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The study of public administratioii has developed in many of the 
directions that Woodrow Wilson suggested when he wrote in 1886 
what he modestly called "a semi-popular introduction to administrative 
studies which goes critically round about the study, considering it 
from various outside points of view, rather than entering it and 
handling its proper topics." This essay has an importance far greater 
than Wilson's own evaluation to the study of public administration 
today not only for its historical significance — the first of only a few 
good essays on the theory of administration — but for the precision 
with which Wilson defined the problems and characteristics of public 
administration in a democratic society. Its prophetic qualities have 
stood well the test of subsequent empirical developments. 

In directing the attention of students and practitioners of the 
science of government away from an almost exclusive consideration 
of the nature of the state and the purpose of government to "govern- 
ment in action," Wilson contributed greatly to lessening the lag be- 
tween the study of public administration and the practice of admin- 
istration peculiar to a government controlled by the people. At the 
time of the writing of this essay (Wilson was then teaching at Bryn 
Mawr College) the Pendleton Act was already on the statute books 
and the first workshop in public administration in the United States, 
the department of agriculture, had been in operation for a number 
of years. If administration was to achieve an effective place in the 
process of democratic government, it needed not only to be prac- 
ticed but improved and developed through study not only of the 
administrative problems and practices in a relatively new democracy, 
but also of the more experienced "ways and means" which foreign 
governments used in conducting public business. The value of study- 
ing what has recently come to the fore as "comparative administra- 
tion" is effectively demonstrated in Wilson's essay. 

Timeliness, however, is not the only virtue of the essay, for Wilson 
singled out with remarkable accuracy the essential characteristics of 
public administration in the United States and its problems. Wilson 
anticipated the complexity of organizing administration under a form 
of government having, instead of a single monarch, a "multitudinous 
monarch called pubhc opinion of the unphilosophical bulk of man- 


kind ... in the United States," which had to be persuaded, not 
ordered, to accept change. No less significant is the discussion of the 
vexatious arrangement for the proper exercise of administrative dis- 
cretion to insure at one and the same time initiative, responsibility, 
and control. The simplicity of his similes — the cook with his fires and 
ovens — provides insight into that administrative maze. 

The call for a publicly recruited and properly trained public service 
had been anticipated by preliminary civil service legislation, but his 
remarks indicated the correct direction for the development of a "civil 
service cultured and self-sufficient enough to act with sense and vigor, 
and yet ... to find arbitrariness or class spirit out of the question." 
He set an ideal for a public service fit for a democracy. 

Less generally accepted is the separation of "politics" or policy 
as it is now called and "administration" that Wilson made. He would 
have the two apart, with the latter executing, but free from any 
"meddling" in the decisions of the former. This distinction, which was 
followed by students of public administration for many years, is fre- 
quently challenged now, but it remains the main unresolved, as in- 
deed conflicts in Wilson's own views suggest, theoretical problem in 
the study of public administration today. Wilson may have erred in 
degree at least, but his discussion should be thoughtfully considered, 
for the final word has not yet been written as to the proper relation 
between these two components in the process of government. 

No more appropriate tribute to Woodrow Wilson's service as an 
administrator of university, state, and nation could be offered than to 
make his classic paper — it originally appeared under the title "Study 
of Administi-ation" in the June 1887 issue of the Political Science 
Quarterly — readily available in its entirety to students and practitioners 
concerned with the "awkward movement of government" in the affairs 
of men not only at home but abroad. 

Ralph Purcell 

Professor, Carter Glass 
Chair of Government 
Sweet Briar College 

Tne Study of PuLlic Administration 

By WooDROw Wilson 

I suppose that no practical science is ever studied where there is no 
need to know it. The very fact, therefore, that the eminently practical 
science of administration is finding its way into college courses in this 
country would prove that this country needs to know more about 
administration, were such proof of the fact required to make out a 
case. It need not be said, however, that we do not look into college 
programmes for proof of this fact. It is a thing almost taken for 
granted among us, that the present movement called civil service re- 
form must, after the accomplishment of its first purpose, expand into 
eflForts to improve, not the personnel only, but also the organization 
and methods of our government oflBces: because it is plain that their 
organization and methods need improvement only less than their 
personnel. It is the object of administrative study to discover, first, 
what government can properly and successfully do, and secondly, 
how it can do these proper things with the utmost possible eflSciency 
and at the least possible cost either of money or of energy. On both 
these points there is obviously much need of light among us; and only 
careful study can supply that light. 

Before entering on that study, however, it is needful: 

I. To take some account of what others have done in the same 
line; that is to say, of the history of the study. 

II. To ascertain just what is its subject-matter. 

III. To determine just what are the best methods by which to 
develop it, and the most clarifying political conceptions to carry with 
us into it. 

Unless we know and settle these things, we shall set out without 
chart or compass. 


The science of administration is the latest fruit of that study of the 
science of politics which was begun some twenty-two hundred years 
ago. It is a birth of our own century, almost of our own generation. 

Why was it so late in coming? Why did it wait till this too busy 
century of ours to demand attention for itself? Administration is the 
most obvious part of government; it is government in action; it is the 
executive, the operative, the most visible side of government, and is of 


course as old as government itself. It is government in action, and 
one might very naturally expect to find that government in action had 
arrested the attention and provoked the scrutiny of writers of politics 
very early in the history of systematic thought. 

But such was not the case. No one wrote systematically of adminis- 
tration as a branch of the science of government until the present cen- 
tury had passed its first youth and had begun to put forth its charac- 
teristic flower of systematic knowledge. Up to our own day all the 
political writers whom we now read had thought, argued, dogmatized 
only about the constitution of government; about the nature of the 
state, the essence and seat of sovereignty, popular power and kingly 
prerogative; about the greatest meanings lying at the heart of govern- 
ment, and the high ends set before the purpose of government by man's 
nature and man's aims. The central field of controversy was that great 
field of theory in which monarchy rode tilt against democracy, in which 
oligarchy would have built for itself strongholds of privilege, and in 
which tyranny sought opportunity to make good its claim to receive 
submission from all competitors. Amidst this high warfare of princi- 
ples, administration could command no pause for its own considera- 
tion. The question was always: Who shall make law, and what shall 
that law be? The other question, how law should be administered 
with enlightenment, with equity, with speed, and without friction, was 
put aside as "practical detail" which clerks could arrange after doctors 
had agreed upon principles. 

