"The Guardian Angel of the Poor People's Money"

March 16, 1872

Thomas Nast

"The Guardian Angel of the Poor People

Business Scandals; Business, Banking; Charity, Disaster Relief; Charity, Fundraising; Charity, Scandal; Natural Disasters, Fire; New York City, Government/Politics; Police Corruption; Tammany Hall, Tweed Ring;

Smith, Henry "Hank";

Chicago; New York City;

Does it "Take a Thief to Catch a Thief?"

William "Boss" Tweed and his cohorts at Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine in New York City, were aided in their illegal exploits by a few cooperative Republicans, such as Police Commissioner Henry "Hank" Smith, portrayed here. Despite different party affiliations, Smithís relationship with Tweed was so close that the police commissioner served as vice president of the Americus Club, the financially and politically exclusive fraternity which formed the social branch of the Tweed Ring. The civil servant had no problem paying the clubís $1000 entry fee and $250 monthly dues.

In the early 1870s, the New York City police department was rife with corruption. Under Smithís watch, the police allowed illicit houses of prostitution and gambling to flourish; extorted money from those enterprises, along with saloons and other legitimate businesses; enforced the will of Tweed Ring politicians; and gave immunity to Ring-connected criminals. The effect on honest and dedicated police officers was demoralizing.

When this cartoon appeared, most of the corrupt Tweed Ring had been driven from office or were under indictment. In February 1872, The New York Times reported Smithís involvement in another scandal, the details of which are aptly summarized in Nastís cartoon. An investigation after the bankruptcy of the Bowling Green Savings Bank, of which Smith was president, turned up numerous irregularities. About $25,000 in city bonds earmarked for street improvements was missing. Nearly $70,000 in loans had been dispersed to nonexistent persons. Smith had personally authorized loans without security or on worthless collateral, resulting in a loss of $40,000 for bank depositors. Over $30,000 of the bankís current expenses were listed as "loans." Smith and two other bank officials had used Bowling Green Bank credit to withdraw nearly $65,000 from another bank for their own use.

It came to light that Smith had used the influence of his position as police commissioner to obtain $18,000 from the departmentís fund for widows and orphans of slain police officers. In addition, victims of the Chicago Fire of 1871 never saw the $13,000 which was contributed by New York City policemen and deposited in the Bowling Green Bank. Furthermore, Smith had used his political connections to evade years of rental payment, totaling about $52,000, on a pier he leased from the city and sublet, at considerable profit, to a steamboat company of which he served on the board of directors.

After being indicted on several charges, Hank Smith fled the country.

Robert C. Kennedy

"The Guardian Angel of the Poor People
July 14, 2024

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