Lincoln Steffens

American journalist (1866-1936)

Lincoln Austin Steffens (April 6, 1866 – August 9, 1936) was an American investigative journalist and one of the leading muckrakers of the Progressive Era in the early 20th century. He launched a series of articles in McClure's, called "Tweed Days in St. Louis", that would later be published together in a book titled The Shame of the Cities. He is remembered for his sympathetic 1919 statement after visiting Soviet Russia in 1919 and for investigating corruption in municipal government in American cities.

Lincoln Steffens

Quotes edit

  • The misgovernment of the American people is misgovernment by the American people.
    • Lincoln Steffens, The Shame of the Cities (New York: Hill and Wang, 1957 [1904]), p. 2.
  • I have seen the Future, and it works.
    • Lincoln Steffens, letter to Marie Howe, 3 Apr. 1919. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations comments: "Steffens had composed the expression before he had even arrived in Russia."
  • Soviet Russia was a revolutionary government with an evolutionary plan. Their plan was, not by direct action to resist such evils as poverty and riches, graft, privilege, tyranny, and war, but to seek out and remove the causes of them. They were not practicing what we and they preached. They were not trying to establish political democracy, legal liberty and negotiated peace — not now. They were at present only laying a basis for these good things. They had set up a dictatorship, supported by a small, trained minority, to make and maintain for a few generations a scientific rearrangement of economic forces which would result in economic democracy first and political democracy last.

Quotes about Lincoln Steffens edit

  • Lincoln Steffens, his papers seized by Wilson, secretly came to tell the people of what had happened in Russia.
  • The most brilliant addition to the McClure's staff in my time was Lincoln Steffens. He had made himself felt in the journalistic and political life of New York City by a fresh form of reportorial attack. Young, handsome, self-confident, with a good academic background and two years of foreign life and observation, Steffens began his professional career unencumbered by journalistic shibboleths and with an immense curiosity as to what was going on about him. He was soon puzzled and fascinated by the relations of police and politicians, politicians and the law, law and city officials, city officials and business, business and church, education, society, the press. Apparently groups from each of these categories worked together, supporting one another, an organization close, compact, loyal from fear or self-interest or both. It was because of this organization, Steffens concluded, that graft and vice and crime were established industries of the city. Attacks from outraged virtue had slowed up the system at intervals ever since the Civil War, but never permanently deranged it. A few rascals might be exterminated, but they were soon replaced. The system had bred new rascals, grown stronger and more cunning with time. He set out to trace its pattern. Incredibly outspoken, taking rascality for granted, apparently never shocked or angry or violent, never doubtful of himself, only coolly determined to demonstrate to men and women of good will and honest purpose what they were up against and warn them that the only way they could hope to grapple with a close corporation devoted to what there was in it was by an equally solid corporation devoted to decent and honest government, business, law, education, religion. First as a reporter and later as the city editor of the Globe, Steffens stirred the town.
  • In the years that were to come, wars and revolutions largely occupied Steffens. Wherever there was a revolution you found him. He wrote many brilliant comments on what was going on in the world. When he came back from Russia after the Kerensky revolution he was like a man who had seen a long hoped-for vision. "I have looked at the millennium and it works," he told me.
  • For several years the scathing articles by Lincoln Steffens under the general title of "The Shame of our Cities" had been appearing in McClure's Magazine, and they exposed the bribed and the bribing of municipal government. Seemingly one city was as rotten as another.

Further reading edit

  • Peter Hartshorn, I Have Seen the Future: A Life of Lincoln Steffens (Counterpoint, 2011), ISBN 978-1582438078.

External links edit

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