That political philosophy took this direction was of course no acci- 
dent, no chance preference of perverse whim of political philosophers. 
The philosophy of any time is, as Hegel says, "nothing but the spirit of 
that time expressed in abstract thought"; and political philosophy, like 
philosophy of every other kind, had only held up the mirror to con- 
temporary affairs. The trouble in early times was almost altogether 
about the constitution of government; and consequently that was what 
engrossed men's thoughts. There was little or no trouble about ad- 
ministration — at least little that was heeded by administrators. The 
functions of government were simple, because life itself was simple. 
Government went about imperatively and compelled men, without 
thought of consulting their wishes. There was no complex system of 
public revenues and public debts to puzzle financiers; there were, con- 
sequently, no financiers to be puzzled. No one who possessed power 
was long at a loss how to use it. The great and only question was: 
Who shall possess it? Populations were of manageable numbers; 


property was of simple sorts. There were plenty of farms, but no 
stocks and bonds: more cattle than vested interests. 

I have said that all this was true of "early times"; but it was sub- 
stantially true also of comparatively late times. One does not have 
to look back of the last century for the beginnings of the present com- 
plexities of trade and perplexities of commercial speculation, nor for 
the portentous birth of national debts. Good Queen Bess, doubtless, 
thought that the monopolies of the sixteenth century were hard enough 
to handle without burning her hands; but they are not remembered 
in the presence of the giant monopolies of the nineteenth century. 
When Blackstone lamented that corporations had no bodies to be 
kicked and no souls to be damned, he was anticipating the proper time 
for such regrets by full a century. The perennial discords between 
master and workmen which now so often disturb industrial society 
began before the Black Death and the Statute of Laborers; but never 
before our own day did they assume such ominous proportions as they 
wear now. In brief, if difiBculties of governmental action are to be 
seen gathering in other centuries, they are to be seen culminating in 
our own. 

This is the reason why administrative tasks have nowadays to be so 
studiously and systematically adjusted to carefully tested standards of 
policy, the reason why we are having now what we never had before, 
a science of administration. The weightier debates of constitutional 
principle are even yet by no means concluded; but they are no longer 
of more immediate practical moment than questions of administration. 
It is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one. 

Here is Mr. Bagehot's graphic, whimsical way of depicting the dif- 
ference between the old and the new in administration: 

"In early times, when a despot wishes to govern a distant province, 
he sends down a satrap on a grand horse, and other people on little 
horses; and very little is heard of the satrap again unless he send back 
some of the little people to tell what he has been doing. No great 
labour of superintendence is possible. Common rumour and casual 
report are the sources of intelhgence. If it seems certain that the 
province is in a bad state, satrap No. 1 is recalled, and satrap No. 2 
sent out in his stead. In civilized countries the process is different. 
You erect a bureau in the province you want to govern; you make it 
write letters and copy letters; it sends home eight reports per diem to 
the head bureau in St. Petersburg. Nobody does a sum in the province 
without some one doing the same sum in the capital, to "check" him, 
and see that he does it correctly. The consequence of this is, to throw 


on the heads of departments an amount of reading and labour which 
can only be accomplished by the greatest natural aptitude, the most 
efficient training, the most firm and regular industry." 

There is scarcely a single duty of government which was once sim- 
ple which is not now complex; government once had but a few masters; 
it now has scores of masters. Majorities formerly only underwent gov- 
ernment; they now conduct government. Where government once 
might follow the whims of a court, it must now follow the views of 
a nation. 

And those views are steadily widening to new conceptions of state 
duty; so that, at the same time that the functions of government are 
every day becoming more complex and difficult, they are also vastly 
multiplying in number. Administration is everywhere putting its 
hands to new undertakings. The utility, cheapness, and success of 
the government's postal service, for instance, point towards the early 
establishment of governmental control of the telegraph system. Or, 
even if our government is not to follow the lead of the governments 
of Europe in buying or building both telegraph and railroad lines, no 
one can doubt that in some way it must make itself master of masterful 
corporations. The creation of national commissioners of railroads, in 
addition to the older state commissions, involves a very important and 
delicate extension of administrative functions. Whatever hold of au- 
thority state or federal governments are to take upon corporations, 
there must follow cares and responsibilities which will require not a 
little wisdom, knowledge, and experience. Such things must be studied 
in order to be well done. And these, as I have said, are only a few of 
the doors which are being opened to offices of government. The idea 
of the state and the consequent ideal of its duty are undergoing note- 
worthy change; and "the idea of the state is the conscience of admin- 
istration." Seeing every day new things which the state ought to do, 
the next thing is to see clearly how it ought to do them. 

This is why there should be a science of administration which shall 
seek to straighten the paths of government, to make its business less 
unbusinesslike, to strengthen and purify its organization, and to crown 
its duties with dutifulness. This is one reason why there is such a 

But where has this science grown up? Surely not on this side of 
the sea. Not much impartial scientific method is to be discerned in 
our administrative practices. The poisonous atmosphere of city gov- 
ernment, tlie crooked secrets of state administration, the confusion, 
sinecurism, and corruption ever and again discovered in the bureaux 


at Washington forbid us to believe that any clear conceptions of what 
constitutes good administration are as yet very widely current in the 
United States. No; American writers have hitherto taken no very im- 
portant part in the advancement of this science. It has found its doc- 
tors in Europe. It is not of our making; it is a foreign science, speak- 
ing very little of the language of English or American principle. It 
employs only foreign tongues; it utters none but what are to our minds 
ahen ideas. Its aims, its examples, its conditions, are almost exclu- 
sively grounded in the histories of foreign races, in the precedents of 
foreign systems, in the lessons of foreign revolutions. It has been de- 
veloped by French and German professors, and is consequently in all 
parts adapted to the needs of a compact state, and made to fit highly 
centralized forms of government; whereas, to answer our purposes, it 
must be adapted, not to a simple and compact, but to a complex and 
multiform state, and made to fit highly decentralized forms of govern- 
ment. If we would employ it, we must Americanize it, and that not 
formally, in language merely, but radically, in thought, principle, and 
aim as well. It must learn our constitutions by heart; must get the 
bureaucratic fever out of its veins; must inhale much free American air. 

