Civil Government in the United States Considered with
John Fiske

Part 2 out of 8

as, for example, churches, graveyards, and tombs; many charitable
institutions, including universities and colleges; and public
buildings which belong to the state or to the United States. All lands
and buildings, except such as are exempt by law, must pay taxes.

[Sidenote: Taxes on personal property.]
Personal property includes pretty much everything that one can own
except lands and buildings,--pretty much everything that can be moved
or carried about from one place to another. It thus includes ready
money, stocks and bonds, ships and wagons, furniture, pictures, and
books. It also includes the amount of debts due to a person in excess
of the amount that he owes; also the income from his employment,
whether in the shape of profits from business or a fixed salary.

Some personal property is exempted from taxation; as, for example,
household furniture to the amount of $1,000 in value, and income
from employment to the extent of $2,000. The obvious intent of this
exemption is to prevent taxation from bearing too hard upon persons
of small means; and for a similar reason the tools of farmers and
mechanics are exempted.[2]

[Footnote 2: United States bonds are also especially exempted from

[Sidenote: When and where taxes are assessed.]
The date at which property is annually reckoned for assessment is in
Massachusetts the first day of May. The poll-tax is assessed upon each
person in the town or city where he has his legal habitation on that
day; and as a general rule the taxes upon his personal property are
assessed to him in the same place. But taxes upon lands or buildings
are assessed in the city or town where they are situated, and to the
person, wherever he lives, who is the owner of them on the first day
of May. Thus a man who lives in the Berkshire mountains, say for
example in the town of Lanesborough, will pay his poll-tax to that
town. For his personal property, whether it he bonds of a railroad in
Colorado, or shares in a bank in New York, or costly pictures in his
house at Lanesborough, he will likewise pay taxes to Lanesborough. So
for the house in which he lives, and the land upon which it stands, he
pays taxes to that same town. But if he owns at the same time a house
in Boston, he pays taxes for it to Boston, and if he owns a block of
shops in Chicago he pays taxes for the same to Chicago. It is very apt
to be the case that the rate of taxation is higher in large cities
than in villages; and accordingly it often happens that wealthy
inhabitants of cities, who own houses in some country town, move into
them before the first of May, and otherwise comport themselves as
legal residents of the country town, in order that their personal
property may be assessed there rather than in the city.

[Sidenote: Tax lists.]
About the first of May the assessors call upon the inhabitants of
their town to render a true statement as to their property. The most
approved form is for the assessors to send by mail to each taxable
inhabitant a printed list of questions, with blank spaces which he is
to fill with written answers. The questions relate to every kind
of property, and when the person addressed returns the list to the
assessors he must make oath that to the best of his knowledge and
belief his answers are true. He thus becomes liable to the penalties
for perjury if he can be proved to have sworn falsely. A reasonable
time--usually six or eight weeks--is allowed for the list to be
returned to the assessors. If any one fails to return his list by the
specified time, the assessors must make their own estimate of the
probable amount of his property. If their estimate is too high, he may
petition the assessors to have the error corrected, but in many cases
it may prove troublesome to effect this.

[Sidenote: Cheating the government.]
Observe here an important difference between the imposition of taxes
upon real estate and upon personal property. Houses and lands cannot
run away or be tucked out of sight. Their value, too, is something
of which the assessors can very likely judge as well as the owner.
Deception is therefore extremely difficult, and taxation for real
estate is pretty fairly distributed among the different owners. With
regard to personal estate it is very different. It is comparatively
easy to conceal one's ownership of some kinds of personal property, or
to understate one's income. Hence the temptation to lessen the burden
of the tax bill by making false statements is considerable, and
doubtless a good deal of deception is practised. There are many people
who are too honest to cheat individuals, but still consider it a
venial sin to cheat the government.

[Sidenote: The rate of taxation.]
After the assessors have obtained all their returns they can calculate
the total value of the taxable property in the town; and knowing the
amount of the tax to be raised, it is easy to calculate the rate at
which the tax is to be assessed. In most parts of the United States a
rate of one and a half per cent, or $15 tax on each $1,000 worth of
property, would be regarded as moderate; three per cent would be
regarded as excessively high. At the lower of these rates a man worth
$50,000 would pay $750 for his yearly taxes. The annual income of
$50,000, invested on good security, is hardly more than $2,500.
Obviously $750 is a large sum to subtract from such an income.

[Sidenote: Undervaluation.]
[Sidenote: The burden of taxation.]
In point of fact, however, the tax is seldom quite as heavy as
this. It is not easy to tell exactly how much a man is worth, and
accordingly assessors, not wishing to be too disagreeable in the
discharge of their duties, have naturally fallen into a way of giving
the lower valuation the benefit of the doubt, until in many places a
custom has grown up of regularly undervaluing property for purposes of
taxation. Very much as liquid measures have gradually shrunk until
it takes five quart bottles to hold a gallon, so there has been a
shrinkage of valuations until it has become common to tax a man for
only three fourths or perhaps two thirds of what his property is
worth in the market. This makes the rate higher, to be sure, but
the individual taxpayer nevertheless seems to feel relieved by it.
Allowing for this undervaluation, we may say that a man worth $50,000
commonly pays not less than $500 for his yearly taxes, or about one
fifth of the annual income of the property. We thus begin to see what
a heavy burden taxes are, and how essential to good government it is
that citizens should know what their money goes for, and should be
able to exert some effective control over the public expenditures.
Where the rate of taxation in a town rises to a very high point, such
as two and a half or three per cent, the prosperity of the town is apt
to be seriously crippled. Traders and manufacturers move away to other
towns, or those who would otherwise come to the town in question stay
away, because they cannot afford to use up all their profits in paying
taxes. If such a state of things is long kept up, the spirit of
enterprise is weakened, the place shows signs of untidiness and want
of thrift, and neighbouring towns, once perhaps far behind it in
growth, by and by shoot ahead of it and take away its business.

[Sidenote: The "magic fund" delusion.]
Within its proper sphere, government by town-meeting is the form of
government most effectively under watch and control. Everything is
done in the full daylight of publicity. The specific objects for which
public money is to be appropriated are discussed in the presence of
everybody, and any one who disapproves of any of these objects, or of
the way in which it is proposed to obtain it, has an opportunity to
declare his opinions. Under this form of government people are not
so liable to bewildering delusions as under other forms. I refer
especially to the delusion that "the Government" is a sort of
mysterious power, possessed of a magic inexhaustible fund of wealth,
and able to do all manner of things for the benefit of "the People."
Some such notion as this, more often implied than expressed, is very
common, and it is inexpressibly dear to demagogues. It is the prolific
root from which springs that luxuriant crop of humbug upon which
political tricksters thrive as pigs fatten upon corn. In point of
fact no such government, armed with a magic fund of its own, has ever
existed upon the earth. No government has ever yet used any money
for public purposes which it did not first take from its own
people,--unless when it may have plundered it from some other people
in victorious warfare.

The inhabitant of a New England town is perpetually reminded that "the
Government" is "the People." Although he may think loosely about
the government of his state or the still more remote government at
Washington, he is kept pretty close to the facts where local affairs
are concerned, and in this there is a political training of no small

[Sidenote: Educational value of the town-meeting.]
In the kind of discussion which it provokes, in the necessity of facing
argument with argument and of keeping one's temper under control, the
town-meeting is the best political training school in existence. Its
educational value is far higher than that of the newspaper, which, in
spite of its many merits as a diffuser of information, is very apt to do
its best to bemuddle and sophisticate plain facts. The period when
town-meetings ware most important from the wide scope of their
transactions was the period of earnest and sometimes stormy discussion
that ushered in our Revolutionary war. Country towns were then of more
importance relatively than now; one country town--Boston--was at the
same time a great political centre; and its meetings were presided over
and addressed by men of commanding ability, among whom Samuel Adams,
"the man of the town-meeting," was foremost[3]. In those days
great principles of government were discussed with a wealth of knowledge
and stated with masterly skill in town-meeting.

