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John Kelly


John Kelly (1822 – 1886) of New York Citymarker, known as "Honest John", was a boss of Tammany Hall and a U.S. Representative from New Yorkmarker from 1855 to 1858

Kelly was born in New York City to Hugh Kelly and Sarah Donnelly Kelly. He received a public school education, was apprenticed to the mason's trade, and engaged in business for himself at the age of twenty-four. He married Ann McIlhargy, to whom a son and two daughters were born. Initially, Kelley opposed Tammany Hall, but reconciled with it in 1853. The next year he was elected alderman, and from this time until his death he was active as a Democratic politician. From 1855 to 1858 he served in Congress, the only Catholic in the House of Representatives in that period of Know-Nothing ascendency. Kelly later was elected Sheriff of the County of New York, and served from 1859–1861 and again from 1865–1867. By 1872 his wife and children had died; he subsequently married Ann Theresa Mullen, the niece of New York's Cardinal McCloskey; a son and a daughter were born of that marriage.

In 1871 he aided Charles O'Conor, Samuel J. Tilden, and their associates in the struggle against the Tweed ring, and Kelly cooperated with Tilden in reorganizing the political machine. By 1874 Kelly was in control of Tammany Hall, and for the next decade he was able to determine the course of New York City elections. In 1876 Kelly succeeded Andrew H. Green, by appointment, as comptroller. During his time in power he was continually at war with Tilden's faction. Kelly refused to support Tilden's candidate for governor, incumbent Lucius Robinson, and ran for governor himself as an independent. The result was the election in 1879 of Republican Alonzo Cornell, who won by a plurality. Kelly was and he himself was city comptroller from 1876 to 1880. Upon retirement (1884) he yielded his political control to one of his lieutenants, Richard Croker.

In popular culture

  • 'An American Tail, largely a cartoonization on the rough conditions immigrants faced in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, paid tribute to Kelly with the character of "Honest John", voiced by Neil Ross.


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