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Presentation Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History

Irish Identity, Influence and Opportunity

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Irish Americans became a powerful political force in U.S. cities. Building on principles of loyalty to the individual and the organization, they helped build political machines capable of getting the vote. Though remembered most for their perceived corruption, these political machines created social services long before they were politically mandated by national political movements.

Dick Croker leaving Tammany Hall, 1900

Political machines held sway in several major American cities, from New York to San Francisco. New York's Tammany political machine was under Irish American control for more than fifty years. William R. Grace became New York City's first Irish American mayor in 1880. Four years later, Hugh O'Brien won the same position in Boston.

The political machines provided avenues for Irish Americans to get jobs, to deal with naturalization issues, even to get food or heating fuel in emergencies. The political machines also rewarded their own through political appointments.