Leonard D. White

American historian
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Leonard Dupee White (January 17, 1891 – February 23, 1958) was an American historian, and Professor at the University of Chicago, who specialized in public administration in the United States.


  • [ Lawyers are clear. On the one hand, they are important and deserve] special consideration [because they] are always found at the right hand of the administrator whose actions must be legally defensible. A lawyer, therefore, sits close to the seat of administrative authority... Policy may have to yield to constitutionality, and the lawyers prescribe. On the other hand, it must be said that the training of the lawyer, based on precedent, and looking backward rather than forward for guidance, is not a training which is suited to make an ideal administrator.
    • Leonard D. White (1935), Government Career Service, p. 46, as cited in: Moynihan (2009)
  • Organization is the arrangement of personnel for facilitating the accomplishment of some agreed purpose through allocation of functions and responsibilities. It is the relating of efforts and capacities of individuals and groups engaged upon a common task in such a way as to secure the desired objective with the least friction and the most satisfaction to those for whom the task is done and those engaged in the enterprise.
  • * John M. Gaus, Leonard Dupee White, and Marshall E. Dimock. Frontiers of public administration. (1936).

Introduction to the Study of Public Administration, 1926


Leonard D. White, Introduction to the Study of Public Administration, 1926; 1939; 1948

  • Curiously enough, commentators on American political institutions have never produced a systematic analysis of our administrative system except from the point of view of the lawyer. Until the last few years even the text books have obstinately closed their eyes to this enormous terrain, studded with governmental problems of first magnitude and fascinating interest; and even today they dismiss the subject with a casual chapter. But certainly no one pretends that administration can still be put aside “as a practical detail which clerks could arrange after doctors had agreed upon principles."
    • p. ix: Preface, lead paragraph
  • The book rest upon tour assumptions. It assumes that administration is a - single process, substantially uniform in its essential characteristics whether observed and therefore avoids the study of municipal administration, state administration, or federal administration as such. It is assumed that the study of administration should start from the base of management rather than the foundation of law, and is therefore more absorbed in the affairs of the American Management Association than in the decisions of the courts. It assumes that administration is still primarily an art but attaches importance to the significant tendency to transform it into a science. It assumes that administration has become, and will continue to be, the hart of the problem of modern government.
    • p. ix
  • As a nation we are, however, slowly accepting the fact that the loose-jointed, easy-going, somewhat irresponsible system of administration which we carried over from our rural, agricultural background is no longer adequate for present and future needs.
    • p. viii (in 1939 edition), as cited in: Moynihan (2009)
  • One foundation for the future of American democracy is a sound administrative system, able to discharge with competence and integrity the tasks laid upon it by the people. The present system is far in advance of that which sufficed in 1925, but its improvement has no more than kept pace with the added responsibilities heaped upon it.
    • p. vii (in 1948 edition), as cited in: Moynihan (2009)
  • Defined in broadest terms, public administration consists of all those operations having for their purpose the fulfillment or enforcement of public policy. This definition covers a multitude of particular operations in many fields — the delivery of a letter, the sale of public land, the negotiation of a treaty, the award of compensation to an injured workman, the quarantine of a sick child, the removal of litter from a park, manufacturing plutonium, and licensing the use of atomic energy. It includes military as well as civil affairs, much of the work of courts, and all the special fields of government activity— police, education, health, construction of public works, conservation, social security, and many others.
    • p. 1
  • The objective of public administration is the most efficient utilization of the resources at the disposal of officials and employees.
    • p. 2
  • [ Public administration is merely] a special case of the larger category, administration, a process which is common to all organized human effort and which is highly developed in modern corporate business, in the church, in the Red Cross, in education, and in international bodies, public and private.
    • p. 3-4 (1939 edition); as cited in: Albert Lepawsky (1949), Administration, p. 8
  • Public administration is the management of men and materials in the accomplishment of the purposes of the state.
    • p. 5
  • To conduct of government business... [is similar to the] conduct of the affairs of any other social organization, commercial, philanthropic, religious, or educational, in all of which good management is recognized as an element essential to success.
    • p. 5
  • The role of administration in the modern state is profoundly affected by the general political and cultural environment of the age.
    • p. 7, as cited in: Moynihan (2009)
  • More and more clearly it is being understood that the promise of American life will never be realized until American administration has been lifted out of the ruts in which it has been left by a century of neglect.
    • p. 13
  • Few of the major tasks of modern administration can be carried out without the constant support of the technician.
    • p. 14, as cited in: Moynihan (2009)
  • You cannot give an official power to do right without at the same time giving him power to do wrong.
    • p. 144
  • Whenever we [public officials] make a mistake, some-one jumps on us for it, but whenever we do something well nobody pays any attention to us. We never get any recognition except when we get ‘bawled out’.
    • p. 243-244

Quotes about Leonard D. White

  • Education in public administration has been strongly influenced by Leonard D. White's text, Introduction to the Study of Public Administration, the first edition of which was published in 1926. The author traces the theoretical issues of public administration through the four editions of the Introduction into the administrative histories which were White's final work. Many important aspects of White's thought are analyzed-the partial intellectual genesis of his formulations in Frank Goodnow's writings at the turn of the century, the four assumptions which were the foundation of White's work and of the discipline of public administration, are analyzed, exposing problems of relationship that White never fully resolved. Storing finds in White's administrative histories a style of scholarship for resolving these problems. Using these formulations, other scholars may find differing approaches to the dilemma of identifying the theoretical assumptions that underly public administration as a field of inquiry.
    • Herbert J. Storing, "Leonard D. White and the Study of Public Administration." Public Administration Review 25.1 (1965): 38-51. Web.
  • His desire "to organize his own knowledge" reminds us of how much hacking away at a jungle has to be done at such an early stage in the study of and reporting on a new field.
    • John M. Gaus, 1958. "Leonard Dupee White—1891–1958." Public Administration Review 18(2): p. 233
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