Merriam, Charles Edward, Jr.
Merriam, Charles Edward, Jr. 1874-1953
Charles E. Merriam Jr. was a key figure in the development of the political science profession. He combined groundbreaking analytic, systematic, and objective social science approaches to research concerning pragmatic national and community problems. Merriam was professor of political science at the University of Chicago from 1900 to 1940, and emeritus after, and his chairmanship of that department from the early 1920s to 1940 laid the foundation for the behavioral movement in political science. This movement developed theoretical approaches based on principles of observation, hypothesis testing, and measurement to study individual and group political activities. Further, these systematic approaches to government activities led to an enhanced study of public administration. Both of these political science research areas—behavioral movement and public administration—remain prominent in political science studies.
He held many leadership roles in the political science profession, including president of the American Political Science Association (1925), cofounder and president of the Social Science Research Council (1924–1927), and cofounder of the Public Administration Clearinghouse in the first quarter of the twentieth century. The latter two organizations brought together a wide range of public and private experts to address critical societal issues.
Merriam argued that political science research should connect academic and practical matters to solve problems stemming from democratic political systems. His initial foray was in the realm of political thought through a study of the theory of sovereignty since Jean-Jacques Rousseau and studies in the development of U.S. political thought. Merriam focused on dimensions of political power ranging from political party leaders to public and private governing systems. These ideas led him to promote and conduct research on progressive ideas during the post-World War I era, such as reforming urban political machines, urban and regional planning, and democracy based upon citizen participation. His focus on and participation in urban politics, especially the rough-and-tumble politics of Chicago, enhanced his research in several areas of political science, such as political parties in the United States, the role of politics in social change, and public administration. His systematic understanding of politics and political change, based on new developing social science methodologies, was the basis of his research and often led to progressive prescriptions for civic reform and social change.
Merriam was a regular participant in public affairs, both in Chicago and in key national commissions during the Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and Truman presidencies. In Chicago he was an alderman and served on several investigating commissions that attempted to develop responsible governmental approaches to social programs that would replace corrupt government practices. Merriam relied on his progressive politics in an attempt to become mayor of Chicago, but he was defeated in the 1919 Republican mayoral primary. He applied these participatory experiences to understand complex interactions in the political process, especially how public administration practices affect governmental outcomes. Merriam’s national prominence was enhanced by his service on President Hoover’s Research Committee on Social Trends, President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Resources Planning Board, and President Truman’s Committee on Administrative Management (the Brownlow Commission). The latter commission held key debates concerning executive office reorganization. This national commission service allowed Merriam to apply political science research to central national issues and social change. He also sought to connect university research to public administration practices.
Merriam conducted a career that combined the development of an academic political science discipline, active citizen involvement, and proposals to reform of municipal and national government. In 1975 the American Political Science Association awarded its first Merriam Award, for “a person whose work and career represent a significant contribution to the art of government and social science research.”
SEE ALSO Chicago School
Karl, Barry D. 1974. Charles E. Merriam and the Study of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Merriam, Charles E. 1920. American Political Ideas: Studies in the Development of American Political Thought, 1865–1917. New York: Macmillan.
Merriam, Charles E. 1925. New Aspects of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Merriam, Charles E., and Robert Merriam. 1945. Systematic Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.