Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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TAMMANY HALL (IN U. S. HISTORY). A term applied in American politics, first, to the Columbian order, a secret society organized for social and political purposes in New York city in 1789, and which, upon incorporation in 1805, added the name of Tammany society; second, to the place of meeting owned or leased by this society, in which the "regular" democratic organization of the "city and county of New York" assembled up to 1879; and, third, to the political organization itself, meeting in Tammany Hall, whether "regular" or not. The entire subject will be clearer, if it is remembered that many things true of one of these three objects is not true of the other two, and that the same term has been indiscriminately applied to all three, for eighty years. It was first freely used of the secret society, next of the regular political organization assembling in its hall, and in the third and last stage of its history has come to be applied to the democratic faction assembling in Tammany Hall, sometimes regular, sometimes dissident, but never since 1852, commanding the unquestioned allegiance of all the voters of its party in the city. Before that period rival democratic factions existed; since then there have been rival "Halls." The first of these periods covers the years 1800-1834, in which the extension of the right of suffrage and the grant of local self-government formed the chief political issues of the state; the second extends from 1834 to 1853-9, when federal patronage and the democracy of the interior of the state retained the voters of the party in New York city in a tolerably continuous organization in spite of the changes worked in this vote, by foreign immigration and the appearance of the problems of the modern city—its ignorance, its supine wealth, and its costly public works. During the third and last period, while the political organization meeting in Tammany Hall has reached its final development as a well-disciplined body of predatory politicians, the democratic vote of the city, 1879-83, has become divided into two nearly equal divisions. One of these votes with the "county" organization, independent of Tammany Hall, and recognized by the party in the state as "regular." The other body of voters follows the "Tammany" organization, which is not so recognized, but which has a regular local succession to "Tammany," and, during the second and a large part of the third of these periods, was the representative of a majority of the democratic voters of the city.


—As it was only during the first twenty or thirty years of its existence that the Tammany society, or the organization sharing its name, represented a genuine political movement, the history of Tammany for the last fifty or sixty years has been the record of an organization sharing the principles of a wider national party, but bent, first and foremost, on controlling the government of the city in which its lot was cast. Tammany has chiefly attracted attention in this phase as a highly successful effort to govern a great city by organizing its venal vote; a vote extending from the day laborer anxious is for steady employment on the public roads, to the distinguished lawyer solicitous to secure a judgeship at $15,000 a year, with its lucrative refereeships and wide influence.


—The connection is of the slightest between Tamanend, the obscure Indian chief who put his mark to one of Penn's treaties, dealing with the lands of the Delaware Indians, and "St. Tammany," whose festival, on the 12th of May, came, in the closing days of the revolution, to replace St. George's day, three weeks earlier, much as Christmas replaced the Saturnalia. The significant fact is, that after William Mooney had organized the Columbian order, with its thirteen tribes, its twelve sachems, or directors, its sagamore, or master of ceremonies, and its wiskinski, or door-keeper, the secondary name of Tammany society was adopted, because it defined more clearly the popular and local character of the organization in its political action. The child-like interest of the revolutionary period in parades, trappings, terms and mysteries, was apparent in all the organization of the society. For it the year was divided into the seasons of flowers, of fruits, of hunting and of snow; the pipe of peace was smoked at its meetings; its members wore the Indian garb in the great processions of the day, and in 1790 entertained a Creek embassy for days together in costume, and the bucktail which Tammany societies wore throughout Pennsylvania, came, twenty years later, to be, in New York state, the name of one of the earliest of the democratic factions whose intricate relations vex the political student. Tradition has preserved what the preference and fancy of an earlier day selected. The annual celebration of Independence Day in Tammany Hall is still made up of "long talks" and "short talks;" New York newspapers still contain the quaint notices of the annual meetings of the society in the "season of flowers," and its other "council fires," in the "great wigwam," which first appeared while Washington was president; but in the changes of time its great sachem has become a boss, and the chief duties of its wiskinskie, who once gathered the Spanish dollars of the faithful at the door of Martling's long room, have come to be the prompt and persistent collection of political assessments from Tammany office-holders.


