out of a job in January 1902. Meanwhile, the mounting evidence against Croker finally forced him to resign as Tammany Hall boss and retire safely to Ireland. The machine’s new leader, Charles Francis Murphy, orchestrated the removal of Devery from Tammany Hall’s executive committee.
*Bulldogs, like the ones pictured here, were originally bred to participate in blood sports, such as bull baiting, and were often associated in illustrations with boxing. Former Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast (1862-1886) sometimes included such dogs in his depictions of Tammany Hall, especially those featuring John Morrissey, an ex-champion prizefighter. The modern boxer breed derives partly from the English bulldog.