How Plunkitt Made His Money

English Essay #14

George Washington Plunkitt got very rich by practicing politics in New York City in the early 1900’s. In his autobiography Plunkitt goes into detail on how he made his fortune. Most of the money he made came from  what he called honest graft. Basically he used inside information to make money. The way he did this was, if he found out that the government was going to make an improvement to the city, he would buy land around the improvement and sell it off after it had increased in value. He was adamant that this was very different from dishonest graft. Plunkitt said dishonest graft involved breaking the law and messing with the penal code. Any politician who committed dishonest graft was not only unethical, but Plunkitt said they were fools. According to Plunkitt using dishonest graft was inexcusable because there was so much honest graft if you only kept your eyes open. So why did George Washington Plunkitt go into so much detail on how he made his money, why was he so open about it.

The first reason was that he really believed what he said, that honest graft was just that, honest. He wanted to make sure that everybody knew he was an honest person  and that even if you didn’t think that the way he made his money was honest, he did.

He also wanted to educate people on how politics worked back then. He was clear that everybody who had a head on their shoulders used what information they could get to make as much money as they could. That was how politics worked when Plunkitt was alive. Today is different because there is no such thing as honest graft, all graft it now illegal.

Plunkitt was aware that young men were the future of America and New York. He mentioned that a couple times in his autobiography. One of the most likely reasons that he went into such detail about how honest graft worked was that he wanted to get young men interested in politics. He wanted to show that there were rewards for getting involved in politics. Plunkitt was trying to arouse “Patriotism” in the young men of New York City. That was one reason he was against Civil Service Reform. It took political offices and chances for honest graft away from politicians. Plunkitt believed that doing that would kill the “Patriotism” of young politicians.

Those are the most likely reasons for why George Washington Plunkitt was so open about how politics made him rich. His autobiography provides a lot of insight into the politics of his day.


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