The Shame of Cities Essay Homework - Essay Prowess

The Shame of Cities Essay Homework


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The Shame of Cities

The Shame of Cities is part of the writings of Lincoln Steffens as part of his collection to the McClure magazine where he was editor. Around this time, investigative reporting was on the rise with many journalists opting to write on social issues affecting the society at the time like religion, corporations, prisons, child labour and corruption. Lincoln Steffens in 1904 published his collection of stories on urban political corruption in the cities of St. Louis, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. This collection of articles on political corruption formed the Shame of Cities article. The Shame of Cities was an article that was part of the muckraking articles that had gained popularity at the time. Muckraking articles, which gained their name from President Roosevelt, were those that sort to publicize scandals and especially of people in the limelight.

In the Shame of Cities, Lincoln Steffens, exposed how politics at the point was just like any other business in the country. As businessmen, the politicians had a the spirit of making profits and personal gain and not patriotism, honor or national prosperity that was required of a true national leader. He particularly pointed out to Philadelphia which he considered the worst cities as it was not only the most corrupt but also it people were content with this situation and rarely voted. Lincoln however draws exception in the comparison between politicians and businessmen where he identifies politicians like the former mayors of Tammany who left politics and went to become prominent businessmen and financiers of their cities. He also points out to businessmen who prospered in politics like Mark Hanna.

Lincoln illustrated in his article how corruption prospered in the political leadership of cities due to the nature of carrying out politics as a business and not as service to citizens. Lincoln argued that for a businessman, anything that prospers his business must be good and whatever hinder his business must be bad. In that case, offering a bribe that prospers the business is not seen as a vice to the businessman. The politician in similar fashion, as a businessman sees no wrong in taking a bribe to increase his wealth and provide a certain type of convenience to the businessman who is offering the bribe to prosper his business. In this case, both the business man and the politician are boodlers in that they exchange illicit payments for their prosperity of their ventures. From this explanation, it is clear to see the place of corruption in the political system brought about by politicians treating their positions as a business and using any means to prosper this business.

According to Lincoln, reforming the political sector from corruption will not work by replacing the politician with another individual from another career as they are also businessmen and will only continue the same trend of treating politics as a business. However, the reforms of politics will come from taking advantage of the same commercial spirits that politicians have adopted towards leadership of the nation. As businessmen, politicians deal in the supply of whatever is in demand in the political spheres. It is therefore up to the people to create a demand of good leadership which the politicians will be forced to supply in order to remain in the business of politics.

Lincoln argued that to demand for good leadership, the citizens have to stop relying on voting based on political parties as these are avenues that the politicians use to meet their corrupt needs. He encouraged citizens to abandon political party affiliations but rather vote for what is best for the State or Country. By defying the need to vote for political parties, the commercial politician will understand that there is demand for good governance and be compelled to provide it without being tied to a certain party.

In this article, Lincoln Steffen warns that change for good governance will require the effort of a whole generation. He however worries that not all citizens are interested in good governance. This is because he argues that even the citizen is no different from the businessman of politician and wants what will serve their interests. Additionally, since the electoral process is representative, the politicians’ actions are a representation of the people he serves.


This article is interesting and an eye opener on the issues facing governance particularly in major cities. The title is subtle and does not give away the content of the article which creates a pleasant surprise for the reader. As an editor, I would not change the article as I feel it is bold in a way meant to awaken the citizens to take control of their leadership choices. The material is also easy to understand as the author uses illustrations to explain the correlation between the politician and the businessman and the place of corruption in politics. I however feel that Lincoln Steffens would have portrayed corruption as a vice and not just a necessity to enhancing business as is the view of businessmen. I would definitely recommend the book to others especially those interested in changing the political scene to having more transparent leaders. It is also a book that should be used by future students as it lays the foundation of understanding the ice of corruption in politics.


Steffens, Lincoln. The Shame Of Cities.. Mcclure, Phillips And Company., 1904.

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