If an explanation be sought why a science manifestly so susceptible 
of being made useful to all governments alike should have received 
attention first in Europe, where government has long been a monopoly, 
rather than in England or the United States, where government has 
long been a common franchise, the reason will doubtless be found to 
be twofold: first, that in Europe, just because government was inde- 
pendent of popular assent, there was more governing to be done; and, 
second, that the desire to keep government a monopoly made the 
monopolists interested in discovering the least irritating means of 
governing. They were, besides, few enough to adopt means promptly. 

It will be instructive to look into this matter a little more closely. 
In speaking of European governments I do not, of course, include 
England. She has not refused to change with the times. She has 
simply tempered the severity of the transition from a polity of aristo- 
cratic privilege to a system of democratic power by slow measures of 
constitutional reform which, without preventing revolution, has con- 
fined it to paths of peace. But the countries of the continent for a 
long time desperately struggled against all change, and would have 
diverted revolution by softening the asperities of absolute government. 
They sought so to perfect their machinery as to destroy all wearing 
friction, so to sweeten their methods with consideration for the inter- 
ests of the governed as to placate all hindering hatred, and so assidu- 


ously and opportunely to offer their aid to all classes of undertakings 
as to render themselves indispensable to the industrious. They did at 
last give the people constitutions and the franchise; but even after 
that they obtained leave to continue despotic by becoming paternal. 
They made themselves too efficient to be dispensed with, too smoothly 
operative to be noticed, too enhghtened to be inconsiderately ques- 
tioned, too benevolent to be suspected, too powerful to be coped with. 
All this has required study; and they have closely studied it. 

On this side the sea we, the while, had known no great difficulties 
of government. With a new country, in which there was room and 
remunerative employment for everybody, with liberal principles of 
government and unlimited skill in practical politics, we were long ex- 
empted from the need of being anxiously careful about plans and 
methods of administration. We have naturally been slow to see the 
use or significance of those many volumes of learned research and 
painstaking examination into the ways and means of conducting gov- 
ernment which the presses of Europe have been sending to our li- 
braries. Like a lusty child, government with us has expanded in 
nature and grown great in stature, but has also become awkward in 
movement. The vigor and increase of its life has been altogether out 
of proportion to its skill in living. It has gained strength, but it has 
not acquired deportment. Great, therefore, as has been our advantage 
over the countries of Europe in point of ease and health of constitu- 
tional development, now that the time for more careful administrative 
adjustments and larger administrative knowledge has come to us, we 
are at a signal disadvantage as compared with the transatlantic nations; 
and this for reasons which I shall try to make clear. 

Judging by the constitutional histories of the chief nations of the 
modern world, there may be said to be three periods of growth through 
which government has passed in all the most highly developed of 
existing systems, and through which it promises to pass in all the rest. 
The first of these periods is that of absolute rulers, and of an adminis- 
trative system adapted to absolute rule; the second is that in which 
constitutions are framed to do away with absolute rulers and substi- 
tute popular control, and in which administration is neglected for 
these higher concerns; and the third is that in which the sovereign 
people undertake to develop administration under this new Constitu- 
tion which has brought them into power. 

Those governments are now in the lead in administrative practice 
which had rulers still absolute but also enlightened when those mod- 
ern days of political illumination came in which it was made evident 


to all but the blind that governors are properly only the servants of 
the governed. In such governments administration has been organized 
to subserve the general weal with the simpHcity and efiFectiveness 
vouchsafed only to the undertakings of a single will. 

Such was the case in Prussia, for instance, where administration has 
been most studied and most nearly perfected. Frederic the Great, 
stem and masterful as was his rule, still sincerely professed to regard 
himself as only the chief servant of the state, to consider his great office 
a public trust; and it was he who, building upon the foundations laid 
by his father, began to organize the public service of Prussia as in 
very earnest a service of the public. His no less absolute successor, 
Frederic William III, under the inspiration of Stein, again, in his turn, 
advanced the work still further, planning many of the broader struc- 
tural features which give firmness and form to Prussian administration 
today. Almost the whole of the admirable system has been developed 
by kingly initiative. 

Of similar origin was the practice, if not the plan, of modem French 
administration, with its symmetrical divisions of territory and its or- 
derly gradations of office. The days of the Revolution — of the Con- 
stituent Assembly — were days of constitution-t/;rifing, but they can 
hardly be called days of constitution-making. The Revolution heralded 
a period of constitutional development — the entrance of France upon 
the second of those periods which I have enumerated — ^but it did not 
itself inaugurate such a period. It interrupted and unsettled abso- 
lutism, but did not destroy it. Napoleon succeeded the monarchs of 
France, to exercise a power as unrestricted as they had ever possessed. 

The recasting of French administration by Napoleon is, therefore, 
my second example of the perfecting of civil machinery by the single 
will of an absolute mler before the dawn of a constitutional era. No 
corporate, popular will could ever have effected arrangements such as 
those which Napoleon commanded. Arrangements so simple at the 
expense of local prejudice, so logical in their indifference to popular 
choice, might be decreed by a Constituent Assembly, but could be 
established only by the unlimited authority of a despot. The system 
of the year VIII was mthlessly thorough and heartlessly perfect. It 
was, besides, in large part, a return to the despotism that had been 

Among those nations, on the other hand, which entered upon a 
season of constitution-making and popular reform before administra- 
tion had received the impress of liberal principle, administrative im- 
provement has been tardy and half-done. Once a nation has embarked 


in the business of manufacturing constitutions, it finds it exceedingly 
difficult to close out that business and open for the pubHc a bureau of 
skilled, economical administration. There seems to be no end to the 
tinkering of constitutions. Your ordinary constitution will last you 
hardly ten years without repairs or additions; and the time for admin- 
istrative detail comes late. 

