The liquor in the nineteenth century evoked more concern than any of the other “evils” because of its reputed popularity among the people, particularly among the rapidly expanding class of urban poor. Reformers such as Horace Greely led what began as a movement of temperance in the 1830s and reached a peak of total abstinence by the 1850s.
The game underwent similar treatment during the era of reform. In 1851, the New York association for the suppression of the game was established. Founded by Greely and led by Jonathan Green, this organization tried to “expose” gambling establishments.
The “Green Law” of 1851 represented New York’s toughest gambling law until that time, allocating minimum fines for any person found guilty of keeping a gambling establishment, displaying gambling devices, or attending any banking game.
The law also called for the destruction of gaming devices.
Despite its tough language, the green law failed to achieve its goal of suppression playing. The continued popularity of the activity under attack led both officials and citizens to defy the law.
On the other hand, the game was not just a favorite pastime in urban areas. The estimated 6 percent of all inhabitants of New York City looked to the gaming industry for their employment.
Between 1825 and 1855, the state of New York experienced a doubling of its population, especially as a result of immigration. Many immigrants came Eastern Europe with a Catholic background, and did not bring with them any of the Protestant tenets against the game.
In addition, the bulk of this increase occurred in urban areas. Before 1855, a quarter of the state’s population and almost one-third of the inhabitants of Manhattan, was foreign-born. Most of them came Ireland and Germany. The densely populated enclaves of immigrants became cities.
The tight conditions in which they lived, their poverty, the difficulty of coping with a new language, and the cultural barriers contributed to make these people’s prime supporters of the corrupt machine policies that were characterizing many of the agencies of New York City State and State through the last half of the 19th century.
The courts were liberal in determining which of a wide variety of schemes constituted politics; however, it was not defined by statute until the criminal law 1865 declared the “policy” or the “number game” a lottery in which the result is not determined by any act of the players or the promoters.
Despite the laws on books, politics continued to flourish in New York City, mostly because it was instilled in the neighborhoods of the cities ghetto.