Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Burgess, John William
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

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 Butler, 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).
  • Hoxie, R. G., A History of the Faculty of Political Science, Columbia University (1955).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Articles


Full text Article Burgess, John William
Germany and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History

b. August 26, 1844; Cornersville, Tennessee d. January 13, 1931; Newport, Rhode Island American political scientist. After studies in Germany,...

See more from Credo