[Footnote 3: The phrase is Professor Hosmer's: see his _Samuel Adams, the
Man of the Town Meeting_, in "Johns Hopkins Univ. Studies," vol. II. no.
iv.; also his _Samuel Adams_, in "American Statesmen" series; Boston,

[Sidenote: By-laws.]
The town-meeting is to a very limited extent a legislative body; it can
make sundry regulations for the management of its local affairs. Such
regulations are known by a very ancient name, "by-laws." _By_ is an Old
Norse word meaning "town," and it appears in the names of such towns as
_Derby_ and _Whitby_ in the part of England overrun by the Danes in the
ninth and tenth centuries. By-laws are town laws[4].

[Footnote 4: In modern usage the roles and regulations of clubs, learned
societies, and other associations, are also called by-laws.]

[Sidenote: Power and responsibility.]
In the selectmen and various special officers the town has an
executive department; and here let us observe that, while these
officials are kept strictly accountable to the people, they are
entrusted with very considerable authority. Things are not so arranged
that an officer can plead that he has failed in his duty from lack of
power. There is ample power, joined with complete responsibility. This
is especially to be noticed in the case of the selectmen. They must
often be called upon to exercise a wide discretion in what they do,
yet this excites no serious popular distrust or jealousy. The annual
election affords an easy means of dropping an unsatisfactory officer.
But in practice nothing has been more common than for the same persons
to be reelected as selectmen or constables or town-clerks for year
after year, as long as they are able or willing to serve. The notion
that there is anything peculiarly American or democratic in what
is known as "rotation in office" is therefore not sustained by the
practice of the New England town, which is the most complete democracy
in the world. It is the most perfect exhibition of what President
Lincoln called "government of the people by the people and for the


1. What reason exists for beginning the study of government with that of
the New England township?

2. Give the origin of the township in New England according to the
following analysis:--

a. Settlement in groups.
b. The chief reason for coming to New England.
c. The leaders of the groups.
d. The favouring action of the Massachusetts government.
e. Small farms.
f. Defence against the Indians.
g. The limits of a township.
h. The village within the township.

3. What was the social standing of the first settlers?

4. What training had they received in self-government?

5. Who do the governing in a New England township?

6. Give an account of the town-meeting in accordance with the following

a. The name of the meeting.
b. The time for holding it.
c. The place for holding it.
d. The persons who take part in it.
e. The sort of business done in it.

7. Give an account of the selectmen:--

a. Their number.
b. The reason for an odd number.
c. Their duties.

8. When public schools were established by Massachusetts in 1647, what
reasons were assigned for the law?

9. What classes or grades of schools were then established?

10. What are the duties of the Massachusetts school committee?

11. What is the term of service of teachers in that state?

12. What are the duties of the following officers?--

a. Field-drivers.
b. Pound-keepers.
c. Fence-viewers.
d. Surveyors of lumber.
e. Measurers of wood.
f. Sealers of weights and measures.

13. What are the duties of the following officers?--

a. The town-clerk.
b. The treasurer.
c. Constables.
d. Assessors.
e. Overseers of the poor.

14. Describe a warrant for a town-meeting.

15. For what other purposes than those of the town are taxes raised?

16. Explain the following:--

a. The poll-tax.
b. The tax on personal property,
c. The tax on real estate.

17. What kinds of real estate are exempted from taxation, and why?

18. What kinds of personal property are exempted, and why?

19. Where must the several kinds of taxes be assessed and paid?

20. If a person changes his residence from one town in the state to
another before May 1, what consequences about taxes might follow?

21. How do the assessors ascertain the property for which one should be

22. What difficulties beset the taxation of personal property?

23. Mention a common practice in assigning values to property.
What is the effect on the tax-rate? Illustrate.

24. How do high taxes operate as a burden?

25. Describe a delusion from which people who directly govern
themselves are practically free.

26. What is the educational value of the town-meeting?

27. What are by-laws? Explain the phrase.

28. What of the power and responsibility of selectmen?

Section 2. _Origin of the Township_.

[Sidenote: Town-meetings in Greece and Rome.]
It was said above that government by town-meeting is in principle the
oldest form of government known in the world. The student of ancient
history is familiar with the _comitia_ of the Romans and the
_ecclesia_ of the Greeks. These were popular assemblies, held in
those soft climates in the open air, usually in the market-place,--the
Roman _forum_, the Greek _agora_. The government carried on
in them was a more or less qualified democracy. In the palmy days of
Athens it was a pure democracy. The assemblies which in the Athenian
market-place declared war against Syracuse, or condemned Socrates to
death, were quite like New England town-meetings, except that they
exercised greater powers because there was no state government above

[Sidenote: Clans.]
The principle of the town-meeting, however, is older than Athens or
Rome. Long before streets were built or fields fenced in, men wandered
about the earth hunting for food in family parties, somewhat as lions
do in South Africa. Such family groups were what we call _clans_,
and so far as is known they were the earliest form in which civil
society appeared on the earth. Among all wandering or partially
settled tribes the clan is to be found, and there are ample
opportunities for studying it among our Indians in North America. The
clan usually has a chief or head-man, useful mainly as a leader in
wartime; its civil government, crude and disorderly enough, is in
principle a pure democracy.

[Sidenote: The _mark_ and the _tun_.]
When our ancestors first became acquainted with American Indians, the
most advanced tribes lived partly by hunting and fishing, but partly
also by raising Indian corn and pumpkins. They had begun to live in
wigwams grouped together in small villages and surrounded by strong rows
of palisades for defence. Now what these red men were doing our own
fair-haired ancestors in northern and central Europe had been doing some
twenty centuries earlier. The Scandinavians and Germans, when first
known in history, had made considerable progress in exchanging a
wandering for a settled mode of life. When the clan, instead of moving
from place to place, fixed upon some spot for a permanent residence, a
village grew up there, surrounded by a belt of waste land, or somewhat
later by a stockaded wall. The belt of land was called a _mark_, and the
wall was called a _tun_.[5] Afterwards the enclosed space came to be
known sometimes as the _mark_, sometimes as the _tun_ or _town_. In
England the latter name prevailed. The inhabitants of a mark or town
were a stationary clan. It was customary to call them by the clan name,
as for example "the Beorings" or "the Crossings;" then the town would be
called _Barrington_, "town of the Beorings," or _Cressingham_,
"home of the Cressings." Town names of this sort, with which the map of
England is thickly studded, point us back to a time when the town was
supposed to be the stationary home of a clan.

[Footnote 1: Pronounced "toon."]

[Sidenote: The Old English township.]
[Sidenote: The manor.]
The Old English town had its _tungemot_, or town-meeting, in
which "by-laws" were made and other important business transacted.
The principal officers were the "reeve" or head-man, the "beadle" or
messenger, and the "tithing-man" or petty constable. These officers
seem at first to have been elected by the people, but after a while,
as great lordships grew up, usurping jurisdiction over the land, the
lord's steward and bailiff came to supersede the reeve and beadle.
After the Norman Conquest the townships, thus brought under the sway
of great lords, came to be generally known by the French name of
manors or "dwelling places." Much might be said about this change, but
here it is enough for us to bear in mind that a manor was essentially
a township in which the chief executive officers were directly
responsible to the lord rather than to the people. It would be
wrong, however, to suppose that the manors entirely lost their
self-government. Even the ancient town-meeting survived in them, in a
fragmentary way, in several interesting assemblies, of which the most
interesting were the _court leet_, for the election of certain
officers and the trial of petty offences, and the _court baron_,
which was much like a town-meeting.

