Steffens wrote a fast-paced autobiography that touches on a broad cross section of United States and world history from the 1890’s to the 1920’s. In 1903, he gained national attention with his description of crooked politics in Minneapolis. There followed a series of exposés of corruption from coast to coast in which Steffens shocked his readers by arguing that graft was not limited to the smoke-filled rooms of political bosses but included the petty corruption of ordinary citizens in their daily lives. Stealing an apple from the corner grocer, he contended, was a part of the same syndrome of corruption that led greedy bosses to loot the city treasury.
Steffens used his national prominence to arouse public opinion about the need for reform. He worked with editor S. S. McClure to place the muckraking McClure’s Magazine at the forefront of the Progressive movement. Steffens and other crusading journalists helped to inspire this movement, which stimulated efforts at the local, state, and national levels to end corrupt, inefficient practices in government and business. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson brought Progressive reform into national affairs.
Although Steffens was close to many famous Progressive leaders, he often disagreed with them. He met Theodore Roosevelt when the future president was a reform-minded police commissioner in New York City in the 1890’s. Steffens admired Roosevelt’s energetic style in the White House, but the muckraker was eventually disappointed by what he believed were the president’s inconsistencies as a reformer. In his autobiography, Steffens remembered Roosevelt as...
(The entire section is 678 words.)