1. What issues concerning urban politics does Steffens’s The Shame of the Cities raise, and how did political machines disfranchise voters?
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Lincoln Steffens's The Shame of the Cities collects a series of articles on the social and political wrongs of American cities originally published in McClure's. Steffens was part of the Progressive movement which tried to reform American society at the beginning of the twentieth-century. The Progressives were mostly middle-class and addressed a lot of important questions in different fields such as education, labor, politics and health care. Contrary to laissez-faire capitalists, Progressives thought that government must intervene in social and economic issues. The political context in which they operated was changing fast: party loyalty eroded and voter turnout diminished.
Steffens's journalism is often defined as muckraking and voices the concerns of the Progressives' as far as urban politics and corruption are concerned. The introduction to the collection contains a typically Progressive attack on "big business". "Big businessmen" are the main source of political corruption and put their own interests before the common good. "The commercial spirit," writes Steffens, "is the spirit of profit, not patriotism; of credit, not honor; of individual gain, not national prosperity; of trade and dickering, not principle." These big businessmen are often interested in politics for their own wealth.
Muckrakers like Steffens argues that American people must rediscover the values of an active citizenship. They should not accept the decisions of political parties passively but should be active in the selection of political candidates. The connections between politics and economics, between politicians and big businessmen ultimately disfranchises voters.
You can read the introduction to The Shame of the Cities here http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5732/
Interesting critical work on Steffens is included in The Age of Reform by Richard Hofstadter and in The New Radicalism in America, 1889-1963 by Christopher Lasch. A general criticism levelled against Steffens, and more generally, against the Progressive is the middle-class bias that surfaces from their works. When Steffens talks about "the American people" who does he include? Does he include ethnic minorities?
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