—These things are the outer shell of the facts surrounding its early organization and its later development. They unite it, on the one hand, with the familiar channel of political action at the foundation of the republic, and recall its existence now, as the solitary link between the politics of New York city, with 5,189 votes, and the metropolis, with 336,137 males of the voting age. Organized by William Mooney, an Irish-American liberty boy and a violent whig, in the second week of Washington's first administration, the Columbian order represented, in federal politics, state rights; in state affairs, the demand for a wider suffrage; and in local affairs, the claim of the foreign-born citizen for a conspicuous part in politics. All this was not at first apparent. Of the first twelve sachems, ten were federalists. In the hot discussion which succeeded the outbreak of the French revolution, the Columbian order opposed a war with Great Britain. For several years the society was more conspicuous for its riotous celebration of May 12 than for its direct action in politics; but, in the eleven years which preceded its first recorded appearance as a political power, the democratic membership of the body put it in sympathy with the political organization which Aaron Burr was slowly maturing. The Poughkeepsie constitution had imposed a heavy property qualification, a freehold of $50 to $250, or a rental of 40 shillings annually, and the restoration of order had curbed the influence of the "Sons of Liberty"; a mob on the right side, but still a mob. A local moneyed aristocracy, supported by place and birth, resumed the control it enjoyed in colonial days. Its opponents, in 1788, polled one vote in seven in New York city, on a legislative ticket carrying Aaron Burr's name. For ten years the tide continued to run against the popular party, until, in 1800, the Columbian order began at the polls the careful, systematic organization of the voters of the city, to which the success of Tammany has ever since been due. The vote of the city had increased one-half in a decade—in 1801 the qualified voters numbered 7,988—but the city was canvassed, poor citizens were deeded freeholds, "faggot" voters were created by uniting a number of men in the ownership of a single piece of property, the society kept open house during the election, voters were carried to and from the polls, and the entire machinery, long since become familiar, was set in motion to bring out the vote. The result was overwhelming success, and Aaron Burr, the next winter, was nominated as vice-president in the congressional caucus at Washington, on the strength of the victory. The control of the largest city in the Union carried Tammany, at a bound, to a position of influence in national politics which it has never lost. In despair, Alexander Hamilton wrote to Senator Bayard proposing the organization of a similar secret society in the federal party.


—The annual convention in state, and a permanent organization in local politics, was still a quarter of a century distant in American affairs. A property qualification was required of voters; municipal officers were appointed by the governor and a council; a council of revision, made up of appointed officers, passed upon all legislation before it became law; while the representation accorded New York city, and its proportion of voters, left it less powerful in state affairs than at any time until the rapid growth of an urban population in the state at large, stripped it of its preponderating influence seventy-five years later. A permanent secret society was, under these circumstances, invaluable in securing continuous and coherent political action. The constitutional accident, which made the voting power of Tammany relatively greater in electing a president than in choosing a governor, early attracted to it federal patronage; first used with effect in New York state politics, under Madison. New York city was still small enough for the management of its politics by general meetings. The election of assemblymen and congressmen on a general ticket, contributed to concentrate political power. The germ of a general, popular and permanent organization began to show itself in the "general committees," for whose appointment general meetings provided, but such an organization was still far distant. The hard drinking of the day and the social contact of a small city each contributed its share to make acquaintance and frequent reunions a strong and powerful factor in political action. During the last sixty years the meetings of Tammany Hall, however turbulent and disorderly, have never been anything but meetings, differing wholly from the social gatherings of the first third of a century, when it was still true that—

There's a barrel of porter in Tammany Hall,
And the bucktails are swigging it all the night long.
In the time of my childhood 'twas pleasant to call
For a seat and cigar 'mid the jovial throng.