[Sidenote: The parish.]
Still more of the old self-government would doubtless have survived
in the institutions of the manor if it had not been provided for in
another way. The _parish_ was older than the manor. After the
English had been converted to Christianity local churches were
gradually set up all over the country, and districts called parishes
were assigned for the ministrations of the priests. Now a parish
generally coincided in area with a township, or sometimes with a group
of two or three townships. In the old heathen times each town seems to
have had its sacred place or shrine consecrated to some local deity,
and it was a favourite policy with the Roman missionary priests to
purify the old shrine and turn it into a church. In this way the
township at the same time naturally became the parish.

[Sidenote: Township, manor, and parish.]
[Sidenote: The vestry-meeting.]
As we find it in later times, both before and since the founding of
English colonies in North America, the township in England is likely
to be both a manor and a parish. For some purposes it is the one, for
some purposes it is the other. The townsfolk may be regarded as a
group of tenants of the lord's manor, or as a group of parishioners of
the local church. In the latter aspect the parish retained much of the
self-government of the ancient town. The business with which the lord
was entitled to meddle was strictly limited, and all other business
was transacted in the "vestry-meeting," which was practically the old
town-meeting under a new name. In the course of the thirteenth century
we find that the parish had acquired the right of taxing itself for
church purposes. Money needed for the church was supplied in the
form of "church-rates" voted by the ratepayers themselves in the
vestry-meeting, so called because it was originally held in a room of
the church in which vestments were kept.

[Sidenote: Parish officers.]
The officers of the parish were the constable, the parish and vestry
clerks,[6] the beadle,[7] the "waywardens" or surveyors of highways,
the "haywards" or fence-viewers, the "common drivers," the collectors
of taxes, and at the beginning of the seventeenth century overseers of
the poor were added. There were also churchwardens, usually two for
each, parish. Their duties were primarily to take care of the church
property, assess the rates, and call the vestry-meetings. They also
acted as overseers of the poor, and thus in several ways remind one of
the selectmen of New England. The parish officers were all elected by
the ratepayers assembled in vestry-meeting, except the common driver
and hayward, who were elected by the same ratepayers assembled in
court leet. Besides electing parish officers and granting the rates,
the vestry-meeting could enact by-laws; and all ratepayers had an
equal voice in its deliberations.

[Footnote 6: Of these two officers the vestry clerk is the counterpart
of the New England town-clerk.]

[Footnote 7: Originally a messenger or crier, the beadle came to
assume some of the functions of the tithing-man or petty constable,
such as keeping order in church, punishing petty offenders, waiting on
the clergyman, etc. In New England towns there were formerly officers
called tithing-men, who kept order in church, arrested tipplers,
loafers, and Sabbath-breakers, etc.]

[Sidenote: The transition from England to New England.]
During the last two centuries the constitution of the English parish
has undergone some modifications which need not here concern us. The
Puritans who settled in New England had grown up under such parish
government as is here described, and they were used to hearing the
parish called, on some occasions and for some purposes, a township. If
we remember now that the earliest New England towns were founded
by church congregations, led by their pastors, we can see how town
government in New England originated. It was simply the English
parish government brought into a new country and adapted to the new
situation. Part of this new situation consisted in the fact that the
lords of the manor were left behind. There was no longer any occasion
to distinguish between the township as a manor and the township as a
parish; and so, as the three names had all lived on together, side by
side, in England, it was now the oldest and most generally descriptive
name, "township," that survived, and has come into use throughout a
great part of the United States. The townsfolk went on making by-laws,
voting supplies of public money, and electing their magistrates in
America, after the fashion with which they had for ages been familiar
in England. Some of their offices and customs were of hoary antiquity.
If age gives respectability, the office of constable may vie with that
of king; and if the annual town-meeting is usually held in the month
of March, it is because in days of old, long before Magna Charta was
thought of, the rules and regulations for the village husbandry were
discussed and adopted in time for the spring planting.

[Sidenote: Building up states.]
To complete our sketch of the origin of the New England town, one
point should here be briefly mentioned in anticipation of what will
have to be said hereafter; but it is a point of so much importance
that we need not mind a little repetition in stating it.

[Sidenote: Representation.]
We have seen what a great part taxation plays in the business of
government, and we shall presently have to treat of county, state, and
federal governments, all of them wider in their sphere than the town
government. In the course of history, as nations have gradually been
built up, these wider governments have been apt to absorb or supplant
and crush the narrower governments, such as the parish or township;
and this process has too often been destructive to political freedom.
Such a result is, of course, disastrous to everybody; and if it were
unavoidable, it would be better that great national governments need
never be formed. But it is not unavoidable. There is one way of
escaping it, and that is to give the little government of the town
some real share in making up the great government of the state. That
is not an easy thing to do, as is shown by the fact that most peoples
have failed in the attempt. The people who speak the English language
have been the most successful, and the device by which they have
overcome the difficulty is REPRESENTATION. The town sends to the wider
government a delegation of persons who can _represent_ the town
and its people. They can speak for the town, and have a voice in the
framing of laws and imposition of taxes by the wider government.

[Sidenote: Shire-motes.]
[Sidenote: Earl Simon's Parliament.]
In English townships there has been from time immemorial a system of
representation. Long before Alfred's time there were "shire-motes," or
what were afterwards called county meetings, and to these each town
sent its reeve and "four discreet men" as _representatives_. Thus
to a certain extent the wishes of the townsfolk could be brought to
bear upon county affairs. By and by this method was applied on a much
wider scale. It was applied to the whole kingdom, so that the people
of all its towns and parishes succeeded in securing a representation
of their interests in an elective national council or House of
Commons. This great work was accomplished in the thirteenth century by
Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, and was completed by Edward
I. Simon's parliament, the first in which the Commons were fully
represented, was assembled in 1265; and the date of Edward's
parliament, which has been called the Model Parliament, was 1295.
These dates have as much interest for Americans as for Englishmen,
because they mark the first definite establishment of that grand
system of representative government which we are still carrying on
at our various state capitals and at Washington. For its humble
beginnings we have to look back to the "reeve and four" sent by the
ancient townships to the county meetings.

[Sidenote: Township as unit of representation.]
The English township or parish was thus at an early period the "unit
of representation" in the government of the county. It was also a
district for the assessment and collection of the national taxes; in
each parish the assessment was made by a board of assessors chosen by
popular vote. These essential points reappear in the early history of
New England. The township was not only a self-governing body, but
it was the "unit of representation" in the colonial legislature,
or "General Court;" and the assessment of taxes, whether for town
purposes or for state purposes, was made by assessors elected by the
townsfolk. In its beginnings and fundamentals our political liberty
did not originate upon American soil, but was brought hither by
our forefathers the first settlers. They brought their political
institutions with them as naturally as they brought their language and
their social customs.

[Sidenote: The Russian village community; not represented in the
national government.]
Observe now that the township is to be regarded in two lights. It must
be considered not only in itself, but as part of a greater whole.
We began by describing it as a self-governing body, but in order to
complete our sketch we were obliged to speak of it as a body which
has a share in the government of the state and the nation. The latter
aspect is as important as the former. If the people of a town had only
the power of managing their local affairs, without the power of taking
part in the management of national affairs, their political freedom
would be far from complete. In Russia, for example, the larger part of
the vast population is resident in village communities which have to a
considerable extent the power of managing their local affairs. Such
a village community is called a _mir_, and like the English
township it is lineally descended from the stationary clan. The people
of the Russian _mir_ hold meetings in which they elect sundry
local officers, distribute the burden of local taxation, make
regulations concerning local husbandry and police, and transact other
business which need not here concern us. But they have no share in the
national government, and are obliged to obey laws which they have
no voice in making, and pay taxes assessed upon them without their
consent; and accordingly we say with truth that the Russian people do
not possess political freedom. One reason for this has doubtless
been that in times past the Russian territory was the great frontier
battle-ground between civilized Europe and the wild hordes of western
Asia, and the people who lived for ages on that turbulent frontier
were subjected to altogether too much conquest. They have tasted too
little of civil government and too much of military government,--a
pennyworth of wholesome bread to an intolerable deal of sack. The
early English, in their snug little corner of the world, belted by
salt sea, were able to develop their civil government with less
destructive interference. They made a sound and healthful beginning
when they made the township the "unit of representation" for the
county. Then the township, besides managing its own affairs, began to
take part in the management of wider affairs.



