Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter 48: Local Government - The American Commonwealth, vol. 1
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chapter 48: Local Government - Viscount James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, vol. 1 
The American Commonwealth, with an Introduction by Gary L. McDowell, 2 vols (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995).
Part of: The American Commonwealth, 2 vols.
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This is the place for an account of local government in the United States, because it is a matter regulated not by federal law but by the several states and Territories, each of which establishes such local authorities, rural and urban, as the people of the state or Territory desire, and invests them with the requisite powers. But this very fact indicates the immensity of the subject. Each state has its own system of local areas and authorities, created and worked under its own laws; and though these systems agree in many points, they differ in so many others, that a whole volume would be needed to give even a summary view of their peculiarities. All I can here attempt is to distinguish the leading types of local government to be found in the United States, to describe the prominent features of each type, and to explain the influence which the large scope and popular character of local administration exercise upon the general life and well-being of the American people.
Three types of rural local government are discernible in America. The first is characterized by its unit, the town or township, and exists in the six New England states. The second is characterized by a much larger unit, the county, and prevails in the Southern states. The third combines some features of the first with some of the second, and may be called the mixed system. It is found, under a considerable variety of forms, in the middle and Northwestern states. The differences of these three types are interesting, not only because of the practical instruction they afford, but also because they spring from original differences in the character of the colonists who settled along the American coast, and in the conditions under which the communities there founded were developed.
The first New England settlers were Puritans in religion, and sometimes inclined to republicanism in politics. They were largely townsfolk, accustomed to municipal life and to vestry meetings. They planted their tiny communities along the seashore and the banks of rivers, enclosing them with stockades for protection against the warlike Indians. Each was obliged to be self-sufficing, because divided by rocks and woods from the others. Each had its common pasture on which the inhabitants turned out their cattle, and which officers were elected to manage. Each was a religious as well as a civil body politic, gathered round the church as its centre; and the equality which prevailed in the congregation prevailed also in civil affairs, the whole community meeting under a president or moderator to discuss affairs of common interest. Each such settlement was called a town, or township, and was in fact a miniature commonwealth, exercising a practical sovereignty over the property and persons of its members—for there was as yet no state, and the distant home government scarcely cared to interfere—but exercising it on thoroughly democratic principles. Its centre was a group of dwellings, often surrounded by a fence or wall, but it included a rural area of several square miles, over which farmhouses and clusters of houses began to spring up when the Indians retired. The name “town” covered the whole of this area, which was never too large for all the inhabitants to come together to a central place of meeting. This town organization remained strong and close, the colonists being men of narrow means, and held together in each settlement by the needs of defence. And though presently the towns became aggregated into counties, and the legislature and governor, first of the whole colony, and, after 1776, of the state, began to exert their superior authority, the towns (which, be it remembered, remained rural communities, making up the whole area of the state) held their ground, and are to this day the true units of politial life in New England, the solid foundation of that well-compacted structure of self-government which European philosophers have admired and the new states of the West have sought to reproduce. Till 18211 the towns were the only political corporate bodies in Massachusetts, and till 1857 they formed, as they still form in Connecticut, the basis of representation in her Assembly, each town, however small, returning at least one member. Not a little of that robust, if somewhat narrow, localism which characterizes the representative system of America is due to this originally distinct and self-sufficing corporate life of the seventeenth-century towns. Nor is it without interest to observe that although they owed much to the conditions which surrounded the early colonists, forcing them to develop a civic patriotism resembling that of the republics of ancient Greece and Italy, they owed something also to those Teutonic traditions of semi-independent local communities, owning common property, and governing themselves by a primary assembly of all free inhabitants, which the English had brought with them from the Elbe and the Weser, and which, though already decaying, had been perpetuated in the practice of many parts of England, down till the days of the Stuart kings.
Very different were the circumstances of the Southern colonies. The men who went to Virginia and the Carolinas were not Puritans, nor did they mostly go in families and groups of families from the same neighbourhood. Many were casual adventurers, often belonging to the upper class, Episcopalians in religion, and with no such experience of, or attachment to, local self-government as the men of Massachusetts or Connecticut. They settled in a region where the Indian tribes were comparatively peaceable, and where therefore there was little need of concentration for the purposes of defence. The climate along the coast was somewhat too hot for European labour, so slaves were imported to cultivate the land. Population was thinly scattered; estates were large; the soil was fertile and soon enriched its owners. Thus a semi-feudal society grew up, in which authority naturally fell to the landowners, each of whom was the centre of a group of free dependants as well as the master of an increasing crowd of slaves. There were, therefore, comparatively few urban communities, and the life of the colony took a rural type. The houses of the planters lay miles apart from one another; and when local divisions had to be created, these were made large enough to include a considerable area of territory and number of landowning gentlemen. They were therefore rural divisions, counties framed on the model of English counties. Smaller circumscriptions there were, such as hundreds and parishes, but the hundred died out,2 the parish ultimately became a purely ecclesiastical division, and the parish vestry was restricted to ecclesiastical functions, while the county remained the practically important unit of local administration, the unit to which the various functions of government were aggregated, and which, itself controlling minor authorities, was controlled by the state government alone. The affairs of the county were usually managed by a board of elective commissioners, and not, like those of the New England towns, by a primary assembly; and in an aristocratic society the leading planters had of course a predominating influence. Hence this form of local government was not only less democratic, but less stimulating and educative than that which prevailed in the New England states. Nor was the Virginian county, though so much larger than the New England town, ever as important an organism over against the state. It may almost be said, that while a New England state is a combination of towns, a Southern state is from the first an administrative as well as political whole, whose subdivisions, the counties, had never any truly independent life, but were and are mere subdivisions for the convenient dispatch of judicial and financial business.