Here, of course, our examples are England and our own country. 
In the days of the Angevin kings, before constitutional life had taken 
root in the Great Charter, legal and administrative reforms began to 
proceed with sense and vigor under the impulse of Henry II's shrewd, 
busy, pushing, indomitable spirit and purpose; and kingly initiative 
seemed destined in England, as elsewhere, to shape governmental 
growth at its will. But impulsive, errant Richard and weak, despicable 
John were not the men to carry out such schemes as their father's. 
Administrative development gave place in their reigns to constitutional 
struggles; and Parliament became king before any English monarch 
had had the practical genius or the enlightened conscience to devise 
just and lasting forms for the civil service of the state. 

The EngHsh race, consequently, has long and successfully studied 
the art of curbing executive power to the constant neglect of the art of 
perfecting executive methods. It has exercised itself much more in 
controlling than in energizing government. It has been more con- 
cerned to render government just and moderate than to make it facile, 
well-ordered, and eifective. EngHsh and American political history 
has been a history, not of administrative development, but of legisla- 
tive oversight — not of progress in governmental organization, but of 
advance in law-making and political criticism. Consequently, we have 
reached a time when administrative study and creation are impera- 
tively necessary to the well-being of our governments saddled with 
the habits of a long period of constitution-making. That period has 
practically closed, so far as the establishment of essential principles is 
concerned, but we cannot shake off its atmosphere. We go on criti- 
cizing when we ought to be creating. We have reached the third of 
the periods I have mentioned — the period, namely, when the people 
have to develop administration in accordance with the constitutions 
they won for themselves in a previous period of struggle with absolute 
power; but we are not prepared for the tasks of the new period. 

Such an explanation seems to afford the only escape from blank 
astonishment at the fact that, in spite of our vast advantages in point 
of political liberty, and above all in point of practical poHtical skill 
and sagacity, so many nations are ahead of us in administrative organi- 


zation and administrative skill. Why, for instance, have we but just 
begun purifjdng a civil service which was rotten full fifty years ago? 
To say that slavery diverted us is but to repeat what I have said — that 
flaws in our constitution delayed us. 

Of course all reasonable preference would declare for his English 
and American course of politics rather than for that of any European 
country. We should not like to have had Prussia's history for the 
sake of having Prussia's administrative skill; and Prussia's particular 
system of administration would quite suffocate us. It is better to be 
untrained and free than to be servile and systematic. Still there is no 
denying that it would be better yet to be both free in spirit and pro- 
ficient in practice. It is this even more reasonable preference which 
impels us to discover what there may be to hinder or dely us in nat- 
uralizing this much-to-be-desired science of administration. 

What, then, is there to prevent? 

Well, principally, popular sovereignty. It is harder for democracy 
to organize administration than for monarchy. The very completeness 
of our most cherished political successes in the past embarrasses us. 
We have enthroned public opinion; and its forbidden us to hope dur- 
ing its reign for any quick schooUng of the sovereign in executive 
expertness or in the conditions of perfect functional balance in gov- 
ernment. The very fact that we have realized popular rule in its full- 
ness has made the task of organizing that rule just so much the more 
difficult. In order to make any advance at all we must instruct and 
persuade a multitudinous monarch called public opinion — a much 
less feasible undertaking than to influence a single monarch called a 
king. An individual sovereign will adopt a simple plan and carry it 
out directly; he will have but one opinion, and he will embody that one 
opinion in one command. But this other sovereign, the people, will 
have a score of differing opinions. They can agree upon nothing 
simple; advance must be made through compromise, by a compound- 
ing of differences, by a trimming of plans and a suppression of too 
straightforward principles. There will be a succession of resolves 
running through a course of years, a dropping fire of commands run- 
ning through a whole gamut of modifications. 

In government, as in virtue, the hardest of hard things is to make 
progress. Formerly the reason for this was that the single person who 
was sovereign was generally selfish, ignorant, timid, or a fool — albeit 
there was now and again one who was wise. Nowadays the reason 
is that the many, the people, who are sovereign have no single ear 


which one can approach, and are selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or 
fooHsh with the selfishnesses, the ignorances, the stubbornesses, the 
timidities, or the follies of several thousand persons — albeit there are 
hundreds who are wise. Once the advantage of the reformer was that 
the sovereign's mind had a definite locality, that it was contained in 
one man's head, and that consequently it could be gotten at; though it 
was his disadvantage that that mind learned only reluctantly or only 
in small quantities, or was under the influence of some one who let it 
learn only the wrong things. Now, on the contrary, the reformer is 
bewildered by the fact that the sovereign's mind has no definite local- 
ity, but is contained in a voting majority of several million heads; 
and embarrassed by the fact that the mind of his sovereign also is 
under the influence of favorites, who are none the less favorites in a 
good old-fashioned sense of the word because they are not persons 
but preconceived opinions; i.e., prejudices which are not to be reasoned 
with because they are not the children of reason. 

Wherever regard for public opinion is a first principle of govern- 
ment, practical reform must be slow and all reform must be full of 
compromises. For wherever public opinion exists it must rule. This 
is now an axiom half the world over, and will presently come to be 
believed even in Russia. Whoever would effect a change in a mod- 
ern constitutional government must first educate his fellow- citizens to 
want some change. That done, he must persuade them to want the 
particular change he wants. He must first make public opinion wil- 
ling to Hsten and then see to it that it listen to the right things. He 
must stir it up to search for an opinion, and then manage to put the 
right opinion in its way. 