1. Obtain the following documents:--

a. A town warrant.
b. A town report.
c. A tax bill, a permit, a certificate, or any town paper that
has or may have an official signature.
d. A report of the school committee.

If you live in a city, send to the clerk of a neighbouring town for a
warrant, inclosing a stamp for the reply. City documents will answer
most of the purposes of this exercise.

Make any of the foregoing documents the basis of a report.

2. Give an account of the following:--

a. The various kinds of taxes raised in your town, the amount of each
kind, the valuation, the rate, the proposed use of the money, etc.
b. The work of any department of the town government for a year, as, for
example, that of the overseers of the poor.
c. Any pressing need of your town, public sentiment towards it, the
probable cost of satisfying it, the obstacles in the way of meeting
it, etc.

3. A good way to arouse interest in the subject of town government is to
organize the class as a town-meeting, and let it discuss live local
questions in accordance with articles in a warrant. For helpful details
attend a town-meeting, read the record of some meeting, consult some
person familiar with town proceedings, or study the General Statutes.

To insure a discussion, it may be necessary at the outset for the
teacher to assign to the several pupils single points to be expanded and
presented in order.

There is an advantage in the teacher's serving as moderator. He may, as
teacher, pause to give such directions and explanations as may be
helpful to young citizens.

The pupils should be held up to the more obvious requirements of
parliamentary law, and shown how to use its rules to accomplish various

4. Has the state a right to direct the education of its youth? If the
state has such a right, are there any limits to the exercise of it? Does
the right to direct the education of its youth carry with it the right
to abolish private schools?

5. Is it wise to assist private educational institutions with public

6. Ought teachers, if approved, to be appointed for one year only, or
during good behaviour?

7. What classes of officers in a town should serve during good
behaviour? What classes may be frequently changed without injury to the

8. Compare the school committee in your own state (if it is not
Massachusetts) with that in Massachusetts.

9. Illustrate from personal knowledge the difference between
real estate and personal property.

10. A loans B $1000. May A be taxed for the $1000? Why? May B be taxed
for the $1000? Why? Is it right to tax both for $1000? Suppose B with
the money buys goods of C. Is it right to tax the three for $1000 each?

11. A taxpayer worth $100,000 in personal property makes no return to
the assessors. In their ignorance the assessors tax him for $50,000
only, and the tax is paid without question. Does the taxpayer act

12. What difficulties beset the work of the assessors?

13. Would anything be gained by exempting personal property from
taxation? If so, what? Would anything be lost? If so, what?

14. Does any one absolutely escape taxation?

15. Does the poll-tax payer pay, in any sense, more than his poll-tax?

16. Are there any taxes that people pay without seeming to know it? If
so, what? (See below, chap. viii. section 8.).

17. Have we clans to-day among ourselves? (Think of family reunions,
people of the same name in a community, descendants of early settlers,
etc.). What important differences exist between these modern so-called
clans and the ancient ones?

18. What is a "clannish" spirit? Is it a good spirit or a bad
one? Is it ever the same as patriotism?

19. Look up the meaning of _ham_, _wick_, and _stead_. Think of towns
whose names contain these words; also of towns whose names contain the
word _tun_ or _ton_ or _town_.

20. Give an account of the tithing-man in early New England.

21. In what sense is the word "parish" commonly used in the United
States? Is the parish the same as the church? Has it any limits of

22. In Massachusetts, clergymen were formerly paid out of the taxes of
the township. How did this come about? In this practice was there a
union or a separation of church and state?

23. Ministers are not now supported by taxation in the United States.
What important change in the parish idea does this fact indicate? Is it
a change for the better?

24. Are women who do not vote represented in town government?

25. Are boys and girls represented in town government?

26. Is there anybody in a town who is not represented in its government?

27. How are citizens of a town represented in state government?

28. How are citizens of a town represented in the national government?

29. Imagine a situation in which the ballot of a single voter in
a town might affect the action of the national government.


Section 1. THE NEW ENGLAND TOWNSHIP. There is a good account in
Martin's _Text Book on Civil Government in the United States_. N.
T. & Chicago, 1875.

Section 2. ORIGIN OF THE TOWNSHIP. Here the _Johns Hopkins University
Studies in Historical and Political Science_, edited by Dr. Herbert
Adams, are of great value. Note especially series I, no. i, E. A.
Freeman, _Introduction to American Institutional History_; I., ii. iv.
viii. ix.-x. H. B. Adams, _The Germanic Origin of New England Towns,
Saxon Tithing-Men in America, Norman Constables in America, Village
Communities of Cape Ann and Salem_; II., x. Edward Channing, _Town and
County Government in the English Colonies of North America_; IV.,
xi.-xii. Melville Egleston, _The Land System of the New England
Colonies_; VII., vii.-ix. C. M. Andrews, _The River Towns of

See also Howard's _Local Constitutional History of the United
States_, vol. i. "Township, Hundred, and Shire," Baltimore, 1889, a
work of extraordinary merit.

The great book on local self-government in England is Toulmin Smith's
_The Parish_, 2d ed., London, 1859. For the ancient history of the
township, see Gomme's _Primitive Folk-Moots_, London, 1880; Gomme's
_Village Community_, London, 1890; Seebohm's _English Village
Community_, London, 1883; Nasse's _Agricultural Community of the Middle
Ages_, London, 1872; Laveleye's _Primitive Property_, London, 1878;
Phear's _Aryan Village in India and Ceylon_, London, 1880; Hearn (of the
University of Melbourne, Australia), _The Aryan Household_, London &
Melbourne, 1879; and the following works of Sir Henry Maine: _Ancient
Law_, London, 1861; _Village Communities in the East and West_, London,
1871; _Early History of Institutions_, London, 1875; _Early Law and
Custom_, London, 1883. All of Maine's works are republished in New York.
See also my _American Political Ideas_, N. Y., 1885.

Gomme's _Literature of Local Institutions_, London, 1886,
contains an extensive bibliography of the subject, with valuable
critical notes and comments.



Section 1. _The County in its Beginnings._

It is now time for us to treat of the county, and we may as well begin
by considering its origin. In treating of the township we began by
sketching it in its fullest development, as seen in New England. With.
the county we shall find it helpful to pursue a different method and
start at the beginning.

If we look at the maps of the states which make up our Union, we see
that they are all divided into counties (except that in Louisiana the
corresponding divisions are named parishes). The map of England shows
that country as similarly divided into counties.

[Sidenote: Why do we have counties?]
If we ask why this is so, some people will tell us that it is
convenient, for purposes of administration, to have a state, or a
kingdom, divided into areas that are larger than single towns. There
is much truth in this. It is convenient. If it were not so, counties
would not have survived, so as to make a part of our modern maps.
Nevertheless, this is not the historic reason why we have the
particular kind of subdivisions known as counties. We have them
because our fathers and grandfathers had them; and thus, if we would
find out the true reason, we may as well go back to the ancient times
when our forefathers were establishing themselves in England.

