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1869 tobacco label featuring Boss Tweed

A boss, in politics, is a person who wields the power over a particular political region or constituency. Bosses may dictate voting patterns, control appointments, and wield considerable influence in other political processes. They do not necessarily hold public office themselves. In fact, most historical bosses did not.

Bosses were a major part of the political landscape during the 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States. One of the most powerful of these was James A. Farley who was the chief dispenser of Democratic Party patronage during Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal administration. Farley parleyed his position as Democratic National Committee boss into a run for the Democratic nomination for President in 1940. Farley had only been elected to public office once, which was to the New York State Assembly, an office he held for only one year, 1922-23. In the South, charismatic populist politicians like Huey Long commanded large networks of supporters. Similar practices existed in the northern cities, particularly New York City, where Boss Tweed (arguably the most infamous political boss) wielded control over the powerful Democratic political machine. Charles Brayton exercised great influence over the politics of turn-of-the-century Rhode Island, and is an example of bossism within the Republican Party. Analogues could be found in most other urban settings, e.g., the Chicago Democratic Machine and the political racket of E. H. Crump in Memphis, Tennessee.

Bossism is generally associated with corruption and organized crime and has often been regarded as subversive to the democratic process. Nevertheless, it has been common practice since the Roman Republic, and remains fairly widespread today, particularly in undeveloped nations. An element of bossism remains in most political environments, albeit arguably to a far lesser extent than it once did.

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