The first step is not less difficult than the second. With opinions, 
possession is more than nine points of the law. It is next to impossible 
to dislodge them. Institutions which one generation regards as only 
a makeshift approximation to the realization of a principle, the next 
generation honors as the nearest possible approximation to that prin- 
ciple, and the next worships as the principle itself. It takes scarcely 
three generations for the apotheosis. The grandson accepts his grand- 
father's hesitating experiment as an integral part of the fixed consti- 
tution of nature. 

Even if we had clear insight into all the political past, and could 
form out of perfectly instructed heads a few steady, infallible, placidly 
wise maxims of government into which all sound political doctrine 
would be ultimately resolvable, would the country act on them? That 


Is the question. The bulk of mankind is rigidly unphilosophical, and 
nowadays the bulk of mankind votes. A truth must become not only 
plain but also commonplace before it will be seen by the people who 
go to their work very early in the morning; and not to act upon it must 
involve great and pinching inconveniences before these same people 
will make up their minds to act upon it. 

And where is this unphilosophical bulk of mankind more multi- 
farious in its composition than in the United States? To know the 
public mind of this country, one must know the mind, not of Ameri- 
cans of the older stocks only, but also of Irishmen, of Germans, of 
Negroes. In order to get a footing for new doctrine, one must influ- 
ence minds cast in every mould of race, minds inhabiting every bias 
of environment, warped by the histories of a score of different nations, 
warmed or chilled, closed or expanded by almost every climate of the 

So much, then, for the history of the study of administration, and 
the peculiarly difficult conditions under which, entering upon it when 
we do, we must undertake it. What, now, is the subject-matter of 
this study, and what are its characteristic objects? 

The field of administration is a field of business. It is removed 
from the hurry and strife of politics; it at most points stands apart 
even from the debatable ground of constitutional study. It is a part 
of political life only as the methods of the counting-house are a part 
of the life of society; only as machinery is part of the manufactured 
product. But it is, at the same time, raised very far above the dull 
level of mere technical detail by the fact that through its greater prin- 
/ciples it is directly connected with the lasting maxims of political wis- 
dom, the permanent truths of political progress. 

The object of administrative study is to rescue executive methods 
from the confusion and costliness of empirical experiment and set 
them upon foundations laid deep in stable principle. 

It is for this reason that we must regard civil-service reform in its 
present stages as but a prelude to a fuUer administrative reform. We 
are now rectifying methods of appointment; we must go on to adjust 
executive functions more fitly and to prescribe better methods of exec- 
utive organization and action. Civil-service reform is thus but a moral 
preparation for what is to follow. It is clearing the moral atmosphere 
of official life by establishing the sanctity of public office as a public 


trust, and, by making the service unpartisan, it is opening the way for 
making it businesslike. By sweetening its motives it is rendering it 
capable of improving its methods of work. 

Let me expand a httle what I have said of the province of admin- 
istration. Most important to be observed is the truth already so much 
and so fortunately insisted upon by our civil-service reformers; namely, 
that administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Adminis- 
trative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the 
tasks for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its 

This is distinction of high authority; eminent German writers insist 
upon it as of course. Bluntschh, for instance, bids us separate admin- 
istration alike from politics and from law. Politics, he says, is state 
activity "in things great and universal," while "administration, on the 
other hand," is "the activity of the state lq individual and small things. 
Politics is thus the special province of the statesman, administration of 
the technical oflBcial. " "Pohcy does nothing without the aid of ad- 
ministration"; but administration is not therefore politics. But we do 
not require German authority for this position; this discrimination be- 
tween administration and poUtics is now, happily, too obvious to need 
further discussion. 

There is another distinction which must be worked into all our 
conclusions, which, though but another side of that between adminis- 
tration and poHtics, is not quite so easy to keep sight of: I mean the 
distinction between constitutional and administrative questions, be- 
tween those governmental adjustments which are essential to consti- 
tutional principle and those which are merely instrumental to the 
possibly changing purposes of a wisely adapting convenience. 

One cannot easily make clear to every one just where administration 
resides in the various departments of any practicable government 
without entering upon particulars so numerous as to confuse and dis- 
tinctions so minute as to distract. No Hnes of demarcation, setting 
apart administrative from non-administrative functions, can be run 
between this and that department of government without being run 
up hill and down dale, over dizzy heights of distinction and through 
dense jungles of statutory enactment, hither and thither around "ifs" 
and "buts," "whens" and "howevers," until they become altogether lost 
to the common eye not accustomed to this sort of surveying, and con- 
sequently not acquainted with the use of the theodolite of logical dis- 
cernment. A great deal of administration goes about incognito to 


most of the world, being confounded now with poHtical "manage- 
ment," and again with constitutional principle. 

Perhaps this ease of confusion may explain such utterances as that 
of Niebuhr's: "Liberty," he says, "depends incomparably more upon 
administration than upon constitution." At first sight this appears to 
be largely true. Apparently facility in the actual exercise of liberty 
does depend more upon administrative arrangements than upon con- 
stitutional guarantees; althought constitutional guarantees alone se- 
cure the existence of liberty. But — ^upon second thought — is even 
so much as this true? Liberty no more consists in easy functional 
movement than intelligence consists in the ease and vigor with which 
the hmbs of a strong man move. The principles that rule within the 
man, or the constitution, are the vital springs of liberty or servitude. 
Because dependence and subjection are without chains, are lightened 
by every easy-working device of considerate, paternal government, 
they are not thereby transformed into liberty. Liberty cannot hve 
apart from constitutional principle; and no administration, however 
perfect and liberal its methods, can give men more than a poor coun- 
terfeit of liberty if it rest upon illiberal principles of government. 

