“Making An Example of Two Naughty Boys”
George G. Barnard was one of the key figures in the rise and fall of the notorious Tweed Ring. Born into a wealthy New York family, the flamboyant Barnard spent his youth prospecting gold in California, shilling for a gambling house (i.e., posing as a customer to attract real customers), and performing with a minstrel troupe. In the late 1850s, he returned to New York City to practice law, and soon decided to seek election as city recorder (a judicial position) in 1858. William Tweed ensured Barnard's nomination by the Democratic party when, as presiding officer, the Tammany boss dispensed with the roll call, which Barnard was losing, and declared his candidate the winner by acclamation.
In 1860, after a brief tenure as recorder, Barnard was named, at Tweed's instigation, to the New York Supreme Court (an appellate court) where he provided the Tweed Ring with beneficial service. While Barnard may have had a competent legal mind, he preferred "low women, late hours, and hard liquor." In his courtroom, he made a mockery of decorum and justice. Judge Barnard sat with his feet on the bench, whittled pine sticks, drank from a brandy bottle, and cracked bawdy jokes, while ruling invariably in favor of Tammany Hall interests. One of his first acts as a Supreme Court judge was to certify Boss Tweed, who had no legal training, as a lawyer.
Judge Albert Cardozo was from an immigrant Portuguese family that had settled in New York City. Unlike Barnard, Cardozo was polite, scholarly, and hardworking. Both men, however, were ambitious and beholden to Boss Tweed. An honors graduate from Columbia, Cardozo had been named to New York City's Court of Common Pleas by Mayor Fernando Wood before Tweed secured his appointment to the New York Supreme Court. The third Tammany judge in the cartoon is John McCunn, from a poor Irish immigrant family, who labored as a dockworker before becoming a lawyer.
Tammany judges aided the Tweed Ring by pardoning or releasing prisoners who worked for the Democratic political machine, and by appointing court officers and commissioners amenable to its will. Besides providing protective legal cover, the Tammany judges were instrumental in sustaining the Tweed Ring's political power by granting citizenship to large numbers of immigrants who padded the machine's voter rolls. In the election year of 1866, for example, Cardozo naturalized up to 800 people a day, McCunn naturalized over 2000 on one day alone, and Barnard worked most of October from 6 p.m. to midnight rapidly initialing unread naturalization papers that created over 10,000 new citizens.
When Jay Gould tried to prevent Cornelius Vanderbilt from taking over the Erie Railroad in 1867-1868, Judge Barnard followed Boss Tweed's lead. The judge initially issued an arrest warrant for Gould and his associates (which they evaded). After the financier bribed Tweed to switch from Vanderbilt's to his side, Barnard began ruling in Gould's favor. In 1869, at Tweed's request, Judge Cardozo pardoned Gould's considerable debts that he had accumulated in his nearly successful attempt to corner the gold market.
Thomas Nast had been assailing the Tweed Ring for years through his creative and powerful cartoons, provoking the Boss to grumble about “them damn pictures!” Finally, in July 1871, The New York Times began publishing a series of reports based on inside information that revealed the rampant corruption of the Tweed Ring. Other publications joined the attack, and Nast turned up the heat to inflame public opinion against the Tweed Ring. By the fall, opposition to Tweed and his cohorts from politicians, the press, and public had reached formidable dimensions.
The Ring, though, might have weathered the storm had not Judge Barnard turned against his political mentor and poker-playing chum, Boss Tweed. The Committee of Seventy, an anti-Tammany reform group, initiated a lawsuit against the city, and the case fell within Barnard's jurisdiction. Uncharacteristically, he listened attentively to the lawyers' arguments, then stunned nearly everyone by issuing orders that opened the books of the city treasury, set aside a grant to a city utility, and placed an injunction on city contracts.
Judge Barnard may simply have calculated that it was time to jump ship, but there was speculation that Samuel Tilden, the leader of the state Democratic committee who led the anti-Tweed forces after Barnard’s rulings, had offered him the Democratic nomination for governor. Whatever the reason, Barnard's decisions opened the way for effective prosecution of the Tweed Ring, but did not enhance his own career. In April 1872 (shortly before this cartoon appeared), the New York State Assembly voted to impeach Barnard, Cardozo, and McCunn on various charges of corruption, most stemming from their association with the Tweed Ring. Cardozo resigned before his trial began in the State Senate, but Barnard and McCunn were found guilty and removed from office. None of the three Tammany judges were prosecuted on criminal charges. Cardozo's son, Benjamin, later redeemed the family's good name by becoming a well-respected jurist and an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court (1932-1938).
Robert C. Kennedy