In the Middle states of the Union, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, settled or conquered by Englishmen sometime later than New England, the town and town meeting did not as a rule exist, and the county was the original basis of organization. But as there grew up no planting aristocracy like that of Virginia or the Carolinas, the course of events took in the Middle states a different direction. As trade and manufactures grew, population became denser than in the South. New England influenced them, and influenced still more the newer commonwealths which arose in the Northwest, such as Ohio and Michigan, into which the surplus population of the East poured. And the result of this influence is seen in the growth through the Middle and Western states of a mixed system, which presents a sort of compromise between the county system of the South and the town system of the Northeast. There are great differences between the arrangements in one or other of these Middle and Western states. But it may be said, speaking generally, that in them the county is relatively less important than in the Southern states, the township less important than in New England. The county is perhaps to be regarded, at least in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, as the true unit, and the townships (for so they are usually called) as its subdivisions. But the townships are vigorous organisms, which largely restrict the functions of the county authority, and give to local government, especially in the Northwest, a character generally similar to that which it wears in New England.
So much for the history of the subject; a history far more interesting in its details than will be supposed from the rough sketch to which limits of space restrict me. Let us now look at the actual constitution and working of the organs of local government in the three several regions mentioned, beginning with New England and the town system.3 I will first set forth the dry but necessary outline, reserving comments for the following chapter.
The town is in rural districts the smallest local circumscription. English readers must be reminded that it is a rural, not an urban community, and that the largest group of houses it contains may be only what would be called in England a hamlet or small village. Its area seldom exceeds five square miles; its population is usually small, averaging less than 3,000, but occasionally ranges up to 13,000 and sometimes falls below 200.4 It is governed by an assembly of all qualified voters resident within its limits, which meets at least once a year, in the spring (a reminiscence of the Easter vestry of England), and from time to time as summoned. There are usually three or four meetings each year. Notice is required to be given at least ten days previously, not only of the hour and place of meeting, but of the business to be brought forward. This assembly has, like the Roman Comitia and the Landesgemeinde in three of the older Swiss Cantons, the power both of electing officials and of legislating. It chooses the selectmen, school committee, and executive officers for the coming year; it enacts bye-laws and ordinances for the regulation of all local affairs; it receives the reports of the selectmen and the several committees, passes their accounts, hears what sums they propose to raise for the expenses of next year, and votes the necessary taxation accordingly, appropriating to the various local purposes—schools, aid to the poor, the repair of highways, and so forth—the sums directed to be levied. Its powers cover the management of the town lands and other property, and all local matters whatsoever, including police and sanitation. Every resident has the right to make, and to support by speech, any proposal. The meeting, which is presided over by a chairman called the moderator—a name recalling the ecclesiastical assemblies of the English Commonwealth5 —is held in the town hall, if the town possesses one, or in the principal church or schoolhouse, but sometimes in the open air. The attendance is usually good; the debates sensible and practical. Much of course depends on the character and size of the population. Where it is of native American stock, and the number of voting citizens is not too great for thorough and calm discussion, no better school of politics can be imagined, nor any method of managing local affairs more certain to prevent jobbery and waste, to stimulate vigilance and breed contentment.6 When, however, the town meeting has grown to exceed seven or eight hundred persons, where the element of farmers has been replaced by that of factory operatives, and still more when any considerable section are strangers, such as the Irish or French Canadians who have latterly poured into New England, the institution no longer works well, because the multitude is too large for debate, factions are likely to spring up, and the new immigrants, untrained in self-government, become the prey of wire-pullers or petty demagogues. The social conditions of today in New England are less favorable than those which gave birth to it; and there are now in the populous manufacturing states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut comparatively few purely rural towns, such as those which suggested the famous eulogium of Jefferson, who eighty years ago desired to see the system transplanted to his own Virginia:
“Those wards called townships in New England are the vital principle of their governments, and have proved themselves the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government, and for its preservation. . . . As Cato then concluded every speech with the words ‘ Carthago delenda est,’ so do I every opinion with the injunction ‘Divide the counties into wards.’ ”
The executive of a town consists of the selectmen, from three to nine in number, usually either three, five, or seven. They are elected annually, and manage all the ordinary business, of course under the directions given them by the last preceding meeting. There is also a town clerk, who keeps the records, and minutes the proceedings of the meeting, and is generally also registrar of births and deaths; a treasurer; assessors, who make a valuation of property within the town for the purposes of taxation; the collector, who gathers the taxes, and diverse minor officers, such as hogreeves7 (now usually called field drivers), cemetery trustees, library trustees, and so forth, according to local needs. There is always a school committee, with sometimes subcommittees for minor school districts if the town be a large one. Some of these officers and committees are paid (the selectmen usually), some unpaid, though allowed to charge their expenses actually incurred in town work; and there has generally been no difficulty in getting respectable and competent men to undertake the duties. Town elections are not professedly political, i.e., they are not usually fought on party lines, though occasionally party spirit affects them, and a man prominent in his party is more likely to obtain support.8