A clear view of the difference between the province of constitu- 
tional law and the province of administrative function ought to leave 
no room for misconception; and it is possible to name some roughly 
definite criteria upon which such a view can be built. Public admin- 
istration is detailed and systematic execution of public law. Every 
particular application of general law is an act of administration. The 
assessment and raising of taxes, for instance, the hanging of a crim- 
inal, the transportation and dehvery of the mails, the equipment and 
recruiting of the army and navy, etc., are all obviously acts of admini- 
istration; but the general laws which direct these things to be done 
are as obviously outside of and above administration. The broad 
plans of governmental action are not administrative; the detailed exe- 
cution of such plans is administrative. Constitutions, therefore, prop- 
erly concern themselves only with those instrumentalities of govern- 
ment which are to control general law. Our federal constitution 
observes this principle in saying nothing of even the greatest of the 
purely executive ofiBces, and speaking only of that President of the 
Union who was to share the legislative and policy-making functions 
of government, only of those judges of highest jurisdiction who were 
to interpret and guard its principles, and not of those who were merely 
to give utterance to them. 


This is not quite the distinction between Will and answering Deed, 
because the administrator should have and does have a will of his 
own in the choice of means for accomplishing his work. He is not and 
ought not to be a mere passive instrument. The distinction is between 
general plans and special means. 

There is, indeed, one point at which administrative studies trench 
on constitutional ground — or at least upon what seems constitutional 
ground. The study of administration, philosophically viewed, is 
closely connected with the study of the proper distribution of consti- 
tutional authority. To be efficient it must discover the simplest ar- 
rangements by which responsibility can be unmistakably fixed upon 
oflficials; the best way of dividing authority without hampering it, and 
responsibility without obscuring it. And this question of the distri- 
bution of authority, when taken into the sphere of the higher, the orig- 
inating functions of government, is obviously a central constitutional 
question. If administrative study can discover the best principles 
upon which to base such distribution, it will have done constitutional 
study an invaluable service. Montesquieu did not, I am convinced, 
say the last word on this head. 

To discover the best principle for the distribution of authority is of 
greater importance, possibly, under a democratic system, where offi- 
cials serve many masters, than under others where they serve but a 
few. All sovereigns are suspicious of their servants, and the sovereign 
people is no exception to the rule; but how is its suspicion to be allayed 
by knowledge? If that suspicion could but be clarified into wise vig- 
ilance, it would be altogether salutary; if that vigilance could be aided 
by the unmistakable placing of responsibility, it would be altogether 
beneficient. Suspicion in itself is ne\'er healthful either in the private 
or in the public mind. Trust is strength in all relations of hfe; and, as it 
is the office of the constitutional reformer to create conditions of 
trustfulness, so it is the office of the administrative organizer to fit 
administration with conditions of clear-cut responsibility which shall 
insure trustworthiness. 

And let me say that large powers and unhampered discretion seem 
to me the indispensable conditions of responsibility. Public attention 
must be easily directed, in each case of good or bad administration, to 
just the man deserving of praise or blame. There is no danger in 
power, if only it be not irresponsible. If it be divided, dealt out in 
shares to many, it is obscured; and if it be obscured, it is made irre- 
sponsible. But if it be centered in heads of the service and in heads of 


branches of the service, it is easily watched and brought to book. If 
to keep his oflBce a man must achieve open and honest success, and 
if at the same time he feels himself intrusted with large freedom of 
discretion, the greater his power the less likely is he to abuse it, the 
more is he nerved and sobered and elevated by it. The less his power, 
the more safely obscure and unnoticed does he feel his position to 
be, and the more readily does he relapse into remissness. 

Just here we manifestly emerge upon the field of that still larger 
question — the proper relations between public opinion and admin- 

To whom is official trustworthiness to be disclosed, and by whom is 
it to be rewarded? Is the official to look to the public for his meed of 
praise and his push of promotion, or only to his superior in oflBce? 
Are the people to be called in to settle administrative discipline as 
they are called in to settle constitutional principles? These ques- 
tions evidently find their root in what is undoubtedly the fundamental 
problem of this whole study. That problem is: What part shall pub- 
lic opinion take in the conduct of administration? 

The right answer seems to be, that public opinion shall play the part 
of authoritative critic. 

But the method by which its authority shall be made to tell? Our 
peculiar American difiiculty in organizing administration is not the 
danger of losing liberty, but the danger of not being able or willing 
to separate its essentials from its accidents. Our success is made 
doubtful by that besetting error of ours, the error of trying to do too 
much by vote. Self-government does not consist in having a hand in 
everything, any more than housekeeping consists necessarily in cook- 
ing dinner with one's own hands. The cook must be trusted with a 
large discretion as to the management of the fires and the ovens. 

In those countries in which public opinion has yet to be instructed 
in its privileges, yet to be accustomed to having its own way, this 
question as to the province of public opinion is much more readily 
soluble than in this country, where public opinion is wide awake and 
quite intent upon having its own way anyhow. It is pathetic to see 
a whole book written by a German professor of political science for 
the purpose of saying to his countrymen, "Please try to have an opin- 
ion about national affairs"; but a public which is so modest may at 
least be expected to be very docile and acquiescent in learning what 
things it has not a right to think and speak about imperatively. It 
may be sluggish, but it will not be meddlesome. It will submit to be 


instructed before it tries to instruct. Its political education will come 
before its political activity. In trying to instruct our own public 
opinion, we are dealing with a pupil apt to think itself quite suffici- 
ently instructed beforehand. 

The problem is to make public opinion efficient without suffering it 
to be meddlesome. Directly exercised, in the oversight of the daily 
details and in the choice of the daily means of government, public 
criticism is of course a clumsy nuisance, a rustic handUng delicate 
machinery. But as superintending the greater forces of formative 
policy alike in politics and administration, public criticism is alto- 
gether safe and beneficent, altogether indispensable. Let adminis- 
trative study find the best means for giving public criticism this con- 
trol and for shutting it out from all other interference. 

But is the whole duty of administrative study done when it has 
taught the people what sort of administration to desire and demand, 
and how to get what they demand? Ought it not to go on to drill 
candidates for the public service? 

