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“Boss” Tweed and Avarice

Ackerman, Kenneth D. Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2005.

Allswang, John M. Bosses, Machines, and Urban Votes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

Lynch, Dennis Tilden. Boss Tweed: The Story of a Grim Generation. New Brunswick: Transaction, 2002.

Trachtenberg, Alan. The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982.

CENTRAL QUESTION: What is the importance of charity in a healthy civil society?

We can expand our understanding of a vice by examining its opposite virtue. While the topic of this lesson is avarice, or greed, and how destructive it is to civil society, we can also explore how charity benefits civil society.

Individuals can benefit others and the larger society through charitable giving that demonstrates selflessness. Charity and philanthropy help shape a healthy civil society by promoting the virtues of contribution, justice, respect, and responsibility because republican self-government is predicated on the virtues of the people.

Great philanthropists have donated and continue to donate millions and even billions of dollars to charitable causes, and moral and social uplift to improve the lives of millions of fellow citizens. James Smithson, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and Bill Gates are only some of the wealthy industrialists and entrepreneurs who have given their fortunes to help others. But, one does not need to be a billionaire to help others in the community. Together, ordinary Americans donate billions of dollars annually to causes in their communities, around the nation, and even around the world.


  • For the following series of charitable causes, have the students raise their hands if they would support giving to the cause.
    • A children’s hospital where families do not have to pay for services
    • A program to eliminate malaria or other diseases around the world
    • A public library with free books to borrow and computer services
    • An art museum or museum of natural history such as the Smithsonian museums
    • A public park with open spaces, sporting fields, walking and biking paths, and beautiful landscaping
    • School programs such as art and music, sports and extracurricular activities, and computer devices that are not funded by taxpayer money
    • Community theater where local actors perform well-known plays or original plays
    • Local sports leagues that need uniforms and sporting equipment
    • Local programs to deliver meals, clothing, and shelter to the underserved poor of the community
    • Humane societies and animal shelters
  • Ask the students why they would choose to support one of these charitable causes. Discuss the benefit to civil society if citizens donate their money to the good of others in society. Ask students what charitable causes exist in their community and what causes might need funding.
  • Time, talent, and treasure. Besides donating money, have students think of ways that they could donate their volunteer time or their talents to the above causes that they supported.

This optional introductory activity is designed to support you in the classroom. However, the primary narratives and photos in the section that follows can be used with or without this introduction.

Student Handouts