Improvising (Il)Legality: Justice and the Irish Diaspora, N.Y.C., 1930-32

Sara Ramshaw
Volume 3 Issue 1 Article 4
The Seabury Commission, 1930-32, probed allegations of corruption made against, amongst others, the Irish-American Mayor of New York City, James J. ‘Jimmy’ Walker, and the Irish-dominated Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine that had supported Walker. Taking the Seabury inquiry as its focus, this article explores these allegations from the perspective of Critical Studies in Improvisation (C.S.I.) fused with postcolonial critique. Improvisation, in accordance with C.S.I. principles, is not a lawless or extempore event; it is, instead, lawful, or full of law. The laws of improvisation may appear impenetrable to those unfamiliar with the practice. However, when read through a hibernocentric postcolonial perspective, their meaning and form become more understandable. As will be argued in this article, diasporic communities are inherently improvisatory; that is, they utilise improvisational techniques to help adapt and respond to new situations and social contexts. To be queried is whether the law and politics practiced by Tammany and Walker, taken together, constituted a markedly Irish approach to justice, one that entailed not scripted or planned illegality, as was alleged by Judge Seabury, but improvisations on Anglo-Protestant law as a response to the displacement of and discrimination against the Irish Diaspora in early twentieth century America.

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