Steffens in 1894. Photo by Rockwood.
|Born||Lincoln Joseph Steffens
April 6, 1866
San Francisco, California, US
|Died||August 9, 1936 (aged 70)
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, US
Cause of death
|Alma mater||University of California|
New York Evening Post (until 1902)
McClure's Magazine (until 1906)The American Magazine (1906 onward)
Part of the muckraking trio at the turn of the century.Having his articles written into books. See Works.
Lincoln Joseph Steffens (April 6, 1866 – August 9, 1936) was a New York reporter who launched a series of articles in McClure's that would later be published together in a book titled The Shame of the Cities. He is remembered for investigating corruption in municipal government in American cities and for his early support for the Soviet Union.
Steffens was born April 6, 1866, in San Francisco. He grew up in a wealthy family and attended a military academy. He studied in France and Germany following graduation from the University of California.
Steffens began his career as a journalist at the New York Evening Post. He later became an editor of McClure's magazine, where he became part of a celebrated muckraking trio with Ida Tarbell and Ray Stannard Baker. He specialized in investigating government and political corruption, and two collections of his articles were published as The Shame of the Cities (1904) and The Struggle for Self-Government (1906). He also wrote The Traitor State (1905), which criticized New Jersey for patronizing incorporation. In 1906, he left McClure's, along with Tarbell and Baker, to form The American Magazine. In The Shame of the Cities, Steffens sought to bring about political reform in urban America by appealing to the emotions of Americans. He tried to provoke outrage with examples of corrupt governments throughout urban America.
From 1914–1915 he covered the Mexican Revolution and began to see revolution as preferable to reform. In March 1919, he accompanied William C. Bullitt, a low-level State Department official, on a three-week visit to the Soviet Union and witnessed the "confusing and difficult" process of a society in the process of revolutionary change. He wrote that "Soviet Russia was a revolutionary government with an evolutionary plan", enduring "a temporary condition of evil, which is made tolerable by hope and a plan."
After his return, he promoted his view of the Soviet Revolution and in the course of campaigning for U.S. food aid for Russia made his famous remark about the new Soviet society: "I have seen the future, and it works", a phrase he often repeated with many variations. The title page of his wife Ella Winter's Red Virtue: Human Relationships in the New Russia (Victor Gollancz, 1933) carries this quote.
His enthusiasm for communism soured by the time his memoirs appeared in 1931. The autobiography became a bestseller leading to a short return to prominence for the writer, but Steffens would not be able to capitalize on it as illness cut his lecture tour of America short by 1933. He was a member of the California Writers Project, a New Deal program.
- Pittsburgh is Hell with the Lid Off (1903) (Painting Jules Guerin/Lincoln Steffens)
- The Shame of the Cities (1904)
- The Traitor State (1905)
- The Struggle for Self-Government (1906)
- Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens (1931)
- Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens (NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1958)
- The Letters of Lincoln Steffens, edited by Ella Winter and Granville Hicks, 2 vols. (1938)
- Christopher Lasch, The American Liberals and the Russian Revolution (NY: Columbia University Press, 1962)
- Justin Kaplan, Lincoln Steffens: A Biography (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1974)
- Stanley K. Schultz, "The Morality of Politics: The Muckrakers' Vision of Democracy," The Journal of American History, vol. 52, no. 3. (December 1965), 527–547, in JSTOR
- Peter Hartshorn, I Have Seen the Future: A Life of Lincoln Steffens (Counterpoint, 2011)
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