Next above the town stands the county. Its area and population vary a good deal. Massachusetts with an area of 8,040 square miles has fourteen counties; Rhode Island with 1,053 square miles has five; the more thinly peopled Maine, with 29,985 square miles, has sixteen, giving an average of about 1,100 square miles to each county on these three states, though in Rhode Island the average is only 211 square miles. The populations of the counties run from 3,000 upwards; the average population being, where there are no large cities, from 30,000 to 50,000.9 The county was originally an aggregation of towns for judicial purposes, and is still in the main a judicial district in and for which civil and criminal courts are held, some by county judges, some by state judges, and in and for which certain judicial officers are elected by the people at the polls, who also choose a sheriff and a clerk. Police belong to the towns and cities, not to the county within which they lie. The chief administrative officers are the county commissioners, of whom there are three in Massachusetts (elected for three years, one in each year), and county treasurer.10 They are salaried officers, and have the management of county buildings, such as courthouses and prisons, with power to lay out new highways from town to town, to grant licences, estimate the amount of taxation needed to defray county charges,11 and apportion the county tax among the towns and cities by whom it is to be levied. But except in this last-mentioned respect the county authority has no power over the towns, and it will be perceived that while the county commissioners are controlled by the legislature, being limited by statute to certain well-defined administrative functions, there exists nothing in the nature of a county board or other assembly with legislative functions. The functions of the county are in fact of small consequence: it is a judicial district and a highway district and little more.
This New England system resembles that of Old England as the latter stood during the centuries that elapsed between the practical disappearance of the old county court or shire moot and the creation by comparatively recent statutes of such intermediate bodies and authorities as poor-law unions, highway districts and boards, local sanitary authorities. If we compare the New England scheme with that of the England of today, we are struck not only by the greater simplicity of the former, but also by the fact that it is the smaller organisms, the towns, that are most powerful and most highly vitalized. Nearly everything belongs to them, only those duties devolving on the counties which a small organism obviously cannot undertake. The system of self-governing towns no doubt works under the supervision of a body, the state legislature, which can give far closer attention to local affairs than the English Parliament can give to English local business. But in point of fact the state legislature interferes but little (less, I think, than the Local Government Board interferes in England) with the conduct of rural local business, though often required to deal with the applications which towns make to be divided or have their boundaries altered, and which are frequently resisted by a part of the inhabitants.
The town meeting system has, in the opinion of American publicists, begun to decline in New England. Many of the rural areas have become too populous for it, and the new immigrants that have flocked in—French-speaking Canadians, Irish, and people from Central or Southern Europe—are less fit to work such a system than were the pure English stock of a century ago.
The system which prevails in the Southern states need not long detain us, for it is less instructive and has proved less successful. Here the unit is the county, except in Louisiana, where the equivalent division is called a parish. The county was originally a judicial division, established for the purposes of local courts, and a financial one, for the collection of state taxes. It has now, however, generally received some other functions, such as the superintendence of public schools, the care of the poor, and the management of roads. In the South counties are larger than in New England, but not more populous, for the country is thinly peopled.12 The county officers, whose titles and powers vary somewhat in different states, are usually the board or court of county commissioners, an assessor (who prepares the valuation), a collector (who gathers the taxes13 ), a treasurer, a superintendent of education, an overseer of roads—all of course salaried, and now, as a rule, elected by the people, mostly for one or two years.14 These county officers have, besides the functions indicated by their names, the charge of the police and the poor, and of the construction of public works, such as bridges and prisons. The county judges and the sheriff, and frequently the coroner, are also chosen by the people. The sheriff is everywhere in America neither an ornamental person, as he has become in England, nor a judge, with certain executive functions, as in Scotland, but the chief executive officer of the judicial machinery of the county.
In these Southern states there exist various local divisions smaller than the counties.15 Their names and their attributions vary from state to state, but they have no legislative authority like that of the town meeting of New England, and their officers have very limited powers, being for most purposes controlled by the county authorities. The most important local body is the school committee for each school district. In several states, such as Virginia and North Carolina, we now find townships, and the present tendency seems in these states to be towards the development of something resembling the New England town. It is a tendency which grows with the growth of population, with the progress of manufactures and of the middle and industrious working class occupied therein, and especially with the increased desire for education. The school, someone truly says, is becoming the nucleus of local self-government in the South now, as the church was in New England two centuries ago.16 Nowhere, however, has there appeared either a primary assembly; while the representative local assembly is still in its infancy. Local authorities in the South, and in the states which, like Nevada and Oregon, may be said to have adopted the county system, are generally executive officers and nothing more.
