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The appearance of the law must be upheld, especially when it's being broken.
~ Boss Tweed

William "Boss" Tweed is the secondary antagonist of the 2002 film Gangs of New York, which is based on the 1927 American book of the same name by the late Herbert Asbury. He begins as an ally to Bill The Butcher (the main antagonist) but Bill later rejects him, knowing him to be untrustworthy. He is arguably more evil than Bill, because he is willing to play both sides and works without a code of honor. He is based on the real life New York politician of the same name, the head and founder of Tammany Hall, the corrupt political machine that dominated New York politics from the 1860s to the 1930s.

He was portrayed by Jim Broadbent, who would later go on to play Wackford Squeers in Nicholas Nickleby, Lord Kelvin in Around the World in 80 Days, Frank Butterman in Hot Fuzz, Madame Gasket in Robots, and Lord Thomas Badgley in Dolittle.

Biography

Born in New York in 1823 of Scotch-Irish descent, Tweed was later convicted of stealing millions of dollars worth of taxpayer money, and died in prison, becoming one of the most notorious crooked politicians in American history. However, Gangs of New York takes place several years before those events, when Tweed was a rising politician trying to take power in the city's government.

In order too win more votes, Tweed and the other Tammany members rely heavily on the thousands of new immigrants arriving almost daily in the city, especially the Irish. He frequents the docks to greet the new arrivals to offer them free food and urge them to 'Vote Tammany." In reality, he cares little for the immigrants, except as a source of votes.

To ensure Tammany control of the city, he needs the help of the local crime-bosses, and enlists Bill Cutting, AKA Bill the Butcher, who controls the dangerous 'Five Points' neighborhood, as an ally. The Butcher lends muscle to Tweed's men and provides unimportant criminals to hang and make it look like Tammany's people are keeping order, but the alliance proves uneasy since Bill openly despises immigrants. Bill also knows instinctively that Tweed has no code of honor like he does. Eventually, Tweed decides the Butcher is too dangerous to be an ally, and hires an assassin to kill him. However, the assassin is then stopped by Amsterdam Vallon, who was planning to kill the Butcher himself.

After Amsterdam's own attempt on Bill's life fails, the Butcher tries to lead a mob to his hideout. When Tweed learns most of the Irish in the neighborhood turned out in Amsterdam's support, he decides to recruit Amsterdam as his new ally in the Points. Amsterdam agrees to rally the Irish to vote for Tammany in the election if Tweed allows him to back an Irish candidate, Monk McGinn as sheriff. Though Tweed does not believe the Irish can hold power, he agrees.

Amsterdam and his gang help Tammany win the the election by stuffing the ballot boxes, forcing many people to vote multiple times. Tweed is shown to be fully aware of this: when his assistant informs him they have won by three thousand more votes than there are voters he responds "Only three?" Amsterdam's efforts result in a landslide, securing Tammany's hold on New York. However, Bill has the last word when he murders McGinn in public, to demonstrate his final separation from Tweed and all he represents. In his final rejection to Tweed he quotes the Book of Revelations, "You are neither hot nor cold; so because you are lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth.".

In the end, Tweed is freed from Bill and Amsterdam when their last battle is destroyed in the New York City Draft Riots. Tweed is last shown overseeing the mass burial of the riot's victims, ordering them to be cleared before the next immigrants arrive. His only words of regret for the carnage is "We're burying a lot of votes tonight.".

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