What impact did the book The Shame of the Cities have on America?

The Shame of the Cities exposed corruption in city politics across America and gave fuel to the Progressive movement in the early 1900s. The book also helped popularize "muckraking" journalism, which brought the dirty, hidden problems of society to the forefront.

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The Shame of Cities is a book written by Lincoln Steffens in 1904. Lincoln Steffens was an American investigative journalist and a leading muckraker of the Progressive Era. Steffens’s book reports on the massively powerful and corrupt political machines in several major American cities. The theory Steffens posits is that big business officials were successful in corrupting government officials at the city level, who put their politics aside to appease big businesses. Interestingly, Steffens does not present this corruption as existing in some sphere of influence unreachable by the regular citizen. Instead, he contends that the public has been complicit in allowing this corruption to exist.

From a literary perspective, this work helped facilitate the muckraking movement, which weaponized journalists. Journalists no longer were bound to serve newspapers, but rather could bring their work directly to the public, who were distrustful of both big business and political machines. The unveiling of corruption helped weed it out and put legislation in place to remove it.

From a political perspective, the account of circuit attorney Joseph W. Folk in St. Louis helped bring him into a prominent light, which eventually led to his election as governor of Missouri. This also helped usher in and solidify the Progressive movement as a dominant political force.

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The Shame of the Cities was an expose of political corruption in American cities. Lincoln Steffens, who published the book as a series of articles in McClure's magazine, sought to expose the venality, graft, and bribery that plagued American urban politics. He blamed this phenomenon on many things, but especially on a lack of civic virtue in the country. He blamed the absence of civic virtue on the business ethic which he saw as ubiquitous in Gilded Age society. The cutthroat, dog-eat-dog ethos that characterized American business during the era was also present in politics. Businessmen even went into politics, and politicians, of course, became very wealthy by exploiting their positions. As he wrote in the introduction to The Shame of the Cities, political corruption existed "because politics is business. That's what's the matter with it." The "commercial spirit," which valorized "profit, not patriotism" had taken over the country, and it was the most important feature of the political machines, which were little more than reflections of the societies from which they emerged. The actual effect of the book is difficult to measure. It was credited with creating an atmosphere where Progressive reformers could get elected at the municipal level. Many cities passed reform measures, including the council-mayor system, that weakened the political machines. But perhaps above all, Steffens is credited with being a progenitor, or at least a popularizer, of the muckraking style of journalism, one that sought to bring the many problems of American society to the forefront.

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At the time when Lincoln Steffens wrote The Shame of the Cities, many American cities were mired deep in political corruption. One of the main reasons for this was a general lack of participation in politics among the ordinary citizenry.

This left the field wide open to wealthy businessmen, who participated in the political system by using their wealth and influence to bribe municipal politicians to get what they wanted. However, Steffens wasn't primarily exposing corruption; he was showing his readers what happened when ordinary Americans chose not to get involved in a political system which was, after all, supposed to serve their interests.

The immediate impact of The Shame of the Cities was profound. It gave added impetus to the Progressive movement, one of whose main goals was the elimination of corruption in politics, especially in the big cities. It also encouraged ordinary citizens to become more actively involved in their cities' politics.

In this way, the various party machines that ran America's biggest cities were suddenly being challenged for the first time by the very people they were supposed to represent. In writing The Shame of the Cities, Steffens had thrown down a challenge to his fellow citizens, and many of them responded with enthusiasm.

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Lincoln Steffens's groundbreaking book The Shame of the Cities, published in 1094 (based on articles in McClure's), exposed the political corruption, including bribery and graft, carried on in many American cities at the time. His intent was to provoke everyday Americans into caring about politics and the way in which their cities were governed.

His book had an important impact on politics in the country, and historians believe it helped make the Progressive movement more national and prominent. Though this movement had existed in isolated pockets, after Steffens's muckraking work, Progressivism became a national reform movement that involved people working on the local, state, and national level to reform social problems, including political corruption, temperance, child labor, and other issues. Reform movements in politics led to attempts to curb the problems of municipal corruption through the institution of city managers and city commissions that had oversight over the workings of municipal governments.

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I would say that one of the largest impacts of the book was to bring attention to the idea that business growth cannot be divorced from social responsibility.  Cities had become an industrial center at the outset of the 20th century and with such a role came some defining elements.  Urbanization had led to crowded and cramped conditions, filled with individuals who had become cogs in the machinery of economic progress.  These centers of urban population had been comprised of individuals who saw their economic rights violated with poor working conditions as well as their sense of dignity violated with the belief that business growth trumped over all.  Steffens' study of the conditions in American cities within industrialization allowed America to understand that conditions in the urban center of America have to be understood, rectified, and enhanced through positive intervention in order for America to fulfill the promises and possibilities intrinsic to it.

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