—In the first faction fight of this period, between the Burrites and the Lewisites over the election of Morgan Lewis as governor in 1804, Tammany acted with the former, and began its political career with a bolt; for, while no organization has ever shown a higher respect for local regularity, none has ever been quicker to bolt the action of an Albany legislative caucus or a state convention, in which it has never been popular, and was and is generally in the minority. Before another election came, Tammany had developed, from its own ranks and among its ward workers. Daniel D. Tompkins, one of those young and brilliant leaders whose careers, from the day of Tompkins to the day of Hoffman, have opened so well and fared so ill. A "regular" caucus with which Tammany acted nominated Tompkins, and a year later George Clinton was shelved by his choice as vice-president. For a brief period his son, De Witt Clinton, had acted with Tammany Hall. Like all succeeding mayors, he found how difficult it is for the chief executive officer of the city to distribute his patronage without quarreling with the local organization, and being compelled to fight the organization by a personal machine; to submit; or to resign political power—the three alternatives for seventy years presented to every mayor by Tammany Hall. Clinton, like Fernando Wood, chose the first. The general meetings of Tammany Hall were supporting every step taken by Madison, and its members received, in return, federal patronage, whose importance was enormously increased by the heavy imposts of the day, which, for the first time, were centring at New York. Clinton bitterly complained of this use of patronage, but he was powerless, and the candidate who at last defeated him in a contest for his seat in the senate, was the federal district attorney, Nathan Sanford. The death of John Broome, in the same year, gave Clinton the opportunity of running for lieutenant governor, an office which he reached, and a year later a general meeting in New York nominated him for the presidency. Tammany Hall arrayed itself on the side of regularity, and enjoying federal, state and city patronage, crushed Clinton. The struggle lasted for years with varying success, and ended only with Clinton's death, in 1828, while governor. His previous removal from the office of canal commissioner by Tammany Hall, had aroused an overwhelming popular sentiment in his favor. The frauds charged against Gov. Tompkins—the first of the great public scandals of Tammany Hall—had earlier enabled Clinton (1817) to win in a contest in which the vote of the state at large steadily opposed the dominant city organization, whose wealth and ability enabled it each winter, at Albany, to retrieve in the legislative caucus what it had lost at the polls in November.


—Federal patronage, army contracts and local public works—now first begun—had by this time given the Tammany society wealth. It built, in 1812, its first hall, on the site now occupied by the "Sun" building. Its membership showed that alliance between local politicians and local business men which it retained up to a very recent date. This alliance would be inexplicable in an organization which has uniformly opposed national and state measures, favorable to the city, and increased local taxation; but for the great profits which attend the use of active capital in contracts and in investments guided by an early knowledge of public works. The organization itself has never been true at any period to the real interests of the city. It supported the embargo, it favored the war with Great Britain, and it denounced the Erie canal until the work had reached dimensions which made a share in its contracts profitable, when the votes of its representatives at Albany and the skill of its pamphleteers were enlisted in behalf of enormous appropriations. It opposed a permanent police, was disloyal, and aided Tweed's sack. Yet, neither in its early nor in its later days was the mob, the final residuum of the city, enlisted in Tammany Hall. Clinton, Wood and Morrissey, each commanded a lower stratum of voters than Van Buren, Schell and Kelly. Up to 1879, in spite of occasional eclipses, the lower middle class, which in the long run rules every great city, was the real strength of Tammany Hall. It is a curious illustration of this, that, in 1817 when the Tammany society issued one of its addresses on the state of public affairs, it deplored the spread of the "foreign" game of billiards among young men of the upper classes, and the presence of vice among the lower in the true spirit of a middle class precisian. The character and organization of Tammany Hall only changed for the worse estate, which has made its name a hissing and a by-word, when the small shopkeepers and the rising mechanics of the lower wards of New York were replaced, from 1850 to 1860, by a foreign-born population, with its tenement houses, its rum shops and its beer saloons.


