Al Capone, the Emperor of Bootlegging

A quintessential aspect of empire is a key figurehead that represents the ambitions and ideology of the empire. While the Roman Empire had their Caesars and the British have their royal families, the criminal empire in Chicago Illinois known as the “Chicago Outfit” had their boss, most famous/ infamous being Alphonsus “Al” Capone . Born in Brooklyn 1899, the iconic bootlegger and mobster began his criminal life at an early age and progressed from joining his local street gang to leading one of the most profitable smuggling operations and crime syndicates in the twentieth century.

Al Capone's mug shot, 1931.

Fun Fact: After being assaulted in a bar and being severely cut on the face, Al Capone got the name “Scarface” from the eventual scars that resulted from the attack.

His successful actions as a mob boss and his popularity made Al Capone one of the most iconic historical figures to emerge from the Age of Prohibition.Al Capone’s progression into becoming the leader of a  “Bootlegging Empire” illustrates a similar ambition to that of an aspiring emperor leading an imperialistic empire to achieve greater power and fortune. Al Capone would not only amass an impressive fortune but also a strong political influence to further his lucrative business. Al Capone’s extremely profitable bootlegging buisness would also serve as the foundation for future territorial and market expansions. While Al Capone managed to amass the power and wealth of an empire through his successful smuggling, what had made this Chicago gangster such an influential figure was his ability to maintain a rather positive celebrity-like status with the american people similar to how Caesar Augustus managed to gain the respect and support of those he ruled over.

Al Capone’s vast Bootlegging Empire gave him not only riches but also a certain amount of political power that allowed the gangster to manipulate government officials and easily avoid capture for years.

For the leader of an empire to become successful he must maintain a popular standing among the people he rules in order to prevent possible rebellion. Al Capone not only remained in the public’s good grace but he also established himself as a “guardian of Chicago” with numerous charitable  deeds to the people of Chicago. From providing milk to schoolchildren to opening numerous soup kitchens for those struggling during the Great Depression. These charitable actions are not uncommon as the Roman Empire used similar methods such as building public bathhouses and roads to gain the full-hearted support of all citizens.

This was one of many soup kitchens that Al Capone had established to feed the hungry during the Great Depression.

With money, power, and status this one time two-bit gangster became one of the most powerful and popular figureheads in the United States. He ruled his criminal empire with an efficiency and ruthlessness that was unparalleled for his time and expanded an empire of illegal operations that would have a lasting impact for decades. This emperor of bootlegging would cement himself as a legend for such a dramatic time in American history.

“uomini d’onore” Men of Honor

 

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The Commission was made up of the Five Families in New York City, the Chicago Outfit, and the Italian Mob of Buffalo

One of the most iconic criminal empires in the twentieth century  was the Italian mafia which consisted of five major crime families that united to completely dominate all major criminal activities throughout the East Coast with historical success. While the five different families: Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Colombo, and Bonanno were initially competitors that would continually engage in bloody gang wars the eventual establishment of the Commission  in 1931 by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky in Atlantic City of New Jersey  began the gradual transition from a small assortment of local gangs to a fully functional crime syndicate that would spread internationally and be known as one of the most infamous criminal empires in all of history.

Similar to the functions of empire this new commission had oversight over all the territories and monitored all outlets of income with an intensity that did not permit any wavering from the status quo. The commission utilized their power and influence to intimidate and manipulate many aspects of life in New York, from the waterfront trading ports to who got elected to be a mayor, judge, or even house representative. The commission’s function in the Italian mafia was similar to that of the Roman Empire’s senate in which each family from different areas of New York  would elect a representative or “Don” to discuss the current state of affairs with their family branch. By keeping an equal balance of power and the collaboration of these families the Italian mafia was able to amass millions in construction fees, gambling rings, and extortion.This structure of criminal government was soon adopted in Europe by other criminal syndicates and made the presence of this underground criminal empire ever more apparent. Despite this influx of money and power the Italian mafia made the critical mistake of any overtly successful empire and their growing ambition ultimately became their downfall.

Like every other power-hungry empire throughout history, the Italian mafia’s avaricious expansions for profit would become this grand empire’s downfall. Once the commission’s existence was exposed to the general public during a failed meeting known as the Apalachin meeting in 1957 the ensuing decades had the power and general presence of the commission slowly fade away. Unlike most empires in history the Italian mafia did not collapse in a single catastrophic event  but rather a slow degradation that slowly reduced the once great coalition into a shell of its former self, left to linger in the shadows of its ruins for decades to come.

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Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,  J. Edgar Hoover began to direct a larger amount of government resources into dismantling the Italian mafia after the public’s discovery  of its existence.

 

 

 

Organized crime syndicates : The modern empires

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When one reflects upon what made an empire so successful centuries ago the common remarks would most likely relate to power, wealth, influence, and territory. And for the most part these characteristics are displayed by the major powerhouse nations throughout the developed world but an underlying collection of some of the most powerful empires in the modern world have been purposefully lying in a blanket of obscurity to further expand their influence and power. Through the selling of illegal narcotics and contraband, human trafficking, and brutality, the most powerful criminal syndicates across the globe have branched out internationally and have formed a collection of discrete modern empires that can level the power and wealth of nations.

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According to The United States of America Department of Justice an international criminal organization is defined as, “those self-perpetuating associations of individuals who operate internationally for the purpose of obtaining power, influence, monetary and/or commercial gains, wholly or in part by illegal means, while protecting their activities through a pattern of corruption or violence.” Similar to the Roman Empire there is a constant push for “more”; whether it is more power, more territory, more material wealth, or more influence. The biggest differences between the empires of yesterday and today are the public perceptions of criminal empires and the more discreet manner in which modern criminal syndicates proceed to expand their empires.

When the components of what makes a criminal empire are presented the similarity between these new illegal syndicates and the war-bound empires of the past is striking. The rate at which these organizations have expanded and diverged is phenomenal as observed in an article by Chris Matthews, with multi-billion dollar organizations in Japan, Russia, and the United States thriving from drugs, extortion, and sex (Fortune). While empires of the past have stormed other nations the mobs of today impose their men on every street corner with drugs and other illegal substances to turn profit and claim land. And while the Romans would adopt all captured territories into their nation, the criminal syndicates would pick up members for their organization to increase the force behind their name. It is through this meticulous process of claiming small portions of land while imposing their presence upon the people within their streets that criminal empires of today have expanded. The manner in which these various criminal organizations establish their dominance and continually pursue expansion is not too distinct from the methods of historic empires so despite the differences in the presentation of these empires the ultimate drive for power is identical.

United States of America Department of Justice, “International Organized Crime.” https://www.justice.gov/criminal-ocgs/international-organized-crime .

Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Organized Crime.” https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/organized-crime .

Matthews, Chris,”Fortune 5: The Biggest Organized Crime Groups in the World.” Fortune, 14 September 2016,  http://fortune.com/2014/09/14/biggest-organized-crime-groups-in-the-world/?iid=sr-link1 .