Burgess, John William

Burgess, John William,

1844–1931, American educator and political scientist, b. Tennessee. He served in the Union army in the Civil War and after the war graduated from Amherst (1867). He was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1869, but did not practice. That same year he joined the faculty of Knox College. In 1871 he went to Germany, where he studied at the universities of Göttingen, Leipzig, and Berlin. He returned in 1873 to teach history and political science at Amherst. In 1876 he began his long association with Columbia; he was professor of political science and constitutional law until 1912. Burgess, with Nicholas Murray ButlerButler, Nicholas Murray,
1862–1947, American educator, president of Columbia Univ. (1902–45), b. Elizabeth, N.J., grad. Columbia (B.A., 1882; Ph.D., 1884). Holding a Columbia fellowship, he studied at Paris and Berlin, specializing in philosophy.
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, was a major influence in the creation (1880) of a faculty and school of political science, the first such faculty organized for graduate work in the country and the chief step in changing Columbia College into a university. He was dean of the Faculty of Political Science from 1890 until his retirement. In 1906–7 he served as first Roosevelt professor at the Univ. of Berlin. Burgess's fundamental political philosophy was expressed in Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law (1890–91), the more permanently valuable portions of which were republished as The Foundations of Political Science (1933). He interpreted American history in The Middle Period, 1817–1858, The Civil War and the Constitution, 1859–1865, and Reconstruction and the Constitution, 1866–1876, a trilogy published between 1897 and 1902, to which was added The Administration of Rutherford B. Hayes (1915). In Recent Changes in American Constitutional Theory (1923) he protested against the encroachment of the federal government upon state and individual rights and immunities. He founded the Political Science Quarterly.


See his autobiography, The Reminiscences of an American Scholar (1934); R. G. Hoxie, A History of the Faculty of Political Science, Columbia University (1955).

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Burgess, John William

(1844–1931) political scientist, educator; born in Giles County, Tenn. He almost singlehandedly advanced the field of political science to the academic arena. He chaired the first department of history and political science at Amherst College (1873–76) before moving to Columbia University in 1876. He helped establish Columbia's university status and served as dean (1909–12). A prolific writer and esteemed teacher, he wrote several works that focused on 19th- and early 20th-century U.S. history. He warned against centralized power and stressed the obligation of states to protect individual rights. His lectures are compiled in Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law (1890).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.