There is an admirable movement towards universal political educa- 
tion now afoot in this country. The time will soon come when no 
college of respectability can afford to do without a well-filled chair 
of political science. But the education thus imparted will go but a 
certain length. It will multiply the number of intelligent critics of 
government, but it will create no competent body of administrators. 
It will prepare the way for the development of a sure-footed under- 
standing of the general principles of government, but it will not ne- 
cessarily foster skill in conducting government. It is an education 
which will equip legislators, perhaps, but not executive officials. If 
we are to improve public opinion, which is the motive power of gov- 
ernment, we must prepared better officials as the apparatus of gov- 
ernment. If we are to put in new boilers and to mend the fires which 
drive our governmental machinery, we must not leave the old wheels 
and joints and valves and bands to creak and buzz and clatter on as 
best they may at bidding of the new forces. We must put in new run- 
ing parts wherever there is the least lack of strength or adjustment. 
It will be necessary to organize democracy by sending up to the com- 
petitive examinations for the civil service men definitely prepared for 
standing liberal tests as to technical knowledge. A technically 
schooled civil service will presently have become indispensable. 

I know that a corps of civil servants prepared by a special schooling 
and drilled, after appointment, into a perfected organization, with 


appropriate hierarchy and characteristic disciphne, seems to a great 
many very thoughtful persons to contain elements which might com- 
bine to make an offensive official class — a distinct, semi-corporate 
body with sympathies divorced from those of a progressive, free-spir- 
ited people, and with hearts narrowed to the meanness of a bigoted 
officialism. Certainly such a class would be altogether hateful and 
harmful in the United States. Any measures calculated to produce it 
would for us be measures of reaction and of foUy. 

But to fear the creation of a domineering ilUberal officiaHsm as a 
result of the studies I am here proposing is to miss altogether the prin- 
ciple upon which I wish most to insist. That principle is, that admin- 
istration in the United States must be at all points sensitive to pubUc 
opinion. A body of thoroughly trained officials serving during good 
behavior we must have in any case: that is a plain business necessity. 
But the apprehension that such a body will be anything un-American 
clears away the moment it is asked. What is to constitute good be- 
havior? For that question obviously carries its own answer on its face. 
Steady, hearty allegiance to the policy of the government they serve 
will constitute good behavior. That policy will have no taint of offi- 
cialdom about it. It will not be the creation of permanent officials, 
but of statesmen whose responsibility to public opinion will be direct 
and inevitable. Bureaucracy can exist only where the whole service 
of the state is removed from the common political life of the people, 
its chiefs as well as its rank and file. Its motives, its objects, its pol- 
icy, its standards, must be bureacuratic. It would be difficult to point 
out any examples of impudent exclusiveness and arbitrariness on the 
part of officials doing service under a chief of department who really 
served the people, as all our chiefs of departments must be made to 
do. It would be easy, on the other hand, to adduce other instances 
like that of the influence of Stein in Prussia, where the leadership of 
one statesman imbued with true public spirit transformed arrogant 
and perfunctory bureaux into public-spirited instruments of just gov- 

The ideal for us is a civil service cultured and self-sufficient enough 
to act with sense and vigor, and yet so intimately connected with the 
popular thought, by means of elections and constant public counsel, as 
to find arbitrariness or class spirit quite out of the question. 


Having thus viewed in some sort the subject-matter and the objects 


of this study of administration, what are we to conclude as to the 
methods best suited to it — the points of view most advantageous for 

Government is so near us, so much a thing of our daily famiUar 
handhng, that we can with diflRculty see the need of any philosophical 
study of it, or the exact point of such study, should it be undertaken. 
We have been on our feet too long to study now the art of walking. 
We are a practical people, made so apt, so adept in self-government 
by centuries of experimental drill that we are scarcely any longer cap- 
able of perceiving the awkwardness of the particular system we may 
be using, just because it is so easy for us to use any system. We do 
not study the art of governing: we govern. But mere unschooled 
genius for affairs will not save us from sad blunders in administration. 
Though democrats by long inheritance and repeated choice, we are 
still rather crude democrats. Old as democracy is, its organization 
on a basis of modern ideas and conditions is still an unaccomplished 
work. The democratic state has yet to be equipped for carrying those 
enormous burdens of administration which the needs of this industrial 
and trading age are so fast accumulating. Without comparative stud- 
ies in government we cannot rid ourselves of the misconception that 
administration stands upon an essentially different basis in a demo- 
cratic state from that on which it stands in a non-democratic state. 

After such study we could grant democracy the sufficient honor of 
ultimately determining by debate all essential questions affecting the 
public weal, of basing all structures of policy upon the major will; 
but we would have found but one rule of good administration for all 
governments alike. So far as administrative functions are concerned, 
all governments have a strong structural likeness; more than that, if 
they are to be uniformly useful and efficient, they must have a strong 
structural likeness, A free man has the same bodily organs, the same 
executive parts, as the slave, however different may be his motives, 
his services, his energies. Monarchies and democracies, radically dff- 
ferent as they are in other respects, have in reality much the same 
business to look to. 

It is abundantly safe nowadays to insist upon this actual likeness of 
all governments, because these are days when abuses of power are 
easily exposed and arrested, in countries like our own, by a bold, alert, 
inquisitive, detective public thought and a sturdy popular self-depen- 
dence such as never existed before. We are slow to appreciate this; 
but it is easy to appreciate it. Try to imagine personal government in 


the United States. It is like trying to imagine a national worship of 
Zeus. Our imaginations are too modem for the feat. 