—A general meeting of Tammany Hall in 1820, attended by bucktails from all parts of the state, began the movement which resulted in the constitutional convention of 1821. Its constitution greatly lowered the franchise. This in its turn was followed in 1833 by charter amendments, making the mayor of New York elective. Both radically changed the character of local politics. The centre of political action on all local affairs was shifted from Albany to New York. State patronage ceased to be a conspicuous factor in local politics where the distribution of federal and municipal offices was the first object of political life. Up to 1831, every gubernatorial term but one had been filled by a man who began his active political life in New York ward politics. Since then only three terms have been filled by men (Morgan, Hoffman and Tilden) who were graduated from the same school. With this change in the electorate and the city government, there came an increase in the number of voters, which made it no longer possible for a general meeting to serve the purposes of local politics, or the social gatherings of a secret society to unite the politicians of a city whose population was (1830) 197,112, and whose voters numbered (1835) 43,091. The "general committee" succeeded the general meeting. This body, which survives to-day, grew from two separate sources. The general meeting, after making nominations, had habitually delegated the management of the canvass to a general committee. The ward and district primaries in a similar manner turned over the practical work of the election to their own general committees. A list of the latter in one of the early mayoralty elections fills thirteen and one-half columns of a daily paper, and constituted a roster of the fighting force of Tammany Hall, and an almost equally complete list of local and federal officers. These two bodies gradually came to take shape in a representative general committee, based first on wards and their election districts, until the assembly district came, in 1871, long after the election of assemblymen by districts, to be the working unit in local politics. The wards elected aldermen long after the drift of population had greatly changed their relative vote, and this circumstance continued the ward in city politics, and perpetuated a rotten borough system, which, in the divisions opening the third period of Tammany Hall, placed the regular organization in the hands of men representing a minority of the voters.


—The central and ward organizations grew and prospered together. The "general committee," under its early name as a "general council," first appeared in Tammany Hall in 1822, three delegates representing each of the eleven wards into which the city was divided. The creation of new wards raised the number of forty-five, in 1836 to seventy-five; and in 1843 the division of the city into election districts led to an increase in membership. The wards and their districts were abandoned later for the assembly districts and their election precincts. The steady growth of population has at last given an election precinct an average population from one-half to one-third of the early ward, and in the present (1883) Tammany general committee each precinct has two representatives. From thirty or forty members, the committee has therefore grown to over 1,400, but, instead of representing a majority of the voters of the city, it now controls the votes of a bare third. In the ward, and, later, in the assembly district, the precinct has been, since 1843, the unit of a like organization for ward purposes.


—Theoretically it will be seen that this organization gives representative bodies chosen directly by the voters. Three circumstances, two of them common to all large cities, and the other peculiar to New York, have combined to remove this body from the control of the people. First, voters early abstained from the primaries. This was as much the case in 1830 as in 1880. The delegates to the first national democratic convention were chosen by a larger proportion of office-holders and a smaller number of voters, relative to the voting vote, than attended the primaries whose successive representatives elected the delegates to Cincinnati in 1880. Second, the law never protected these primary meetings from corruption. They began in riot and fraud. Clinton's meetings were regularly mobbed in 1812, and the primaries and meetings of the last decade have been incomparably more orderly, but no less corrupt, than those of previous years. Third, the circumstance that the mayors of New York were at first elected in the spring led to the organization of a general committee at the close of each calendar year in primaries held for this purpose. These primaries, meeting in the ebb between the fall and spring election, never attracted general interest. Tradition and the convenience of politicians have continued them at a season when the average citizen has dismissed politics from his attention, and a brief notice yearly reminds the casual reader that a new Tammany Hall general committee is to be chosen on the last Thursday of the year.


—The general committee, directly representing the ward workers, rapidly relegated the Tammany society to a relatively unimportant position. No careful student of New York politics for the last fifty years, and no one familiar with their actual working for the last fifteen years, can fail to see that the influence of the society has been exaggerated. It has always owned, and, of late years, has controlled by a lease, the hall in which the Tammany organization meets. Tradition and this circumstance render it necessary that the head of the political organization should control a majority of the society. In 1867 the society, and the organization with it, removed from its early quarters (rebuilt in 1860) to its present wigwam on Fourteenth street. Once since then (in 1872) the society closed its doors to the organization. But the organization has existed and acted apart from the society, to which a small share of its members belong. Perhaps no better proof of the local political vitality which accounts for this permanent separate existence without calling in the Tammany society to explain it, could be given than the circumstance that the local republican organization, aided by no society and having no such tie, has maintained its individuality, its existence and its succession for twenty-five years, and, for all practical political purposes, survived its summary reorganization in 1883-4.