The third type is less easy to characterize than either of the two preceding, and the forms under which it appears in the Middle and Northwestern states are even more various than those referable to the second type. Two features mark it. One is the importance and power of the county, which in the history of most of these states appears before any smaller division; the other is the activity of the township,17 which has more independence and a larger range of competence than under the system of the South. Now of these two features the former is the more conspicuous in one group of states—Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa; the latter in another group—Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the two Dakotas, the reason being that the New Englanders, who were often the largest and always the most intelligent and energetic element among the settlers in the more northern of these two state groups, carried with them their attachment to the town system and their sense of its value, and succeeded, though sometimes not without a struggle, in establishing it in the six great and prosperous commonwealths which form that group. On the other hand, while Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York had not (from the causes already stated) started with the town system, they never adopted it completely; while in Ohio and Indiana the influx of settlers from the slave states, as well as from New York and Pennsylvania, gave to the county an early preponderance, which it has since retained. The conflict of the New England element with the Southern element is best seen in Illinois, the northern half of which state was settled by men of New England blood, the southern half by pioneers from Kentucky and Tennessee. The latter, coming first, established the county system, but the New Englanders fought against it, and in the constitutional convention of 1848 carried a provision, embodied in the constitution of that year, and repeated in the present constitution of 1870, whereby any county may adopt a system of townshp organization “whenever the majority of the legal voters of the county voting at any general election shall so determine.” 18 Under this power four-fifths of the 102 counties have now adopted the township system.19
Illinois furnishes so good a sample of that system in its newer form that I cannot do better than extract, from a clear and trustworthy writer, the following account of the whole scheme of local self-government in that state, which is fairly typical of the Northwest:
When the people of a county have voted to adopt the township system, the commissioners proceed to divide the county into towns, making them conform with the congressional or school townships, except in special cases. Every town is invested with corporate capacity to be a party in legal suits, to own and control property, and to make contracts. The annual town-meeting of the whole voting population, held on the first Tuesday in April, for the election of town officers and the transaction of miscellaneous business, is the central fact in the town government. The people assembled in town-meeting may make any orders concerning the acquisition, use, or sale of town property; direct officers in the exercise of their duties; vote taxes for roads and bridges, and for other lawful purposes; vote to institute or defend suits at law; legislate on the subject of noxious weeds, and offer rewards to encourage the extermination of noxious plants and vermin; regulate the running at large of cattle and other animals; establish pounds, and provide for the impounding and sale of stray and trespassing animals; provide public wells and watering-places; enact bye-laws and rules to carry their powers into effect; impose fines and penalties, and apply such fines in any manner conducive to the interests of the town.20
The town officers are a supervisor, who is ex officio overseer of the poor, a clerk, an assessor, and a collector, all of whom are chosen annually; three commissioners of highways elected for three years, one retiring every year; and two justices of the peace and two constables, who hold office for four years.
Every male citizen of the United States who is twenty-one years old, who has resided in the State a year, in the county ninety days, and in the township thirty days, is entitled to vote at a town meeting; but a year’s residence in the town is required for eligibility to office.
The supervisor is both a town and a county officer. He is general manager of town business, and is also a member of the county board, which is composed of the supervisors of several towns, and which has general control of the county business. He also acts as overseer of the poor. The law leaves it to be determined by the people of a county whether the separate towns or the county at large shall assume the care of paupers. When the town has the matter in charge, the overseer generally provides for the indigent by a system of out-door relief. If the county supports the poor, the county board is authorized to establish a poorhouse and farm for the permanent care of the destitute, and temporary relief is afforded by the overseers in their respective towns, at the county’s expense. The supervisor, assessor, and clerk constitute a Board of Health.
Town officers are compensated according to a schedule of fixed fees for specific services, or else receive certain per diem wages for time actually employed in official duties. The tax collector’s emolument is a percentage.
For school purposes, the township is a separate and distinct corporation, with the legal style, “Trustees of Schools of Township — — —, Range — — —,” according to the number by which the township is designated in the Congressional Survey. The school trustees, three in number, are usually elected with the officers of the civil township at town meetings, and hold office for three years. They can divide the township into school districts. It must be remembered that the township is exactly six miles square. It is the custom to divide it into nine districts, two miles square, and to erect a schoolhouse near the centre of each. As the county roads are, in most instances, constructed on the section lines—and therefore run north and south, east and west, at intervals of a mile—the traveller expects to find a schoolhouse at every alternate crossing. The people who live in these subdistricts elect three school directors, who control the school in their neighbourhood. They are obliged to maintain a free school for not less than five nor more than nine months in every year, are empowered to build and furnish schoolhouses, hire teachers and fix their salaries, and determine what studies shall be taught. They may levy taxes on all the taxable property in their district, but are forbidden to exceed a rate of two per cent for educational or three per cent for building purposes.
The township funds for the support of schools arise from three sources. (1) The proceeds of the school lands given by the United States Government, the interest from which alone may be expended. (2) The State annually levies on all property a tax of one-fifth of one per cent, which constitutes a State school fund, and is divided among the counties in the ratio of their school population, and is further distributed among the townships in the same ratio. (3) Any amount needed in addition to these sums is raised by taxation in the districts under authority of the directors. All persons between the ages of six and twenty-one years are entitled to free school privileges. Women are eligible to every school office in the State, and are frequently chosen directors.
The average Illinois county contains sixteen townships. The county government is established at some place designated by the voters, and called the “county seat.” The corporate powers of the county are exercised by the county board, which, in counties under township organization, is composed of the several town supervisors, while in other counties it consists of three commissioners elected by the people of the whole country. The board manage all county property, funds, and business; erect a court-house, jail, poorhouse, and any necessary buildings; levy county taxes, audit all accounts and claims against the county, and, in counties not under township organization, have general oversight of highways and paupers. Even in counties which have given the care of highways to the townships, the county board may appropriate funds to aid in constructing the more important roads and expensive bridges. The treasurer, sheriff,21 coroner, and surveyor are county functionaries.22
The county superintendent of schools has oversight of all educational matters, advises town trustees and district directors, and collects complete school statistics, which he reports to the county board, and transmits to the State superintendent of public instruction.
Every county elects a judge, who has full probate jurisdiction, and appoints administrators and guardians. He also has jurisdiction in civil suits at law, involving not more than $1,000, in such minor criminal cases as are cognizable by a justice of the peace, and may entertain appeals from justices or police courts. The State is divided into thirteen judicial districts, in each of which the people elect three judges, who constitute a circuit court. The tribunal holds two or more sessions annually in each county within the circuit, and is attended at every term by a grand or petit jury. It has a general original jurisdiction, and hears appeals from the county judge and from justices’ courts.
To complete the judicial system of the State there are four appellate courts and one supreme court of last resort. Taxes whether for State, county, or town purposes are computed on the basis of the assessment made by the town assessor, and are collected by the town collector. The assessor views and values all real estate, and requires from all persons a true list of their personal property. The assessor, clerk, and supervisor, constitute a town equalizing board, to hear complaints and to adjust and correct the assessment.
The assessors’ books from all the towns then go before the county board, who make such corrections as cause valuations in one town to bear just relation to valuations in the others. The county clerk transmits an abstract of the corrected assessment to the auditor of the State, who places it in the hands of a State board of equalization.
This board adjust valuations between counties. All taxes are estimated and collected on this finally corrected assessment. The State authorities, the county board, the town supervisors, the highway commissioners, the township school trustees, and the proper officers of incorporated cities and villages, all certify to the county clerk a statement of the amount they require for their several purposes. The clerk prepares a collection-book for each town explaining therein the sum to be raised for each purpose. Having collected the total amount the collector disburses to each proper authority its respective quota. In all elections, whether for President of the United States, representatives in Congress, State officers or county officers, the township constitutes an election precinct, and the supervisor, assessor, and collector sit as the election judges.
The words “town” and “township” signify a territorial division of the county, incorporated for purposes of local government. There remains to be mentioned a very numerous class of municipal corporations known in Illinois statutes as “villages” and “cities.” A minimum population of three hundred, occupaying not more than two square miles in extent, may by popular vote become incorporated as a “village,” under provisions of the general law. Six village trustees are chosen, and they make one of their number president, thereby conferring on him the general duties of a mayor. At their discretion the trustees appoint a clerk, a treasurer, a street commissioner, a village constable, and other officers as they deem necessary. The people may elect a police magistrate whose jurisdiction is equal to that of a justice of the peace.23
A similar picture of the town meeting in Michigan is given by another recent authority:
The first Monday in April of each year every citizen of the United States twenty-one years and upwards who has resided in the State six months, and in the township the ten days preceding, has the right of attending and participating in the meeting. The supervisor, the chief executive officer of the township, presides. After the choice of officers for the ensuing year the electors proceed to the discussion of town business. Complaint is perhaps made that the cattle in a certain part of the township are doing damage by running at large, a bye-law is passed forbidding the same under penalty not exceeding town dollars.
A bridge may be wanted in another part of the township, but the inhabitants of that road district cannot bear the expense; the town-meeting votes the necessary amount not exceeding the limits of law, for the laws restricting the amount of taxation and indebtedness are very particular in their provisions.
The voters may regulate the keeping and sale of gunpowder, the licensing of dogs and the maintenance of hospitals, and may order the vaccination of all inhabitants. They can also decide how much of the one-mil tax on every dollar of the valuation shall be applied to the purchase of books for the township library, the residue going to schools.
The annual reports of the various township officers charged with the disbursement of public moneys are also submitted at this time. In short, whatever is local in character and affecting the township only is subject to the control of the people assembled in town-meeting.
Yet we may notice some minor differences between the New England town meeting and its sister in Michigan. In the latter the bye-laws and regulations are less varied in character.
This is due to the fact that in the West that part of the township where the inhabitants are most numerous, the village, and for whose regulation many laws are necessary, is set off as an incorporated village, just as in nearly all the Central and Western States. These villages have the privilege, either directly in village meeting or more often through a council of five or more trustees, of managing their own local affairs, their police, fire department, streets and waterworks. In some States, however, they are considered parts of the township roads, bridges, the poor and schools.24
The conspicuous feature of this system is the reappearance of the New England town meeting, though in a somewhat less primitive and at the same time less perfect form, because the township of the West is a more artificial organism than the rural town of Massachusetts or Rhode Island, where, until after the middle of the nineteenth century, nearly everybody was of English blood, everybody knew everybody else, everybody was educated, not only in book learning, but in the traditions of self-government. However, such as it is, the Illinois and Michigan system had spread and seems likely to spread further. It exists in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Recent legislation permits its adoption in California, Nebraska, and in the two Dakotas, though in the western parts of these two last-named states few townships have been as yet established.25
A high authority writes to me:
“Attendance and interest in the town-meetings of the Northwest are much below those in the New England towns.26 The importance of township government in these States is also diminished by the separate organization of villages and small cities and by the greater development of county functions.”
