Research Paper On Kansas City's Own Tom Pendergast

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Research paper on Kansas City's own Tom Pendergast

Research paper on Kansas City's own Tom Pendergast


One Of Missouri's most powerful politicians during the first decades of the 20th century, Thomas Joseph “Boss Tom” Pendergast helped launch the political career of future president Harry S. Truman, but ultimately went to prison for corruption.

Pendergast was born into a large Catholic family in St. Joseph, Missouri. As a young man, he moved to Kansas City, where he worked in a saloon owned by his older brother James. James won a seat as a Democratic alderman in Kansas City and when he retired in 1910 he made sure that his brother Tom followed him onto the council. The younger Pendergast immediately began consolidating his political strength by any means necessary, and proved to be a ruthlessly effective organizer.1

He soon controlled Kansas City and became a political force within Missouri's Democratic Party. With the Pendergast machine pulling the strings, Kansas City was wide open, with large sums of cash routinely changing hands in exchange for political favors and jobs. “Boss Tom” did business from an unassuming two-story building downtown where he chose candidates for local and state offices. He also ran a growing business empire that included real estate, a hotel, and a concrete company that prospered as a result of lucrative government contracts. He controlled a variety of gambling operations, and, during Prohibition, profited from speakeasies and the distribution of illegal alcohol. Though notoriously corrupt, Pendergast also had a reputation for efficiently distributing essential items such as food, clothing, and heating fuel to the city's poor.

Pendergast first backed Harry Truman in a successful bid for a district judgeship during the 1920s, beginning a relationship that would later be scrutinized when Truman achieved high office. With “Boss Tom's” backing, Truman won election to the U.S. Senate in 1934, prompting many of the future president's critics to claim that he was actually going to Washington to represent “the State of Pendergast.” Once in the Senate, Truman did not behave as many expected. He cooperated with the Pendergast machine in Missouri on routine patronage issues, but did not get involved with the illegal financial dealings and general corruption that eventually brought Pendergast down.2

Pendergast Machine in Kansas City

Other than Tammany Hall in New York, the Pendergast machine in Kansas City was the longest-running and most thorough melding of vice and politics ever seen in the United States. So complete was the marriage of underworld to political world, that Tom Pendergast - the son of Irish immigrants and unabashedly known as "Boss Tom" to everyone in town - controlled not just the political machine that bore his family name but the local Mafia as well.3

Before the Pendergast dynasty took root, the early Mafia influence in Kansas City involved Black Hand extortion, which, as in other cities, was carried out by Italians against Italians. This activity came to an end with the onset of Prohibition in 1920. The Mafia faction under control of the DiGiovanni and Balestrere gang then focused on ...
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