Public Administration’s Founding

Public Administration’s Founding

Woodrow Wilson and James Madison

The Federalist №51 essay, by James Madison outlines the architecture of the federal government by advocating for a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances. The foundation of principle designed by Madison is often quoted, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition (Madison, 1788).” Madison’s obvious intention was to design a system in which no single man could gain enough power to overthrow another man in government and thereby usurp control of the nation. This concept has been the cornerstone of the republic of the United States and has served to create a bureaucracy unparalleled by any government in the past.

Since the publishing of the №51 essay in 1788 the restriction of government through checks and balances and the separation of powers has become a reality. However the essay is often the subject of interpretation and has been cited by many Judges and Presidents in making decisions and planning law. But beyond mere interpretation, №51 has served to create a branch of science that studies the operation of government. As an unexpected result of the essay, the study of public administration has become an important segment of government and function.

Woodrow Wilson recognizes this fact about public administration and clarifies the necessity for the science as the means to understanding the purpose, function, and areas of improvement for government. “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 (Wilson, 1887).”

Wilson also expands the science of public administration by defining its role in the modern era. “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” (Wilson, 1887). Wilson has given public administration the validity and importance of other arenas of science by showing the difficulty in managing the constitution.

Wilson and Madison both recognize that the only manner in which to keep democracy sage from tyranny is to install a system of checks and balances and divisions of power. Both men have recognized through historical materialism the importance of safeguarding liberty and having a functional government. In so doing, these men have also created a study of public administration.


Madison, J. (1788) “Federalist, №51.”

Wilson, W. (1887). The Study of Administration. Political Science Quarterly, 2 (197–222).

Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash


Triola Vincent. Mon, Mar 15, 2021. Public Administration’s Founding Retrieved from

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