[Sidenote: Clans and tribes.]
We have seen how the clan of our barbarous ancestors, when it became
stationary, was established as the town or township. But in those early
times _clans_ were generally united more or less closely into _tribes_.
Among all primitive or barbarous races of men, so far as we can make
out, society is organized in tribes, and each tribe is made up of a
number of clans or family groups. Now when our English forefathers
conquered Britain they settled there as clans and also as tribes. The
clans became townships, and the tribes became shires or counties; that
is to say, the names were applied first to the people and afterwards to
the land they occupied. A few of the oldest county names in England
still show this plainly. _Essex_, _Middlesex_, and _Sussex_ were
originally "East Saxons," "Middle Saxons," and "South Saxons;" and on
the eastern coast two tribes of Angles were distinguished as "North
folk" and "South folk," or _Norfolk_ and _Suffolk_. When you look on the
map and see the town of _Icklinghiam_ in the county of _Suffolk_, it
means that this place was once known as the "home" of the "Icklings" or
"children of Ickel," a clan which formed part of the tribe of "South

[Sidenote: The English nation, like the American, grew out of the
union of small states.]
In those days there was no such thing as a Kingdom of England; there
were only these groups of tribes living side by side. Each tribe had its
leader, whose title was _ealdorman_ or "elder man." [1] After a while, as
some tribes increased in size and power, their ealdormen took the title
of kings. The little kingdoms coincided sometimes with a single shire,
sometimes with two or more shires. Thus there was a kingdom of Kent, and
the North and South Folk were combined in a kingdom of East Anglia. In
course of time numbers of shires combined into larger kingdoms, such as
Northumbria, Mercia, and the West Saxons; and finally the king of the
West Saxons became king of all England, and the several _shires_ became
subordinate parts or "shares" of the kingdom. In England, therefore, the
shires are older than the nation. The shires were not made by dividing
the nation, but the nation was made by uniting the shires. The English
nation, like the American, grew out of the union of little states that
had once been independent of one another, but had many interests in
common. For not less than three hundred years after all England had been
united under one king, these shires retained their self-government
almost as completely as the several states of the American Union.[2] A
few words about their government will not be wasted, for they will help
to throw light upon some things that still form a part of our political
and social life.

[Footnote 1: The pronunciation, was probably something like yawl-dor-man.]

[Footnote 2: Chalmers, _Local Government_, p. 90.]

[Sidenote: Shire-mote, ealdorman, and sheriff.]
The shire was governed by the _shire-mote_ (i.e. "meeting"),
which was a representative body. Lords of lands, including abbots and
priors, attended it, as well as the reeve and four selected men
from each township. There were thus the germs of both the kind of
representation that is seen in the House of Lords and the much more
perfect kind that is seen in the House of Commons. After a while,
as cities and boroughs grew in importance, they sent representative
burghers to the shire-mote. There were two presiding officers; one was
the _ealdorman_, who was now appointed by the king; the other was
the _shire-reeve_ (i.e. "sheriff"), who was still elected by the
people and generally held office for life.

[Sidenote: The county court.]
This shire-mote was both a legislative body and a court of justice. It
not only made laws for the shire, but it tried civil and criminal
causes. After the Norman Conquest some changes occurred. The shire now
began to be called by the French name "county," because of its analogy
to the small pieces of territory on the Continent that were governed by
"counts." [3] The shire-mote became known as the county court, but cases
coming before it were tried by the king's _justices in eyre_, or circuit
judges, who went about from county to county to preside over the
judicial work. The office of ealdorman became extinct. The sheriff was
no longer elected by the people for life, but appointed by the king for
the term of one year. This kept him strictly responsible to the king. It
was the sheriff's duty to see that the county's share of the national
taxes was duly collected and paid over to the national treasury. The
sheriff also summoned juries and enforced the judgments of the courts,
and if he met with resistance in so doing he was authorized to call out
a force of men, known as the _posse comitatus_ (i.e. power of the
county), and overcome all opposition. Another county officer was the
_coroner_, or crowner_,[4] so called because originally (in Alfred's
time) he was appointed by the king, and was especially the crown officer
in the county. Since the time of Edward I., however, coroners have been
elected by the people. Originally coroners held small courts of inquiry
upon cases of wreckage, destructive fires, or sudden death, but in
course of time their jurisdiction became confined to the last-named
class of cases. If a death occurred under circumstances in any way
mysterious or likely to awaken suspicion, it was the business of the
coroner, assisted by not less than twelve _jurors_ (i. e, "sworn men"),
to hold an _inquest_ for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of death.
The coroner could compel the attendance of witnesses and order a medical
examination of the body, and if there were sufficient evidence to charge
any person with murder or manslaughter, the coroner could have such
person arrested and committed for trial.

[Footnote 3: Originally _comites_, or "companions" of the king.]
[Footnote 4: This form of the word, sometimes supposed to be a vulgarism,
is as correct as the other. See Skeat, _Etym_. Dict., s.v.]

[Sidenote: Justices of the peace.]
[Sidenote: The Quarter sessions.]
[Sidenote: The lord-lieutenant.]
Another important county officer was the _justice of the peace_.
Originally six were appointed by the crown in each county, but in
later times any number might be appointed. The office was created by a
series of statutes in the reign of Edward III., in order to put a stop
to the brigandage which still flourished in England; it was a common
practice for robbers to seize persons and hold them for ransom.[5] By
the last of these statutes, in 1362, the justices of the peace in each
county were to hold a court four times in the year. The powers of this
court, which came to be known as the Quarter Sessions, were from time
to time increased by act of parliament, until it quite supplanted the
old county court. In modern times the Quarter Sessions has become
an administrative body quite as much as a court. The justices, who
receive no salary, hold office for life, or during good behaviour.
They appoint the chief constable of the county, who appoints the
police. They also take part in the supervision of highways and
bridges, asylums and prisons. Since the reign of Henry VIII., the
English county has had an officer known as the lord-lieutenant, who
was once leader of the county militia, but whose functions to-day are
those of keeper of the records and principal justice of the peace.

[Footnote 5: Longman's _Life and Times of Edward III._, vol. i.
p. 301.]

[Sidenote: Beginnings of Massachusetts counties.]
During the past five hundred years the English county has gradually
sunk from a self-governing community into an administrative district;
and in recent times its boundaries have been so crossed and
crisscrossed with those of other administrative areas, such as those
of school-boards, sanitary boards, etc., that very little of the old
county is left in recognizable shape. Most of this change has been
effected since the Tudor period. The first English settlers in America
were familiar with the county as a district for the administration of
justice, and they brought with them coroners, sheriffs, and quarter
sessions. In 1635 the General Court of Massachusetts appointed four
towns--Boston, Cambridge, Salem, and Ipswich--as places where courts
should be held quarterly. In 1643 the colony, which then included
as much of New Hampshire as was settled, was divided into four
"shires,"--Suffolk, Essex, Middlesex, and Norfolk, the latter lying
then to the northward and including the New Hampshire towns. The
militia was then organized, perhaps without consciousness of the
analogy, after a very old English fashion; the militia of each town
formed a company, and the companies of the shire formed a regiment.
The county was organized from the beginning as a judicial district,
with its court-house, jail, and sheriff. After 1697 the court, held by
the justices of the peace, was called the Court of General Sessions.
It could try criminal causes not involving the penalty of death or
banishment, and civil causes in which the value at stake was less than
forty shillings. It also had control over highways going from town to
town; and it apportioned the county taxes among the several towns.

The justices and sheriff were appointed by the governor, as in England
by the king.


1. Why do we have counties in the United States? Contrast the popular
reason with the historic.

2. What relation did the tribe hold to the clan among our ancestors?

3. In time what did the clans and the tribes severally become?

4. Show how old county names in England throw light on the
county development.

5. Trace the growth of the English nation in accordance with
the following outline:--
a. Each tribe and its leader,
b. A powerful tribe and its leader.
c. The relation of a little kingdom to the shire.
d. The final union under one king.
e. The relative ages of the shire and the nation.

6. Give an account (1) of the shire-mote, (2) of the two kinds
of representation in it, (3) of its presiding officers, and
(4) of its two kinds of duties.

7. Let the pupil make written analyses or outlines of the following
topics, to be used by him in presenting the topics
orally, or to be passed in to the teacher:--
a. What changes took place in the government of the shire
after the Norman Conquest?
b. Trace the development of the coroner's office.
c. Give an account of the justices of the peace and the courts
held by them.
d. Show what applications the English settlers in Massachusetts made of
their knowledge of the English county.

