from Lincoln Steffens's The Shame of the Cities. . .

Philadelphia: Corrupt and Contented

Lincoln Steffens, an early twentieth century muckraking journalist, compiled a number of articles written for McClure's Magazine, and published his book, The Shame of the Cities, which exploited corruption in several of America's largest and most widely-known cities. In his introduction to the book, Steffens claims that his purpose for compiling together such articles to make the book served and still serves the purpose, "...to sound for the civic pride of an apparently shameless citizenship" (1). Steffens, in his introduction, goes on to state that the existing corruption and shameful things of these American cities are not the fault of any single socioeconomic class, but it is the fault of the misgovernment of the American people by the American people--henceforth, every American citizen is to blame, those in the lower, middle, and upper classes. Focusing on Philadelphia, which Steffens claims to be "corrupt and contented," as he titles the chapter about the city, the author also feels that the city was the purest (racially/ethnically) community of all, but at the same time, the most hopeless. At one point in the chapter about Philadelphia, the author states, "Philadelphia is not merely corrupt, it is corrupted," and with this, provides sufficient evidence in which one would be able to clearly recognize the corruption of the city (148). Having said this, it seems as though the author is saying that the damage to Philadelphia has already been done and either a. there is no hope for a clean, uncorrupt city, or b. a great deal of effort needs to be put into changing the city in order for it to become uncorrupted. This chapter on Philadelphia goes into enough detail about the workings of the "machine" which basically ruled the citizens of Philadelphia by casting fraudulent votes and taking part in activities that put the not-so-popular Democratic party at great disadvantages. Not only are the helpless citizens forced to deal with the corrupt city counsel, but also are those with high social positions. Steffens exposes how even teachers and students are involved in the dishonest ways of those members of the powerful ring that runs Philadelphia. This seems to be as bad as it gets since children are now involved in this dishonest way of being and especially since it is institutionalized corruption as there is organization to it and it takes place in a place of education. One sees how even police officers and mayors are part of the not merely corrupt, but corrupted city. In light of this corruption, the author reveals how reformers make an effort to take a stance and expose the machine leaders. Although the city as a whole is condemned for being corrupt, one must realize that any city is comprised of people with different tasks, and so the following will lead you to a closer look at the inner workings of Philadelphia in the early twentieth century by summarizing and analyzing individuals, social institutions, and the like.

 

"Philadelphia is, indeed, corrupt; but it is not without significance. Every city and town in the country can learn something from the typical political experience of this great representative city."

 

"Immigration has been blamed for our municipal conditions; Philadelphia, with 47 per cent of its population native-born of native-born parents, is the most American of our greater cities."

 

"All our municipal governments are more or less bad, and all our people are optimists. Philadelphia is simply the most corrupt and contented."

 

"But I say that if Philadelphia is a disgrace, it is a disgrace not to itself alone, nor to Pennsylvania, but to the United States and to American character."

 

"...they thought they had it when they got the Bullit Law, which concentrates in the mayor ample power, executive and political, and complete responsibility. Moreover, it calls for very little thought and action on the part of the people."

 

"The Philadelphians do not vote; they are disfranchised, and their disfranchisement is one anchor of the foundation of the Philadelphia organization."

 

"There is no figure of speech. The honest citizens of Philadelphia have no more rights at the polls than the negroes down South."

 

"The machine controls the whole process of voting, and practices fraud at every stage. The assessor's list is the voting list, and the assessor is the machine's man."

 

"...The man named as judge had a criminal charge for a life offense pending against him..."

 

"Rudolph Blankenburg, a persistent fighter for the right and the use of the right to vote (and by the way, an immigrant), sent out just before one election a registered letter to each voter on the rolls of a certain selected division. Sixt-three per cent were returned marked "not at," "removed," "deceased," etc."

 

"Several citizens told me that they had seen the police help to beat citizens or election officers who were trying to do their duty, then arrest the victim..."

"Francis Fisher Kane, the Democrat, got 32,000 votes out of some 204,000."

 

"Mr. J. C. Reynolds, the proprietor of the St. James Hotel, went to the polls at eleven o'clock last election day, only to be told that he had been voted."

 

"...they reported that there was "wholesale voting on the very names stricken off" ."

 

"The people of Philadelphia are Republicans in a Republican city in a Republican State in a Republican nation, and they are bound ring on ring on ring."

 

"Martin formed a permanent combination of the Democratic with the Republican organization, using to that end a goodly share of the Federal and county patronage. Thus the people of Philadelphia were "fixed" so that they couldn't vote if they wanted to..."

 

"Many of Martin's deals and jobs were scandals, but they were safe; they were in the direction of public service; and the great mass of the business was done quietly."

 

"The People's Bank, James McManes, president, failed."

 

" 'I don't care anything about that,' he declared. 'I mean to get out of this office everything there is in it for Samuel H. Ashbridge.' "

 

" "The evidence shows conclusively that our public school system in this city is in danger of being corrupted at its fountain...in one of the schools over a hundred and fifty children were buyers of policy..."

 

"...they replied that it was customary for teachers to pay $40 a month out of their first three months' salary. The salary was $47...I must be careful not to mention it to anybody or it would injure my reputation..."

 

" "Macing" is a form of high blackmail."

 

" "The people" seem to prefer to be ruled by a known thief than an ambitious reformer...they take delight in the defeat of John Wanamaker because they suspect that he is a hypocrite and wants to go to the United States Senate."

 

"There is no check upon this machine excepting the chance of a mistake, the imminent fear of treachery, and the remote danger of revolt."

 

"The ring can make or break him [John Weaver, mayor of Philadelphia]; the people of Philadelphia can neither reward not punish him."

 

Read Philadelphia: Corrupt and Contented

 

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