—From twenty to thirty years after its organization, the general committee had become an unwieldy body, open to the attacks of mobs, whose riotous proceedings perpetually threw doubt on the validity of the succession, and, what was more important in the eyes of politicians, hopelessly divided the democratic vote. After fifteen years of this condition of affairs, it became plain that the "general committee" was a body as little able to decide the regularity of conflicting ward partisans as the whole body of the faithful in Rome to elect a pope. Shortly after the close of the war, therefore, a new body appeared, reaching its power by slow degrees, in the "committee on organization." This body, at first one, and later two, from each ward or assembly district, secured powers, to carry the analogy a step farther, similar to those of the college of cardinals. Originally a subordinate committee of the general committee, to whom questions of regularity, party discipline and party organization were referred, the committee on organization has come to be the final authority in Tammany Hall. The chairman of this committee is the "boss" of the Hall, and while the committee begins by naming its chairman, the chairman always ends by naming the committee. Its report admits or excludes contesting delegations from the general committee, and the general committee primaries are under the care of its members. The circuit of power is therefore complete, and the downfall of Tweed is the only instance on record of a successful attempt to carry the primaries against a majority of the committee on organization.


—It is possible, if the general committee and the district committees of like character directly made nominations, that the general interest in local politics which renders the voting voter more numerous in New York city than in any city as large, would lead to the genuine popular choice of the general committee. The Tammany Hall organization, however, imposes a third screen between the voter and his vote. All nominations are made by conventions called for this purpose. The mayor, county officers, judges of all varieties, congressmen, senators, assemblymen and aldermen, are each nominated in conventions chosen to suit the occasion. The primaries for these conventions, in theory open to all democrats, are held by the members of the organization which radiates from the chairman of the committee on organization through the general committees to the district committees. These successive transmissions commit the entire organization into the hands of politicians; and Tammany Hall, in theory popular, becomes in practice a well organized and highly disciplined hierarchy of politicians and place-holders, who, in spite of all bolts, control and yearly poll over 50,000 votes, the greater part of whom are directly or indirectly interested in the enormous municipal expenditure of New York city.


—Tammany Hall, during the two periods, in the first of which the general committee was developed, to pass later in the second period under the committee on organization, has shared in every election. Its political history is the political history of New York city, and it is not intended, in briefly sketching the course of the organization, to give more than is needed to make its development plain. The second period of "Tammany" may be considered as extending from the election of C. W. Lawrence as mayor, in 1834, to the crushing defeat of Tammany Hall by Mozart Hall in the election of Fernando Wood, in 1859. This election, the changes of the war and the Tweed ring ended in the Tammany Hall of to-day, and comprise the third period in its history. During the second period, Tammany Hall held the mayoralty for fifteen years out of twenty-five; during the third period, it has held the same office thirteen years out of twenty-four. Measured in this way, the supremacy of Tammany Hall appears to be evenly distributed, but of the last thirteen years seven were under Tweed's mayors, and paved the way for the present position of Tammany Hall as a democratic rump, whose vote has been cast more than once against the party. In the second period, when the Tammany society had been definitely succeeded by the more popular general committee, Tammany Hall was dominant in New York city because it contained the ablest politicians in a city narrowly divided between the whig and democratic voters. Tammany Hall entered its first canvass for mayor, in 1834, liberally supported by the federal patronage of the Jackson administration. The Sixth ward, known later as the "bloody sixth," was then the "office-holders' ward," and included hundreds of the federal employés, who continued to support Tammany Hall until the republican party secured control of the federal government. The whig party had behind it the growing power of the rural vote of the state, organized by Weed and Seward, which elected Seward governor, and changed the face of politics in New York state by transferring the counties of the interior from the democratic to the republican party. Lawrence became mayor by a narrow majority. One year later, in October, 1835, the division between the "loco-foco" or equal rights party and Tammany culminated in the riot which gave the former its name and offered the first proof of the ease with which a large convention could become a mob in a city of a quarter of a million, whose police force was still ten years distant. The alliance between the whig and loco-foco candidates, in 1836, ran through 1837 and 1838, defeating Tammany Hall in these years. The election of J. L. Varian, Tammany, in 1839, began a period of success which lasted until 1844, when James Harper, an American candidate, defeated Tammany Hall. With the election of W. T. Havemeyer, in 1845, the modern period of the city began. Its waterworks were completed, its police organized, and the influence of patronage and public works increased. With them, the prizes of local municipal life multiplied, and in the period from 1845 to 1853 the second of the great feuds in Tammany Hall opened between the "hards" and "softs." The two factions stood in a way for the "hunker" and "barn-burner" factions of the state democracy; but without entering into their state and national relations, the two factions grew out of the struggles in the local organization over nominations and the "regular" succession. The "hards" represented the office-holding faction; and when, in August, 1853, they were mobbed in Tammany Hall by the "softs," the chairman of the former was the collector of the port, Augustus Schell. A year later, Fernando Wood, who had successfully organized a "soft" machine, captured the primaries of the "hards," and secured a united nomination for mayor. The "adamantine" "hards" at once seceded from Tammany Hall, and organized at the Stuyvesant Institute, defeating the regular democratic candidate for governor, Horatio Seymour, by a bolt, precisely as Lucius Robinson was defeated by a like bolt in 1879.


