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Who was Boss Tweed and why was he on Judge Noah Davis' Hit List?

Boss Tweed

William M. "Boss" Tweed

William M. "Boss" Tweed (1823-1878) was a rather second-rate politician who moved up the ranks of the Tammany Hall political organization in New York City in the 1850's and 1860's to become one of the most powerful men in New York City politics. At that time, party politics were controlled by many of these organizations, and Tammany became one of the most powerful. Tweed held various national, state, and local positions including U.S. Congressman, state senator, and New York City alderman. Abuses in government, graft, and corruption were widespread at the time. Tweed's political power allowed him to funnel large amounts of public monies into the personal accounts of many unscrupulous politicians, including himself. Estimates of the amount of money stolen by Tweed and his "Ring" of cronies range as high as $200,000,000.

With New York City deep in debt, the public outcry against Tammany corruption came to a head in the early 1870's. So-called "reformers" (in reality, Tammany turncoats like Samuel Tilden) sought to clean house. William Tweed was arrested and tried before Judge Davis twice in 1873. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, but Tweed was convicted in the second trial and Noah sentenced him to 12 years in prison and fined him $12,750. Many historians consider Tweed to have unfairly been made the scapegoat of all of New York's corruption problems at the time.

Judge Noah was accused during the second trial of partiality; lawyers for the defense asked that he be removed from the trial because of his obvious desire to see Tweed convicted and punished. Although Noah had a reputation for being a virtuous and upright man, he was hand-picked by Samuel Tilden to try the Tweed case (in secret memoranda Tilden and his cronies referred to Judge Noah by the code name "The Man.") Tilden was trying to distance himself from Tammany to further his own political aspirations. Apparently, Tilden's plan worked; Noah made sure Tweed was convicted, Tilden was nearly elected President (he won the popular vote in 1876 only to lose the election when it was awarded to Rutherford B. Hayes by the House of Representatives), and Noah became Chief Justice of the NY Supreme Court; Tweed died in disgrace in prison in 1878.