A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 28, 2006
“I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em” & “Honest graft” (George Washington Plunkitt)
George Washington Plunkitt, a corrupt politician of Tammany Hall days, is known today for the term "honest graft" and the saying "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."


Wikipedia: George Washington Plunkitt
George Washington Plunkitt (1842-1924) was a long-time State Senator from the U.S. state of New York, representing the Fifteenth Assembly District, who was especially powerful in New York City. He was part of what is known as New York's Tammany Hall machine.

Plunkitt became wealthy by practicing what he frankly called "honest graft" in politics. He was a cynically honest practitioner of what today is generally known as "machine politics," patronage-based and frank in its exercise of power for personal gain. Plunkitt's "honest graft" however, was not so honest. In one of his speeches, quoted in Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, he describes the difference between dishonest and honest graft as working solely for one's own interests and working for the interests of one's party, state, and personal interest whenever they can.

Most of his money was made through the purchase of lands that, through his connections, he knew would be needed for public projects. He would buy such parcels, then resell them at an inflated price. Plunkitt was also a big party man, believing in appointments, patronage, spoils, and all of the corrupt practices that were curtailed by the civil service law. He saw such practices as both the rewards and cause of patriotism. He hated the civil service system that he believed would be the downfall of the entire United States governmental system.

5 July 1903, New York (NY) Sun, pg. 8, col. 1:
PLUNKITT ON "HONEST GRAFT"

HE TELLS HOW TO GET RICH
IN POLITICS

Proposes as His Epitaph, "He Seen His
Opportunities and He Took 'em" -- In-
stances to Show the Difference Between
Honest Graft and Dishonest Graft

Senator George W. Plunkitt, sage of the County Court House bootblack stand, discussed yesterday the subject: "Honest graft and Dishonest graft."

"Since this dock investigation of Jerome's was started, you hear lots of talk about Tammany men growin' rich on graft," he began, "but you don't hear nobody drawin' the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft."

"Yes, many Tammany men have got rich in politics. I'm one of them. I'm rich and gettin' richer every day. But I've never gone in for dishonest graft -- blackmailin' gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, &c. -- and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.

"There's an honest graft and I'm a good example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin' I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."
(...)
"Now, in conclusion, I want to say that I don't own a dishonest dollar, If my worst enemy was given the job of writin' my epitaph when I'm gone, he couldn't do more than write: 'George W. Plunkitt, He Seen His Opportunities and He Took 'em.'"

19 July 1903, Dallas (TX) Morning News, pg. 18:
A Tammany statesman says there is such a thing as "honest graft." Tammany has a code of distinctions in the graft business that other people are not onto.

September 1905, The American Lawyer, pg. 384:
"Plunkett of Tammany Hall," a series of very plain talks on very practical politics, delivered by ex-Senator George Washington Plunkitt, the Tammany Philosopher, recorded by William L. Riordon. Published by McClure, Phillips & Co., New York City.
(...)
Pg. 385:
"Everybody is talking these days," he begins, "about Tammany men growing rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawing the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There's all the difference in the world between the two. Yes. many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm getting richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft -- blackmailing gamblers, saloon-keepers, disorderly people, etc. -- and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.

"There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by saying: 'I seen my opportunities and took 'em.'

"Jest let me explain by examples. My party's in power in the city, and it's going to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm tipped off, say, that they're going to lay out of a new park at a certain place.

I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to hat place and buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.

"Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that's honest graft."

14 January 1906, Kansas City (MO) Star, "The Confessions of an 'Honest Grafter,'" pg. 6:
In this light a "human document" which deserves to be classed as a valuable contribution to sociologic literature is the book called "Plunkitt of Tammany Hall," written, or, perhaps more properly, compiled, by a New York newspaper man, Mr. W. L. Riordan. The volume is an evidently faithful reproduction of candid talks by George Washington Plunkitt, a former state senator of New York, the holder at various times of innumerable offices in New York city and the present Tammany leader of the Fifteenth Assembly district.
(...)
Plunkitt would have anticipated the answer in one of his talks. "There's an honest graft and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': 'I seen my opportunities and I took 'em.'"
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Saturday, January 28, 2006 • Permalink