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Perhaps the greatest political problem faced during the late nineteenth century was corruption in politics. This was true at the national level, especially during the Grant administration, which saw numerous high-profile and fairly egregious scandals involving Grant's cabinet members and other powerful men. But Progressive reformers were most interested in targeting local corruption, particularly the urban political machines that became more powerful and organized in the post-Civil War era. Muckraking writer Lincoln Steffens described the situation in his famous collection The Shame of the Cities as fundamental and deep rooted, saying that "the spirit of graft and lawlessness is the American spirit." By this he meant to criticize the idea that political machines, and the corrupt brand of politics that had sprung up around them, was the product of immigration. While many machines, notably Tammany Hall in New York City, indeed counted recent immigrants among their constituents, political corruption was much more widespread, occurring even in cities with relatively small immigrant populations. Steffens connected corruption more to business interests than to any immigrant influence. Late nineteenth-century reformers made cleaning up urban politics a major priority, and their reforms, which often featured the establishment of new city government schemes, were a major aspect of the Progressive movement.
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