Biography of Lincoln Steffens
Lincoln 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 famous 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 after graduating 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, along 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, 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."
Upon 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 repeated often with many variations.
His enthusiasm for communism soured by the time his memoirs appeared in 1931. The autobiography went on to become a bestseller and is considered one of the greatest American autobiographies ever. This led 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.
He died of heart failure on August 9, 1936, in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.