All But Forgotten: Thomas Jefferson's Contribution to the Development of Public Administration in the United States

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Virginia Tech


Thomas Jefferson's contribution to the development of public administration in the United States has been largely neglected. When we think of Jefferson our minds naturally reflect back to his authorship of the Declaration of American Independence, his commitment to religious freedom, his unwavering support for universal education at all levels of instruction, his establishment of the University of Virginia, and his public service as Foreign Minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice President and President of the United States. Such extraordinary political and professional accomplishments often keep us from connecting Jefferson to the art and science of public administration. A careful examination of Jefferson's life, however, from his election to the presidency in 1800 to his death in 1826 reveals that he made important and noteworthy contributions to the study and practice of public administration - contributions that have been virtually ignored by the field as a whole. By examining how Jefferson thought about administration at the beginning of his political career compared with how he applied it during his later, more mature years reveals a remarkable change in perspective that can only come through experience in public service.

The purpose of this dissertation is to tell the story of how this transformation occurred. Such a story illustrates how one of the most influential and important statesmen in American history developed an appreciation for administration by governing the nation as president and by establishing a state institution for higher education, radically different from any other in the nation, designed to connect the importance of an educated citizenry with the preservation of the nation's constitutional heritage.



Public Administration, Constitutional Theory, Thomas Jefferson