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Woodrow Wilson 1887 Essay


Woodrow Wilson is regard as the founder or father of study of public administration. His title rests on his Seminal essay entitled “The Study of public administration” which was published in the Political Science quarterly in 1887. Wilson wrote his essay, “The Study of Public Administration” in the era of the Progressive movement which covered the last two decades of the nineteenth Century. In the United States, this movement was developed in response to increasing Urbanization, immigration, the seeming loss of traditional values, Corruption, etc. There was maladministration due to rampant political corruption and the Prevalence of the “spoils system” introduced by President Andrew Jackson. Under this system only the loyal political supporters of the Party’s Victorium at the Polls were appointed to administrative posts As a consequence less qualified and sometimes Unqualified people entered the Public service and contributed to the increasing inefficiency of public administration.

Influenced by the progressive movement Woodrow Wilson was also convinced that there was a need to reform the government and the reforms should be in the field of public administration so as to make it more efficient. It was in this context of prevalent maladministration and the consequent administrative reforms that Wilson emphasized in his essay, the development of the science of public administration as the appropriate cure for corrupt and inefficient administrative system. This vision of Wilson also marked the emergence of public administration as a separate and independent field of Study.

Wilson’s View on Politics and Administration

Woodrow Wilson is usually regarded as the Originator Of the doctrine of politics- administration dichotomy. In his essay Wilson divided government into two separate spheres of politics and administration. In his opinion, politics is dealt with questions of policy formulation; administration is dealt with carrying them out. He defined public administration as “detailed and systematic execution of public law”.

Wilson characterized public administration as a field of business .He Said, “the field of administration is a field of business….. Removed from the hurry and strife of politics” He Stated that administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the tasks for, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices”. He further observed that “public administration is a Part of political life only as the methods of counting house are a Part of the life of the society; only as machinery is part of a manufactured product”. To Wilson, politics is the special Province of the statesman and administration that of the technical official. Wilson Wanted that administrators should not involve themselves in the political process .Thus Wilson tried to establish the distinction between politics and administration.

By expounding the politics –Administration dichotomy theory, Wilson urged strongly for the creation of a technically competent and politically neutral administrative system for a democracy. It should be separate from the political system, although it is under democratic control. Wilson believed that if public administration could be separated from the practical politics and the influences of the spoils system prevailed at that time in the USA, it might become more business-like and develop on scientific lines in its own right. Thus his goal was to call attention to the need for efficient administration and to keep it out of Partisan Politics. Wilson saw the Study Of public administration as the latest fruit of that Study of science of politics which was begun some two thousand two hundred Years ago. The foundations of public administration “are those deep and permanent principles of politics”. Thus for Wilson, it is said, the Study of public administration, derived from the Study of politics, was to be distinguished from it, but never divorced from its “maxims” and “truths”. To Wilson, public administration was much more than technical detail and it was to be conducted in a political context .Thus he treated “politics and public administration as two sides of a coin”.

Table 1 Politics and (public administration) Dichotomy -Dividing Politics and Administration



Deals with the “expression of the will of the people “.

Deals with the “Execution of the will of the people”.

Deals with Politicians

Deals with Civil Servants

One becomes Politician by his popularity ,either through positive or negative popularity

Positive Popularity , e.g., Sonia Gandhi

Negative Popularity e.g. Poolan Devi

One becomes Civil servants by his intelligence

One becomes Politics through election

One becomes civil servant through selection

Prior training is not given to politician

Civil servants are professionals

Power is the Centre of study in politics i.e , process of capturing and retaining power

Running administration successfully is the central focus here

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An Educated Politician

Before Woodrow Wilson became president, he was a scholar of politics and history. To this day, he is the only U.S. President to have acquired a Ph.D. His knowledge led him to publish many important essays in Political Science Quarterly, including his most influential work, “The Study of Administration,” published in 1887.

Believed in a Skilled Bureaucracy

Up until 1884, the administration of the U.S. government was carried out by workers hired through the “spoils system,” a system that valued a person’s faithfulness to a political party, not their level of skill. As a result, the U.S. bureaucracy became very inefficient. In Wilson’s seminal essay, “The Study of Administration,” he proposes that administration should be run by skilled workers selected based on merit, not elected by the people or chosen by politicians.

First to Illustrate the Policy/Administration Dichotomy

The idea that politicians should create and execute policy and administrators should help them do it, regardless of their political views, is known as the policy/administration dichotomy. Wilson was one of the earliest supporters of this theory. In “The Study of Administration,” he wrote that “…administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics.” He compares administration to a machine that can efficiently run independently of politicians’ changing views.

Believed Administration Should Run Like a Business

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In his essay, Wilson argues that comparative analyses should be made between the government and a privately owned organization. The focus of government is not on making profit, but it should still aspire to run efficiently, much like a business. Hiring employees for the business (administrators) should involve an assessment of the potential employee’s skill level, then training and proper management after hiring.

Broke Down Every Government’s Development Into Three Periods

According to Wilson, all developed governments form over the same three periods of growth. First, the nation succumbs to an absolute ruler who imposes government administration. Second, the nation develops a constitution to oppose the absolute ruler and form a government influenced by the popular vote. It isn’t until the third stage that governments are able to develop their administrations to properly support their new constitutions.

Applauded the Methods of Napoleon Bonaparte

Wilson brings up several nations when discussing his three-part government development theory. The U.S. and England make the list, but surprisingly, so do Napoleon’s France and Frederic the Great’s Prussia. At the same time that Wilson denounces Napoleon as a “despot,” he also praises his ability to organize the government’s administration efficiently, writing that, “No corporate, popular will could ever have effected arrangements such as those which Napoleon commanded.”

Wilson’s foundational concepts of public administration were once considered revolutionary and contributed to the progressive movement in the United States. Without Wilson’s work, public administration may have taken many more years to be regarded and studied for the science it is.

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