Race and the Making of American Political Science

By Jessica Blatt | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
“All Things Lawful Are Not Expedient”:
The American Political Science Association
Considers Jim Crow

For all John W. Burgess’s influence, his elaborate theoretical edifice did not long survive intact, and elements of it were subject to challenge even as he remained the discipline’s leading figure. One of the sharpest such challenges came as early as 1891 from future U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. At the time, Wilson was newly teaching jurisprudence and political economy at Princeton University, having completed his studies under Herbert Baxter Adams at Johns Hopkins and published his thesis, Congressional Government, to wide acclaim.1 Wilson took unpitying aim at Burgess in a review of Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law in the Atlantic Monthly. The review blasted everything from the older man’s “mechanical” style to his “extraordinary dogmatic readiness to force many intricate and diverse things to accommodate themselves to a few simple formulas.” If that weren’t enough, Wilson continued that it was “characteristic of [Burgess] to have no doubts; to him the application of his analysis seem[ed] the perfect and final justification of it.” Burgess’s “thoughtful readers,” Wilson predicted, would “experience much more difficulty and have many more doubts.”2

Wilson’s screed signaled what would shortly become a pervasive critique of Burgess’s mode of political science. Wilson and like-minded scholars, such as Henry Jones Ford, Albert Shaw, Frank Goodnow, and others seeking to further professionalize the discipline in the early twentieth century, found Burgess-style political science to be legalistic and unmoored from any empirical foundation. They also affirmed that the past, so central

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