But, besides, being safe, it is necessary to see that for all govern- 
ments alike the legitimate ends of administration are the same, in 
order not to be frightened at the idea of looking into foreign systems 
of administration for instruction and suggestion; in order to get rid 
of the apprehension that we might perchance blindly borrow some- 
thing incompatible with our principles. That man is blindly astray 
who denounces attempts to transplant foreign systems into this coun- 
try. It is impossible: they simply would not grow here. But why 
should we not use such parts of foreign contrivances as we want, if 
they be in any way serviceable? We are in no danger of using them 
in a foreign way. We borrowed rice, but we do not eat it with chop- 
sticks. We borrowed our whole political language from England, but 
we leave the words "king" and "lords" out of it. What did we ever 
originate, except the action of the federal government upon individ- 
uals and some of the functions of the federal supreme court? 

We can borrow the science of administration with safety and profit 
if only we read all fundamental diflFerences of condition into its essen- 
tial tenets. We have only to filter it through our constitutions, only 
to put it over a slow fire of criticism and distil away its foreign gases. 

I know that there is a sneaking fear in some conscientiously patri- 
otic minds that studies of European systems might signalize some for- 
eign methods as better than some American methods; and the fear is 
easily to be understood. But it would scarcely be avowed in just any 

It is the more necessary to insist upon thus putting away all preju- 
dices against looking anywhere in the world but at home for sugges- 
tions in this study, because nowhere else in the whole field of politics, 
it would seem, can we make use of the historical, comparative method 
more safely than in this province of administration. Perhaps the more 
novel the forms we study the better. We shall the sooner learn the 
peculiarities of our own methods. We can never learn either our own 
weaknesses or our own virtues by comparing ourselves with ourselves. 
We are too used to the appearance and procedure of our own system 
to see its true significance. Perhaps even the English system is too 
much like our own to be used to the most profit in illustration. It is 
best on the whole to get entirely away from our own atmosphere and 
to be most careful in examining such systems as those of France and 
Germany. Seeing our own institutions through such media, we see 


ourselves as foreigners might see us were they to look at us without 
preconceptions. Of ourselves, so long as we know only ourselves, we 
know nothing. 

Let it be noted that it is the distinction, already drawn, between 
administration and politics which makes the comparative method so 
safe in the field of administration. When we study the administrative 
systems of France and Germany, knowing that we are not in search 
of political principles, we need not care a peppercorn for the consti- 
tutional or political reasons which Frenchmen or Germans give for 
their practices when explaining them to us. If I see a murderous fel- 
low sharpening a knife cleverly, I can borrow his way of sharpening 
the knife without borrowing his probable intention to commit murder 
with it; and so, if I see a monarchist dyed in the wool managing a 
public bureau well, I can learn his business methods without chang- 
ing one of my republican spots. He may serve his king; I wiU con- 
tinue to serve the people; but I should like to serve my sovereign as 
well as he serves his. By keeping this distin,ction in view — that is, by 
studying administration as a means of putting our own poHtics into 
convenient practice, as a means of making what is democratically 
politic towards all administratively possible towards each — ^we are on 
perfectly safe ground, and can learn without error what foreign sys- 
tems have to teach us. We thus devise an adjusting weight for our 
comparative method of study. We can thus scrutinize the anatomy of 
foreign governments without fear of getting any of their diseases into 
our veins; dissect alien systems without apprehension of blood-pois- 

Our own poHtics must be the touchstone for all theories. The 
principles on which to base a science of administration for America 
must be principles which have democratic policy very much at heart. 
And, to suit American habit, all general theories must, as theories, 
keep modestly in the background, not in open argument only, but 
even in our own minds — lest opinions satisfactory only to the stan- 
dards of the library should be dogmatically used, as if they must be 
quite as satisfactory to the standards of practical politics as well. Doc- 
trinaire devices must be postponed to tested practices. Arrangements 
not only sanctioned by conclusive experience elsewhere but also con- 
genial to American habit must be preferred without hesitation to 
theoretical perfection. In a word, steady, practical statesmanship 
must come first, closet doctrine second. The cosmopoHtan what-to-do 
must always be commanded by the American how-to-do-it. 


Our duty is, to supply the best possible life to a federal organiza- 
tion, to systems within systems; to make town, city, county, state, and 
federal governments live with a like strength and an equally assured 
healthfulness, keeping each unquestionably its own master and yet 
making all interdependent and cooperative, combining independence 
with mutual helpfulness. The task is great and important enough to 
attract the best minds. 

This interlacing of local self-government with federal self-govern- 
ment is quite a modem conception. It is not like the arrangements 
of imperial federation in Germany. There local government is not 
yet, fully, local seZ/-government. The bureaucrat is everywhere busy. 
His eflBciency springs out of esprit de corps, out of care to make in- 
gratiating obeisance to the authority of a superior, or, at best, out of 
the soil of a sensitive conscience. He serves, not the public, but an 
irresponsible minister. The question for us is, how shall our series of 
governments within governments be so administered that it shall al- 
ways be to the interest of the public oflBcer to serve, not his superior 
alone but the community also, with the best eflForts of his talents and 
the soberest service of his conscience? How shall such service be 
made to his commonest interest by contributing abundantly to his 
sustenance, to his dearest interest by furthering his ambition, and to 
his highest interest by advancing his honor and establishing his char- 
acter? And how shall this be done alike for the local part and for the 
national whole? 

If we solve this problem we shall again pilot the world. There is a 
tendency — is there not? — a tendency as yet dim, but already steadily 
impulsive and clearly destined to prevail, towards, first the confeder- 
ation of parts of empires like the British, and finally of great states 
themselves. Instead of centralization of power, there is to be wide 
union with tolerated divisions of prerogative. This is a tendency 
towards the American type— of governments joined with governments 
for the pursuit of common purpose, in honorary equality and hon- 
orable subordination. Like principles of civil liberty are everywhere 
fostering like methods of government; and if comparative studies of 
the ways and means of government should enable us to ofiFer sug- 
gestions which will practicably combine openness and vigor in the 
administration of such governments with ready docility to aU serious, 
well-sustained pubHc criticism, they will have approved themselves 
worthy to be ranked among the highest and most fruitful of the great 
departments of political study. That they will issue in such sugges- 
tions I confidently hope. 

1D61 ^5 

Date Due 





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