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Corruption—defined as abuse of public office for private gain—carries two general meanings. The first refers to acts that are patently illegal; the bribery of Albert Fall in the Teapot Dome crisis in the early 1920s is a prime example. The second meaning specifies acts that, while legal, may become construed as unethical. Influence peddling and inadequate regulation are examples. The social context that allows corrupt practices of either type to arise is the opportunity to make substantial sums of money illicitly when official oversight is weak.
An early instance of western corruption involved the misappropriation of funds on lands set aside as model reservations for American Indians by the Office of Indian Affairs, which was created in 1824 to provide assistance to Indians. Social reformers soon ...