Section 2. The Modern County in Massachusetts.

The modern county system of Massachusetts may now be very briefly
described. The county, like the town, is a corporation; it can hold
property and sue or be sued. It builds the court-house and jail, and
keeps them in repair. The town in which these buildings are placed is
called, as in England, the shire town.

[Sidenote: County commissioners.]
In each county there are three commissioners, elected by the people.
Their term of service is three years, and one goes out each year.
These commissioners represent the county in law-suits, as the
selectmen represent the town. They "apportion the county taxes among
the towns;" "lay out, alter, and discontinue highways within the
county;" "have charge of houses of correction;" and erect and keep in
repair the county buildings.[6]

[Footnote 6: Martin's _Civil Government_, p. 197.]

[Sidenote: County treasurer.]
The revenues of the county are derived partly from taxation and partly
from the payment of fines and costs in the courts. These revenues are
received and disbursed by the county treasurer, who is elected by the
people for a term of three years.

[Sidenote: Courts.]
The Superior Court of the state holds at least two sessions annually
in each county, and tries civil and criminal causes. There is also
in each county a probate court with jurisdiction over all matters
relating to wills, administration of estates, and appointment of
guardians; it also acts as a court of insolvency. The custody of wills
and documents relating to the business of this court is in the hands
of an officer known as the register of probate, who is elected by the
people for a term of five years.

[Sidenote: Shire town and court-house.]
To preserve the records of all land-titles and transfers of land
within the county, all deeds and mortgages are registered in an
office in the shire town, usually within or attached to the court The
register of deeds is an officer elected by the people for a term of
three years. In counties where there is much business there may be
more than one.

[Sidenote: Justices of the peace.]
Justices of the peace are appointed by the governor for a term of seven
years, and the appointment may be renewed. Their functions have been
greatly curtailed, and now amount to little more than administering
oaths, and in some cases issuing warrants and taking bail. They may join
persons in marriage, and, when specially commissioned as "trial
justices," have criminal jurisdiction over sundry petty offences.

[Sidenote: The Sheriff.]
The sheriff is elected by the people for a term of three years. He may
appoint deputies, for whom he is responsible, to assist him in his
work. He must attend all county courts, and the meetings of the county
commissioners whenever required. He must inflict, either personally
or by deputy, the sentence of the court, whether it be fine,
imprisonment, or death. He is responsible for the preservation of the
peace within the county, and to this end must pursue criminals and may
arrest disorderly persons. If he meets with resistance he may call out
the _posse comitatus_; if the resistance grows into insurrection
he may apply to the governor and obtain the aid of the state militia;
if the insurrection proves too formidable to be thus dealt with, the
governor may in his behalf apply to the president of the United States
for aid from the regular army. In this way the force that may be
drawn upon, if necessary, for the suppression of disorder in a single
locality, is practically unlimited and irresistible.

We have now obtained a clear outline view of the township and county in
themselves and in their relation to one another, with an occasional
glimpse of their relation to the state; in so far, at least, as such a
view can be gained from a reference to the history of England and of
Massachusetts. We must next trace the development of local government in
other parts of the United States; and in doing so we can advance at
somewhat quicker pace, not because our subject becomes in any wise less
important or less interesting, but because we have already marked out
the ground and said things of general application which will not need to
be said over again.


Give an account of the modern county in Massachusetts under
the following heads:--

1. The county a corporation.
2. The county commissioners and their duties.
3. The county treasurer and his duties.
4. The courts held in a county.
5. The shire town and the court-house.
6. The register of deeds and his duties.
7. Justices of the peace and trial justices.
8. The sheriff and his duties.
9. The force at the sheriff's disposal to suppress disorder.

Section 3. _The Old Virginia County._

By common consent of historians, the two most distinctive and most
characteristic lines of development which English forms of government
have followed, in propagating themselves throughout the United States,
are the two lines that have led through New England on the one hand
and through Virginia on the other. We have seen what shape local
government assumed in New England; let us now observe what shape it
assumed in the Old Dominion.

[Sidenote: Virginia sparsely settled.]
The first point to be noticed in the early settlement of Virginia is
that people did not live so near together as in New England. This was
because tobacco, cultivated on large estates, was a source of wealth.
Tobacco drew settlers to Virginia as in later days gold drew settlers
to California and sparsely Australia. They came not in organized
groups or congregations, but as a multitude of individuals. Land
was granted to individuals, and sometimes these grants were of
enormous extent. John Bolling, who died in 1757, left an estate of
40,000 acres, and this is not mentioned as an extraordinary amount of
land for one man to own.[7] From an early period it was customary
to keep these great estates together by entailing them, and this
continued until entails were abolished in 1776 through the influence
of Thomas Jefferson.

[Footnote 7: Edward Channing, "Town and County Government," in
_Johns Hopkins University Studies_, vol. ii. p. 467.]

[Sidenote: Absence of towns.]
A glance at the map of Virginia shows to what a remarkable degree it
is intersected by navigable rivers. This fact made it possible for
plantations, even at a long distance from the coast, to have each its
own private wharf, where a ship from England could unload its cargo of
tools, cloth, or furniture, and receive a cargo of tobacco in return.
As the planters were thus supplied with most of the necessaries of
life, there was no occasion for the kind of trade that builds up
towns. Even in comparatively recent times the development of town life
in Virginia has been very slow. In 1880, out of 246 cities and towns
in the United States with a population exceeding 10,000, there were
only six in Virginia.

[Sidenote: Slavery]
The cultivation of tobacco upon large estates caused a great demand for
cheap labour, and this was supplied partly by bringing negro slaves from
Africa, partly by bringing criminals from English jails. The latter were
sold into slavery for a limited term of years, and were known as
"indentured white servants." So great was the demand for labour that it
became customary to kidnap poor friendless wretches on the streets of
seaport towns in England and ship them off to Virginia to be sold into
servitude. At first these white servants were more numerous than the
negroes, but before the end of the seventeenth century the blacks had
come to be much the more numerous.

[Sidenote: Social position of settlers.]
In this rural community the owners of plantations came from the same
classes of society as the settlers of New England; they were for the
most part country squires and yeomen. But while in New England there
was no lower class or society sharply marked off from the upper, on
the other hand in Virginia there was an insurmountable distinction
between the owners of plantations and the so-called "mean whites" or
"white trash." This class was originally formed of men and women
who had been indentured white servants, and was increased by such
shiftless people as now and then found their way to the colony, but
could not win estates or obtain social recognition. With such a
sharp division between classes, an aristocratic type of society was
developed in Virginia as naturally as a democratic type was developed
in New England.

[Sidenote: Virginia parishes.]
[Sidenote: The vestry of a close corporation.]
In Virginia there were no town-meetings. The distances between
plantations cooperated with the distinction between classes to prevent
the growth of such an institution. The English parish, with its
churchwardens and vestry and clerk, was reproduced in Virginia under
the same name, but with some noteworthy peculiarities. If the whole
body of ratepayers had assembled in vestry meeting, to enact by-laws
and assess taxes, the course of development would have been like that
of the New England town-meeting. But instead of this the vestry, which
exercised the chief authority in the parish, was composed of twelve
chosen men. This was not government by a primary assembly, it was
representative government. At first the twelve vestrymen were elected
by the people of the parish, and thus resembled the selectmen of
New England; but after a while "they obtained the power of filling
vacancies in their own number," so that they became what is called a
"close corporation," and the people had nothing to do with choosing
them. Strictly speaking, that was not representative government; it
was a step on the road that leads towards oligarchical or despotic

[Sidenote: Powers of the vestry.]
It was the vestry, thus constituted, that apportioned the parish
taxes, appointed the churchwardens, presented the minister for
induction into office, and acted as overseers of the poor. The
minister presided in all vestry meetings. His salary was paid in
tobacco, and in 1696 it was fixed by law at 16,000 pounds of tobacco
yearly. In many parishes the churchwardens were the collectors of the
parish taxes. The other officers, such as the sexton and the parish
clerk, were appointed either by the minister or by the vestry.

