The most famous article ever written about Rhode Island is almost certainly the legendary muckraker Lincoln Steffens’ stunning exposé “Rhode Island: A State for Sale,” which ran in the February 1905 edition of McClure’s Magazine.
Steffens found the Ocean State rotten with corruption from Providence and Pawtucket to Bristol and Block Island, with individual citizens selling their votes and U.S. Sen. Nelson Aldrich manipulating the General Assembly to pad his pockets. More than a century later, Steffens’ outraged prose remains powerful and entertaining, offering 21st-century Rhode Islanders a fascinating political history lesson.
Here is Steffens’ full article as it appeared in his 1906 book “The Struggle for Self-Government.” The text comes from the Internet Archive and Google Books, lightly edited for clarity, typos and style. Enjoy.
RHODE ISLAND: A CORRUPTED PEOPLE
SHOWING THAT AMERICAN CITIZENS CAN BE BOUGHT
(CHEAP) TO SELL OUT THEIR CITIES AND STATES
By Lincoln Steffens • February 1905
THE political condition of Rhode Island is notorious,
acknowledged, and it is shameful. But the Rhode Islander
resents the interest of his neighbors. “Our evils are our
troubles,” he says; “they don’t concern the rest of you.
Why should we be singled out? We are no worse than
others. We are better than some; we want to set things
right, but can’t. Conditions are peculiar.”
This is all wrong. The evils of Rhode Island concern
every man, woman, and child in our land. For example: