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Political boss

File:Boss tweed.jpg
1869 tobacco label featuring Boss Tweed

A boss, in politics, is a person who wields the power over a particular political region or constituency, and is generally associated with corruption and organized crime and has often been regarded as subversive to the democratic process. Bosses may dictate voting patterns, control appointments, and wield considerable influence in other political processes. They do not necessarily hold public office themselves; in fact, most historical bosses did not, at least during the times of their greatest influence.


The appearance of bosses has been common since the Roman Republic, and remains fairly widespread today, particularly in undeveloped nations. Bosses were a major part of the political landscape during the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States, such as the political machine of Tammany Hall, who controlled financing of campaigns and influence via owing of favors to arrange patronage public appointments.

One of the most powerful of these was James A. Farley who was the chief dispenser of Democratic Party patronage during Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal administration. It has been alleged[by whom?] that all of President Roosevelt's non-cabinet level (mid-and-lower level) appointments were screened by Farley before they were allowed to be confirmed on the basis of party loyalty due to patronage. Farley's ability to build up the Democratic Party's national political machine coupled with the Solid South, the big city bases and the populist vote made it the most organized and most powerful in American history. Farley had such control and intimate knowledge of the workings of his machine that it was said that he was seen as a prophet by many (including Roosevelt) for reportedly correctly predicting the states he would carry in two consecutive national elections and came close to predicting the margin of votes by which Roosevelt would carry these states. Farley parlayed his position as Democratic National Committee boss into a run for the Democratic nomination for President in 1940. Farley had been elected to public office only once, to the New York State Assembly, an office that he held for only one year: 1922-23. In the South, charismatic populist politicians like Huey Long commanded large networks of supporters. Similar practices existed in the northern cities, particularly New York City, where Boss Tweed (arguably the most infamous political boss) wielded control over the powerful Democratic political machine. In Denver, Colorado during the 1890s there was Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith who operated as the Republican party boss and political fixer.

Charles Brayton exercised great influence over the politics of turn of the 20th century Rhode Island and was an example of bossism within the Republican Party. Analogues could be found in most other urban area settings such as Chicago and the political racket of E. H. Crump in Memphis, Tennessee.

Popular culture

The HBO television series Boardwalk Empire focuses on Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (based on the historical Enoch L. Johnson), a Republican Party boss who controls Atlantic City, New Jersey during the Prohibition period of the 1920s and 1930s.

See also


  • H. F. Gosnell, Machine Politics (1937, repr. 1968);
  • S. Lubell, The Future of American Politics (3d ed. 1965);
  • E. C. Banfield and J. Q. Wilson, City Politics (1963, repr. 1966)es:Caudillo