With the local government thus administered, we see that the larger
part of the people had little directly to do. Nevertheless in these
small neighbourhoods government was in full sight of the people. Its
proceedings went on in broad daylight and were sustained by public
sentiment. As Jefferson said, "The vestrymen are usually the most
discreet farmers, so distributed through the parish that every part of
it may be under the immediate eye of some one of them. They are well
acquainted with the details and economy of private life, and they
find sufficient inducements to execute their charge well, in their
philanthropy, in the approbation of their neighbours, and the
distinction which that gives them." [8]

[Footnote 8: See Howard, _Local Constitutional History of the United
States_, vol. i. p. 122.]

[Sidenote: The county was the unit of representation.]
The difference, however, between the New England township and the
Virginia parish, in respect of self-government, was striking enough.
We have now to note a further difference. In New England, as we have
seen, the township was the unit of representation in the colonial
legislature; but in Virginia the parish was not the unit of
representation. The county was that unit. In the colonial legislature
of Virginia the representatives sat not for parishes, but for
counties. The difference is very significant. As the political life of
New England was in a manner built up out of the political life of
the towns, so the political life of Virginia was built up out of the
political life of the counties. This was partly because the vast
plantations were not grouped about a compact village nucleus like the
small farms at the North, and partly because there was not in Virginia
that Puritan theory of the church according to which each congregation
is a self-governing democracy. The conditions which made the New
England town-meeting were absent. The only alternative was some kind
of representative government, and for this the county was a small
enough area. The county in Virginia was much smaller than in
Massachusetts or Connecticut. In a few instances the county consisted
of only a single parish; in some cases it was divided into two
parishes, but oftener into three or more.

[Sidenote: The county court was virtually a close corporation.]
In Virginia, as in England and in New England, the county was an area
for the administration of justice. There were usually in each county
eight justices of the peace, and their court was the counterpart of
the Quarter Sessions in England. They were appointed by the governor,
but it was customary for them to nominate candidates for the governor
to appoint, so that practically the court filled its own vacancies and
was a close corporation, like the parish vestry. Such an arrangement
tended to keep the general supervision and control of things in the
hands of a few families.

This county court usually met as often as once a month in some
convenient spot answering to the shire town of England or New England.
More often than not the place originally consisted of the court-house
and very little else, and was named accordingly from the name of the
county, as Hanover Court House or Fairfax Court House; and the small
shire towns that have grown up in such spots often retain these names
to the present day. Such names occur commonly in Virginia, West
Virginia, and South Carolina, very rarely in Kentucky, North Carolina,
Alabama, Ohio, and nowhere else in the United States.[9] Their number
has diminished from the tendency to omit the phrase "Court House,"
leaving the name of the county for that of the shire town, as for
example in Culpeper, Va. In New England the process of naming has been
just the reverse; as in Hartford County, Conn., or Worcester County,
Mass., which have taken their names from the shire towns. In this,
as in so many cases, whole chapters of history are wrapped up in
geographical names.[10]

[Footnote 9: In Mitchell's Atlas, 1883, the number of cases is in Va.
38, W. Va. 13, S. C. 16, N. C. 2, Ala. 1, Ky. 1, Ohio, 1.]

[Footnote 10: A few of the oldest Virginia counties, organized as
such in 1634, had arisen from the spreading and thinning of single
settlements originally intended to be cities and named accordingly.
Hence the curious names (at first sight unintelligible) of "James City
County," and "Charles City County."]

[Sidenote: Powers of the court]
The county court in Virginia had jurisdiction in criminal actions not
involving peril of life or limb, and in civil suits where the sum at
stake exceeded twenty-five shillings. Smaller suits could be tried
by a single justice. The court also had charge of the probate and
administration of wills. The court appointed its own clerk, who kept
the county records. It superintended the construction and repair of
bridges and highways, and for this purpose divided the county into
"precincts," and appointed annually for each precinct a highway
surveyor. The court also seems to have appointed constables, one for
each precinct. The justices could themselves act as coroners, but
annually two or more coroners for each parish were appointed by the
governor. As we have seen that the parish taxes--so much for salaries
of minister and clerk, so much for care of church buildings, so much
for relief of the poor, etc.--were computed and assessed by the
vestry; so the county taxes, for care of court-house and jail, roads
and bridges, coroner's fees, and allowances to the representatives
sent to the colonial legislature, were computed and assessed by the
county court. The general taxes for the colony were estimated by a
committee of the legislature, as well as the county's share of the
colony tax.

[Sidenote: The sheriff.]
The taxes for the county, and sometimes the taxes for the parish also,
were collected by the sheriff. They were usually paid, not in money,
but in tobacco; and the sheriff was the custodian of this tobacco,
responsible for its proper disposal. The sheriff was thus not only
the officer for executing the judgments of the court, but he was also
county treasurer and collector, and thus exercised powers almost as
great as those of the sheriff in England in the twelfth century. He
also presided over elections for representatives to the legislature.
It is interesting to observe how this very important officer was
chosen. "Each year the court presented the names of three of its
members to the governor, who appointed one, generally the senior
justice, to be the sheriff of the county for the ensuing year." [11]
Here again we see this close corporation, the county court, keeping
the control of things within its own hands.

[Footnote 11: Edward Channing, _op. cit_. p. 478.]

[Sidenote: The county lieutenant]
One other important county officer needs to be mentioned. We have seen
that in early New England each town had its train-band or company of
militia, and that the companies in each county united to form the
county regiment. In Virginia it was just the other way. Each county
raised a certain number of troops, and because it was not convenient
for the men to go many miles from home in assembling for purposes of
drill, the county was subdivided into military districts, each with
its company, according to rules laid down by the governor. The
military command in each county was vested in the county lieutenant,
an officer answering in many respects to the lord lieutenant of
the English shire at that period. Usually he was a member of the
governor's council, and as such exercised sundry judicial functions.
He bore the honorary title of "colonel," and was to some extent
regarded as the governor's deputy; but in later times his duties were
confined entirely to military matters.[12]

[Footnote 12: For an excellent account of local government in Virginia
before the Revolution, see Howard, _Local Const. Hist. of the U.S._,
vol. i. pp. 388-407; also Edward Ingle in _Johns Hopkins Univ.
Studies_, III., ii.-iii.]

If now we sum up the contrasts between local government in Virginia
and that in New England, we observe:--

1. That in New England the management of local affairs was mostly in the
hands of town officers, the county being superadded for certain
purposes, chiefly judicial; while in Virginia the management was chiefly
in the hands of county officers, though certain functions, chiefly
ecclesiastical, were reserved to the parish.

2. That in New England the local magistrates were almost always, with
the exception of justices, chosen by the people; while in Virginia,
though some of them were nominally appointed by the governor, yet in
practice they generally contrived to appoint themselves--in other
words the local boards practically filled their own vacancies and were

[Sidenote: Jefferson's opinion of township government.]
These differences are striking and profound. There can be no doubt
that, as Thomas Jefferson clearly saw, in the long run the interests
of political liberty are much safer under the New England system
than under the Virginia system. Jefferson said, "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[13]....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!" [14]

[Footnote 13: Jefferson's _Works_, vii. 13.]