—For nearly ten years, from 1853 to 1863, the struggle between the opposing factions continued. The quarrel had practically begun in 1852, and the national conventions of 1852 and 1856 were asked to pass upon its merits. Every democratic state convention had contesting delegations before it, and every city election saw the democratic vote divided by the presence of two tickets, both claiming regularity. It would be idle to go into the details of these contests. Fernando Wood retained his control over the regular organization until 1857, when the contest was transferred to the Tammany society in its first and last attempt to decide the regularity of two opposing factions. The result proved the attempt futile. Wood was defeated in the society, retained the organization, secured the regular nomination and was beaten, 1858, by Daniel F. Tiemann. The Tammany society, under its new sachems, excluded his general committee, and Wood seceded to Mozart Hall and was elected mayor in 1859 over the Tammany candidate, W. T. Havemeyer. Two years later, the split still continued, and a republican, George Opdyke, was chosen major. In 1863 Tammany was again defeated by the election of C. Godfrey Gunther, an independent democrat, over Frank Boole, who had received the Tammany and Mozart Hall nomination.


—These successive defeats made necessary the change in policy and organization already described. The lavish expenditure which Fernando Wood had begun was resumed at the close of the war by W. M. Tweed. The ring, of which he was the conspicuous figure, combined with the corruption whose story has been so often told, a reorganization of Tammany Hall and the introduction of a sharp and summary discipline carried on by the committee on organization which promptly excluded objectors. The change altered the character of Tammany Hall. The loose and floating body of voters became a standing army of mercenary voters, which might suffer defeat, but never altogether lost its organization or left any question as to the regularity of its succession. John T. Hoffman was elected mayor by Tammany Hall in 1865, re-elected in 1867, and succeeded, on his own election as governor, by A. Oakey Hall, who held office past the defeat of the Tweed ring in 1871, until, in 1872, W. T. Havemeyer was chosen mayor on a citizens' ticket. The sack of the city treasury went on during this period without pause or check. The operations of the ring added over $100,000,000 to the bonded debt of the city, doubled its annual expenditure, and cost tax payers, to take the best approximate estimates, first and last, at least $160,000,000, or four times the fine levied on Paris by the German army. Many causes combined to render this gigantic devastation possible; but all combined could scarcely have compassed this plunder, if Tammany Hall itself had not been reorganized and converted into a standing army of voters encamped in New York city, obeying a single head and able to exclude all dissension from its ranks.


—This organization, without its old opportunities and without its old flagrant corruption, but still a body living on politics, survived Tweed, and after various changes passed, in 1873, under the control of John Kelly, who has remained its head for ten years. Tweed's purposes rendered an alliance with the democracy of the state indispensable. When that was lost, he went to the penitentiary. To John Kelly, this connection was not necessary. Tammany Hall, in 1874, elected W. H. Wickham, and, in 1876, chose Smith Ely. The personal honesty of its leader, the recent fall and punishment of Tweed, and the growth of an independent vote, led to nominations far above the average of past years. In 1878 successive secessions from Tammany Hall left it in a minority, and Edward Cooper was elected mayor by a combination between republicans and democrats in sympathy and full party communion with the state democracy. In 1879, when the state democracy nominated Lucius Robinson as governor, John Kelly was run as a bolting democratic candidate. This completed the isolation of Tammany Hall. The long series of steps by which a social organization with political purposes had become developed into an organized body of voters, acting for its own purposes, independent of all principle but plunder and all aim but office, was at last completed.


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