In the proportion to the extent in which a state has adopted the township system the county has tended to decline in importance. It is nevertheless of more consequence in the West than in New England. It has frequently an educational official who inspects the schools, and it raises a tax for aiding schools in the poorer townships. It has duties, which are naturally more important in a new than in an old state, of laying out main roads and erecting bridges and other public works. And sometimes it has the oversight of township expenditure.27 The board of county commissioners consists in Michigan and Illinois of the supervisors of all the townships within the county; in Wisconsin and Minnesota the commissioners are directly chosen at a county election.
In Michigan, in most counties in Illinois, and in Wisconsin, county administration and finances are in charge of a board of supervisors elected by townships and cities, as in New York. In some Illinois counties and in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Nebraska, there are small county boards of three to seven members, usually elected by districts. The larger boards of supervisors are more representative, but seem to be less efficient administrative authorities; and in a number of the larger counties of Michigan some of the powers of these boards have been transferred to small boards of auditors. As a rule, these county boards have no important legislative power; but in Michigan, by an act of 1909, the boards of supervisors were given a general grant of local legislative power, to meet the conditions brought about by the restriction on special acts by the legislature in the new constitution of that state.
Other elective county officers in these states are the prosecuting attorney, sheriff, coroner, county clerk, county treasurer, auditor or assessor, and surveyor.
The political importance of the county is indicated by the position occupied by the county committee in the party organizations, and by the centring of campaign activity within the district.
I pass to the mixed or compromise system as it appears in the other group of states, of which Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa may be taken as samples. In these states we find no town meeting. Their township may have greater or less power, but its members do not come together in a primary assembly; it elects its local officers, and acts only through and by them. In Ohio there are three township trustees with the entire charge of local affairs, a clerk, and a treasurer. In Pennsylvania the township is governed by two or three supervisors, elected for three years, one each year, together with an assessor (for valuation purposes), a town Clerk, three auditors, six school directors, elected for three years, two each year; and (where the poor are a township charge) two overseers of the poor. The supervisors may lay a rate on the township not exceeding one per cent on the valuation of the property within its limits for the repair of roads, highways, and bridges, and the overseers of the poor may, with the consent of two justices,28 levy a similar tax for the poor. But as the poor are usually a county charge, and as any ratepayer may work out his road tax in labour, township rates amount to very little. “In Iowa,” says Mr. Macy,
the civil township, which is usually six miles square, is a local government for holding elections, repairing roads, testing property, giving relief to the poor, and other business of local interest. Its officers are three trustees, one clerk, a road supervisor for each road district, one assessor, two or more justices of the peace, and two or more constables. The justices and constables are in a sense county officers. Yet they are elected by townships, and if they remove from the township in which they are chosen, they cease to be officers. The trustees are chosen for three years, but their terms of office are so arranged that one is chosen each year. The other officers are chosen for two years. If there is within the limits of the township an incorporated town or city, the law requires that at least one of the justices shall live within the town or city. The voters within the town or city choose a separate assessor. The voters of the city are not allowed to vote for road supervisors nor for the township assessor; they vote for all other township officers. . . .
The trustees of the township have various duties in the administration of the poor laws. An able-bodied person applying for aid may be required to work upon the street or highways. If a person who has acquired a legal settlement in the county, and who has no near relatives to support him, applies to the trustees for aid, it is their duty to look into the case and furnish or refuse relief. If they decide to furnish it, they may do so by sending the person to the county poorhouse, or by giving him what they think needful in food, clothing, medical attendance, or money. If they refuse aid, the applicant may go to the county supervisors, and they may order the trustees to furnish aid; or if the supervisors think the trustees are giving aid unwisely, they may order them to withhold it. In all cases where aid is furnished directly by the trustees to the applicant they are required to send a statement of the expense incurred to the auditor of the county, who presents the bills to the board of supervisors. All bills for the relief of the poor are paid by the county, and the supervisors if they choose may take the entire business out of the hands of the trustees. But in counties where no poorhouse is provided, and where the supervisors make no provision for the poor, the trustees are required to take entire charge of the business. Yet in any case the county must meet the expenses. The trustees are the health officers of the township. They may require persons to be vaccinated; they may adopt bye-laws for preserving the health of the community and enforce them by fine and imprisonment.29
In most of these states the county overshadows the township. Taking Pennsylvania as an example, we find each county governed by a board of three commissioners, elected for three years, upon a minority vote system, the elector being allowed to vote for two candidates only. Besides these there are officers, also chosen by popular vote for three years, viz., a sheriff, coroner, prothonotary, registrar of wills, recorder of deeds, treasurer, surveyor, three auditors, clerk of the court, district attorney. Some of these officers are paid by fees, except in counties whose population exceeds 50,000, where salaries are usually provided. A county with at least 40,000 inhabitants is a judicial district, and elects its judge for a term of two years. No new county is to contain less than 400 square miles of 20,000 inhabitants.30 The county, besides its judicial business and the management of the prisons incident thereto, besides its duties as respects highways and bridges, has educational and usually also poor-law functions; and it levies its county tax and the state taxes through a collector for each township whom it and not the township appoints. It audits the accounts of townships, and has other rights of control over these minor communities exceeding those allowed by Michigan or Illinois. I must not omit to remark that where any local area is not governed by a primary assembly of all its citizens, as in those states where there is no town meeting, and in all states in respect to counties, a method is frequently provided for taking the judgment of the citizens of the local area, be it township or county, by popular vote at the polls upon a specific question, usually the borrowing of money or the levying of a rate beyond the regular amount. This is an extension to local divisions of the so-called “plebiscitary” or referendum method, whose application to state legislation has been discussed in a preceding chapter. It seems to work well, for by providing an exceptional method of meeting exceptional cases, it enables the ordinary powers of executive officials, whether in township or county, to be kept within narrow limits.
Want of space has compelled me to omit from this sketch many details which might interest European students of local government, not can I attempt to indicate the relations of the rural areas, townships, and counties, to the incorporated villages and cities which lie within their compass further than by observing that cities, even the smaller ones, are usually separated from the townships, that is to say, the township government is superseded by the city government, while cities of all grades remain members of the counties, bear their share in county taxation, and join in county elections. Often, however, the constitution of a state contains special provisions to meet the case of a city so large as practically to overshadow or absorb the county, as Chicago does the county of Cook, and Cincinnati the county of Hamilton, and sometimes the city is made a county by itself.
 Boston continued to be a town governed by a primary assembly of all citizens till 1822; and even then the town meeting was not quite abolished, for a provision was introduced, intended to satisfy conservative democratic feeling, into the city charter granted by statute in that year, empowering the mayor and aldermen to call general meetings of the citizens qualified to vote in city affairs “to consult upon the common good, to give instructions to their representatives, and to take all lawful means to obtain a redress of any grievances.” Such primary assemblies are, however, never now convoked.
 In Maryland hundreds, which still exist in Delaware, were for a long time the chief administrative divisions. We hear there also of “baronies” and “town lands,” as in Ireland; and Maryland is usually called a “province,” while the other settlements are colonies. Among its judicial establishments there were courts of pypowdry (piè poudré) and “hustings.”
The hundred is a division of small consequence in southern England, but in Lancashire it has some important duties. It repairs the bridges; it is liable for damage done in a riot; and it had its high constable.
 The word Town, which I write with a capital when using it in the American sense, is the Icelandic tún, Anglo-Saxon tûn, German Zaun, and seems originally to have meant a hedge, then a hedged or fenced plot or enclosure. In Scotland (where it is pronounced “toon”) it still denotes the farmhouse and buildings; in Iceland the manured grass plot, enclosed within a low green bank or raised dyke, which surrounds the baer or farmhouse. In parts of eastern England the chief cluster of houses in a parish is still often called “the town.” In the North of England, where the parishes are more frequently larger than they are in the South, the civil divisions of a parish are called townships.
 I find in Massachusetts (census of 1910) one town (New Ashford) with only 92 inhabitants, and one (Brookline, a suburb of Boston) with 27,792, while Revere has 18,219. But both in this and other New England states most towns have a population of from 1,200 to 2,500.
 The presiding officer in the synods and assemblies of the Scottish Presbyterian Churches is still called the moderator. This is also the president’s title in the synods of the American Presbyterian churches, and in the councils of the Congregationalist and associations of the Baptist churches.
 See an interesting account of the town meeting sixty years ago in Mr. J. K. Hosmer’s Life of Samuel Adams, chap. xxiii. An instructive description of a typical New England town may be found in a pamphlet entitled The Town of Groton, by Dr. S. Green, late mayor of Boston.
 Mr. R. W. Emerson served in this capacity in his town, fulfilling the duty understood to devolve on every citizen of accepting an office to which the town appoints him.
 When a town reaches a certain population it is usually transformed by law into a city; but occasionally, while the city is created as a municipal corporation within the limits of a town, the town continues to exist as a distinct organization. A remarkable instance is furnished by the Town and City of New Haven, in Connecticut. New Haven was incorporated as a city in 1784. But it continued to be and is still a town also. Three-fourths of the area of the town and seventeen-eighteenths of its population are within the limits of the city. But the two governments remain completely distinct. The city has its mayor, aldermen, and common council, and its large executive staff. The town meeting elects its selectmen and other officers, 152 in all, receives their reports, orders and appropriates taxes, and so forth. Practically, however, it is so much dwarfed by the city as to attract little attention. Says Mr. Levermore: “This most venerable institution appears to-day in the guise of a gathering of a few citizens, who do the work of as many thousands. The few individuals who are or have been officially interested in the government of the town, meet together, talk over matters in a friendly way, decide what the rate of taxation for the coming year shall be, and adjourn. If others are present, it is generally as spectators rather than as participants. Even if Demos should be present in greater force, he would almost inevitably obey the voice of some well informed and influential member of the town government of his own party. But citizens of all parties and of all shades of respectability ignore the town meeting and school meeting alike. Not one-seventieth part of the citizens of the town has attended an annual town meeting; they hardly know when it is held. The newspapers give its transactions a scant notice, which some of their subscribers probably read. The actual governing force of the town is therefore an oligarchy in the bosom of a slumbering democracy. But the town is well governed. Its government carries too little spoil to attract those unreliable politicians who infest the city council. If the ruling junto should venture on too lavish a use of the town’s money, an irresistible check would appear at once. Any twenty citizens could force the selectmen to summon the town together, and the apparent oligarchy would doubtless go down before the awakened people.” — “The Town and City Government of New Haven,” in Johns Hopkins University Studies, Fourth Series.
The student of Roman history will find in this quaint survival of an ancient assembly some resemblance to the comitia curiata of Rome under the later Republic.
 The average population of a Massachusetts county is 240,450, the two smallest counties having only 4,504 and 2,962 respectively, the largest 669,915.
 In Connecticut the commissioners are appointed by the state legislature and have no taxing power. In Rhode Island there are none but judicial officers for the counties. In Vermont I find besides judges, a state attorney, high bailiff, and county clerk. In Massachusetts all judges are appointed by the governor.
 The chief items of county expenditure are those for judicial purposes, including the maintenance of buildings, and for roads and bridges. But in some states roads, except the few state roads, are maintained by the town.
 Georgia, with 59,475 square miles, has 137 counties; Alabama, with 52,250 square miles, has 66. Speaking generally, the newer states have the larger counties, just as in England the smallest parishes are in the first settled parts of England, or rather in those parts where population was comparatively dense at the time when parishes sprang up.
 Sometimes, as in Louisiana, the sheriff is also tax collector.
 In some states some of these officials are nominated by the governor. In Florida the governor appoints even the board of five county commissioners. The other county officers, viz., clerk of circuit court, sheriff, constables, assessor of taxes, tax collector, treasurer, superintendent of public instruction, and surveyor, are elected by the people for two or four years.
 In South Carolina the parish was originally a pretty strong local unit, but it withered away as the county grew under the influence of the plantation system. The word “parish” is in America now practically equivalent to “congregation,” and does not denote a local area.
 Virginia has moved in this direction. See Mr. Gerge E. Howard’s treatise, Local Constitutional History of the United States, and Mr. Fairlie’s recent book on Local Government in Counties, Towns, and Villages.
 “Township” is the term most frequently used outside New England, “town” in New England.
 See Constitution of 1870, art. x, § 5, where a provision is added that any county desiring to forsake township organization may do so by a vote of the electors in the county, in which case it comes under the county system prescribed in the following sections of that article.
 Illinois has 102 counties, with an average population, in 1910, of 55,000; Iowa 99 counties, with an average population in 1910 of 22,675. The average population of the 40 counties of England (excluding Wales) was (in 1901) 548,000.
 There are English analogies to all these powers, but in England some of them are or were exercised in the manor court and not in the vestry.
 The sheriff is the executive officer of the higher courts, with responsibility for the peace of the county. In case of riot he may call out the county militia.
 Ordinary police work, other than judicial, is not a county matter, but left to the township with its constables.
 “Local Government in Illinois,” by Albert Shaw, LL.D., in Johns Hopkins University Studies, Baltimore, 1883.
Local Government in Michigan, by E. W. Bemis, in Johns Hopkins University Studies, Baltimore, 1883.
 In Switzerland the rural Gemeinde or Commune is the basis of the whole republican system of the canton. It has charge of the police, the poor, and schools, and owns land. It has a primary assembly, meeting several times a year, which discusses communal business and elects an administrative council. It resembles in these respects an American town or township, but is subject for some purposes to the jurisdiction of an official called the Statthalter, appointed by the canton for a district comprising a number of communes.
 “In townships of 500 to 600 voters an attendance of 10 to 20 is often reported, while in many cases the business is transacted by members of the township board. Under these conditions there can be little of the active popular debate, which makes the New England meeting an interesting object of study.” Fairlie, Local Government in Counties, Towns, and Villages, p. 170.
 Mr. Bemis says: “Inasmuch as many of the thousand or more townships of a State lack the political education and conservatism necessary for perfect self-control, since also many through lack of means cannot raise sufficient money for roads, bridges, schools, and the poor, a higher authority is needed, with the power of equalizing the valuation of several contiguous towns, of taxing the whole number for the benefit of the poorer, and of exercising a general oversight over township expenses. . . . All educators earnestly advocate county and State control of schools, that there may be uniformity of methods, and that the country districts, the nurseries of our great men in the past, may not degenerate. But two influences oppose: the fear of centralization on the part of the small towns which need it most, and the dislike of the rich cities to tax themselves for the country districts.” — Local Government in Michigan, ut supra, p. 18.
 Justices are elected by the people for five years, and commissioned by the governor of the state.
Our Government Text-Book for Iowa Schools, pp. 21–23.
 See Constitution of Pennsylvania of 1873, arts. XIV, XIII, and V.
The average population of a county in Pennsylvania was, in 1910, 114,405. There are sixty-seven.