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“Boss” Tweed and Avarice

50 min

Guiding Questions

  • Why does greed pose a threat to a self-governing society? 
  • Can someone use unethical means in order to provide good for their community?


  • Students will understand the meaning of avarice.
  • Students will explore the dangers that avarice and greed pose to a self-governing society.

  • Cholera 
  • Tuberculosis 
  • Dilapidated 
  • Tenements 
  • Alleviate 
  • Patronage 
  • Brazen 
  • Larceny


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.

Write any definitions on the board before class depending on reading level. Have students read the Avarice: “Boss” Tweed and Avarice Essay either individually or in small groups. Students should write a brief summary of the essay in their own words.

While “Boss” Tweed committed numerous financial crimes and made corruption the norm in New York City, he also brought multiple needed services to the people. Have students consider if Tweed’s actions were virtuous in anyway. Is it possible to use illegal means for a good end?

Distribute the Virtue in Action handout to students. For homework, they should keep a journal of ways in which they serve as a model of selflessness and charity for a week. Discuss as a class after a week. 

Student Handouts

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