Franklin Roosevelt wrote this letter to the Tammany Society on July 2, 1936. It was read aloud two days later at the Tammany wigwam on 17th Street and 4th Avenue during the Tammany Society’s annual Independence Day celebration.

I came across this letter in my prep for a small talk I hope give on the 4th of July at Federal Hall about the history of Independence Day in New York City. It’s a missive from President Roosevelt to the Tammany Society in the lead-up to Tammany’s annual 4th of July event. When we think of Tammany we immediately think of Boss Tweed. In reality, Tweed was a very small part of Tammany’s long story. The Tammany Society dated back to the 1780s; it was a response to the Society of the Cincinnati, a Revolutionary War organization for officers who fought in the conflict. The organization continued for decades after Tweed’s death and would be at the height of its power in the 1920s and 1930s. Roosevelt himself had taken on, or tried to take on, Tammany in the early 1910s when he was a young state assemblyman, but soon realized the futility and so made his peace with the organization. Governor Roosevelt was there–as was Al Smith, Jimmy Walker, Herbert Lehman and others–when Tammany opened its new wigwam across from Union Square on July 4, 1929.

Now president, Roosevelt did not attend Tammany’s 1936 July 4th event. Instead he attended an Independence Day ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. It’s a story for another time but it’s funny how the reputations of the Founding Fathers rise and fall in relation to one another, especially Jefferson and Hamilton, who was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati. Right now Hamilton is upland Jefferson is down. In the mid-1930s however the opposite was true. Before he was all done Roosevelt would put Jefferson on the nickel and dedicate the memorial to the philosopher, secretary of state, and third president on the National Mall. Tammany men were more inclined toward Jefferson as well. Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Ironically the Age of Roosevelt accelerated Tammany’s decline.The Society’s influence waned when New Deal federal dollars began pouring in shortly after Roosevelt took office. Men like Fiorello La Guardia and Robert Moses found they could sidestep Tammany and get their funds directly from Roosevelt.

(source/150th Anniversary Celebration, 1786, July 4, 1936)