Historical Term: Boss

“’boss’: Phenomenon often found in US politics, but not restricted to the USA, in which the archetypal ‘boss’ is a politician who achieves power locally by corrupt or devious means and then proceeds to strengthen his ‘machine’ (i.e. his supporters) that has helped him to power. His supporters will be nominated to public offices, including the judiciary and police force, and will receive lucrative public contracts. The ‘boss’, susceptible to bribery, will condone lawbreaking if it suits his purposes. He may assume high office himself or might prefer to remain in the background.

The most famous ‘bosses’ include Tweed of Tammany Hall, New York; Platt of New York; Huey Long of Louisiana, and Daley of Chicago. Flagrant examples of ‘bossism’ are now rare. It probably flourished largely because of political apathy and nativity [sic] among large urban immigrant communities and rural populations.”

Excerpted from: Cook, Chris. Dictionary of Historical Terms. New York: Gramercy, 1998.

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