[Footnote 14: _Id_., vi. 544]

[Sidenote: "Court Day."]
We must, however, avoid the mistake of making too much of this contrast.
As already hinted, in those rural societies where people generally knew
one another, its effects were not so far-reaching as they would be in
the more complicated society of to-day. Even though Virginia had not the
town-meeting, it had its familiar court-day, which was a holiday for
all the country-side, especially in the fall and spring. From all
directions came in the people on horseback, in wagons, and afoot. On the
court-house green assembled, in indiscriminate confusion, people of all
classes,--the hunter from the backwoods, the owner of a few acres, the
grand proprietor, and the grinning, heedless negro. Old debts were
settled, and new ones made; there were auctions, transfers of property,
and, if election times were near, stump-speaking.[15]

[Sidenote: Virginia prolific in great leaders.]
For seventy years or more before the Declaration of Independence the
matters of general public concern, about which stump speeches were made
on Virginia court-days, were very similar to those that were discussed
in Massachusetts town-meetings when representatives were to be chosen
for the legislature. Such questions generally related to some real or
alleged encroachment upon popular liberties by the royal governor, who,
being appointed and sent from beyond sea, was apt to have ideas and
purposes of his own that conflicted with those of the people. This
perpetual antagonism to the governor, who represented British imperial
interference with American local self-government, was an excellent
schooling in political liberty, alike for Virginia and for
Massachusetts. When the stress of the Revolution came, these two leading
colonies cordially supported each other, and their political
characteristics were reflected in the kind of achievements for which
each was especially distinguished. The Virginia system, concentrating
the administration of local affairs in the hands of a few county
families, was eminently favourable for developing skilful and vigorous
leadership. And while in the history of Massachusetts during the
Revolution we are chiefly impressed with the wonderful degree in which
the mass of the people exhibited the kind of political training that
nothing in the world except the habit of parliamentary discussion can
impart; on the other hand, Virginia at that time gave us--in Washington,
Jefferson, Henry, Madison, and Marshall, to mention no others--such a
group of consummate leaders as the world has seldom seen equalled.

[Footnote 15: Ingle, _loc. cit._]


1. Why was Virginia more sparsely settled than Massachusetts?

2. Why was it that towns were built up more slowly in Virginia than in

3. How was the great demand for labour in Virginia met?

4. What distinction of classes naturally arose?

5. Contrast the type of society thus developed in Virginia with that
developed in New England.

6. Compare the Virginia parish in its earlier government with the
English parish from which it was naturally copied.

7. Show how the vestry became a close corporation.

8. Who were usually chosen as vestrymen, and what were their powers?

9. Compare Virginia's unit of representation in the colonial
legislature with that of Massachusetts, and give the reason for the

10. Describe the county court, showing in particular how it became a
close corporation.

11. Bring out some of the history wrapped up in the names of county

12. What were the chief powers of the county court?

13. Describe the assessment of the various taxes.

14. What were the sheriff's duties?

15. Describe the organization and command of the militia in each

16. Sum up the differences between local government in Virginia and
that in New England (1) as to the management of local affairs and (2)
as to the choice of local officers.

17. What did Jefferson think of the principle of township government?

18. What was the equivalent in Virginia of the New England

19. What was the value of this frequent assembling?

20. What schooling in political liberty before the Revolution did
Virginia and Massachusetts alike have?

21. What was an impressive feature of the New England system?

22. What was an impressive feature of the Virginia system?


1. How many counties are there in your state?

2. Name and place them if the number is small.

3. In what county do you live?

4. Give its dimensions. Are they satisfactory? Why?

5. Give its boundaries.

6. Is there anything interesting in the meaning or origin of its name?

7. How many towns and cities does it contain?

8. What is the county seat? Is it conveniently situated? Reasons for
thinking so?

9. If convenient, visit any county building, note the uses to which it
is put, and report such facts as may be thus found out.

10. Obtain a deed, no matter how old, and answer these questions about

a. Is it recorded? If so, where?
b. Would it be easy for you to find
the record?
c. Why should such a record be kept?
d. What officer
has charge of such records?
e. What sort of work must he and his
assistants do?
f. The place of such records is called what?
g. What sort of facilities for the public should such a place have? What
safety precautions should be observed there?
h. Why should the county
keep such records rather than the city or the town?
i. Is there a record of the deed by which the preceding owner came into
possession of the property?
j. What sort of title did the first owner have? Is
there any record of it? Was the first owner Indian or European?

(The teacher might obtain a deed and base a class exercise upon it. It
is easy with a deed for a text to lead pupils to see the common-sense
basis of an important county institution, and thereafter to give very
sensible views as to what it should be, even if it is not fully known
what it is.)

11. Is there a local court for your town or city? 12. How do its cases
compare in magnitude with those tried at the county seat?

13. If a man steals and is prosecuted, who becomes the plaintiff?

14. If a man owes and is sued for debt, who becomes the plaintiff?

15. What is a criminal action?

16. What is a civil action?

17. What is the result to the defendant in the former case, if he is

18. What is the result to the defendant in the latter case, if the
decision is against him?

19. Is lying a crime or a sin? May it ever become a crime?

20. Are courts of any service to the vast numbers who are never
brought before them? Why?

21. May good citizens always keep out of the courts if they choose? Is
it their duty always to keep out of them?

22. Is there any aversion among people that you know to being brought
before the courts? Why?

23. What is the purpose of a jail? Is this purpose realized in fact?

24. Should a disturbance of a serious nature break out in your town,
whose immediate duty would it be to quell it? Suppose this duty should
prove too difficult to perform, then what?

25. What is the attitude of good citizenship towards officers who are
trying to enforce the laws? What is the attitude of good citizenship
if the laws are not satisfactory or if the officers are indiscreet in
enforcing them?

26. Suppose a man of property dies and leaves a will, what troubles
are possible about the disposal of his property? Suppose he leaves no
will, what troubles are possible? Whose duty is it to exercise control
over such matters and hold people up to legal and honourable conduct
in them?

27. What is an executor? What is an administrator?

28. If parents die, whose duty is it to care for their children? If
property is left to such children, are they free to use it as they
please? What has the county to do with such cases?

29. How much does your town or city contribute towards county
expenses? How does this amount compare with that raised by other towns
in the county?

30. Give the organization of your county government.

31. Would it be better for the towns to do themselves the work now
done for them by the county?

* * * * *


Section 1. THE COUNTY IN ITS BEGINNINGS. This subject is treated in
connection with the township in several of the books above mentioned.
See especially Howard, _Local Const. Hist._

Section 2. THE MODERN COUNTY IN MASSACHUSETTS. There is a good account
in Martin's _Text Book_ above mentioned.

Section 3. THE OLD VIRGINIA COUNTY. The best account is in _J.H.U.
Studies_, III., ii.-iii. Edward Ingle, _Virginia Local Institutions._

In dealing with the questions on page 69, both teachers and pupils
will find Dole's _Talks about Law_ (Boston, 1887) extremely
valuable and helpful.



Section 1. _Various Local Systems_.

We have now completed our outline sketch of town and county government
as illustrated in New England on the one hand and in Virginia on the
other. There are some important points in the early history of local
government in other portions of the original thirteen states, to
which we must next call attention; and then we shall be prepared to
understand the manner in which our great western country has been
organized under civil government. We must first say something about
South Carolina and Maryland.

[Sidenote: Parishes in South Carolina.]
South Carolina was settled from half a century to a century later
than Massachusetts and Virginia, and by two distinct streams of
immigration. The lowlands near the coast were settled by Englishmen
and by French Huguenots, but the form of government was purely
English. There were parishes, as in Virginia, but popular election
played a greater part in them. The vestrymen were elected yearly by
all the taxpayers of the parish. The minister was also elected by his
people, and after 1719 each parish sent its representatives to the
colonial legislature, though in a few instances two parishes were
joined together for the purpose of choosing representatives. The
system was thus more democratic than in Virginia; and in this
connection it is worth while to observe that parochial libraries and
free schools were established as early as 1712, much earlier than in

[Sidenote: The back country]
During the first half of the eighteenth century a very different stream
of immigration, coming mostly along the slope of the Alleghanies from
Virginia and Pennsylvania, and consisting in great part of Germans,
Scotch Highlanders, and Scotch-Irish, peopled the upland western regions
of South Carolina. For some time this territory had scarcely any civil
organization. It was a kind of "wild West." There were as yet no
counties in the colony. There was just one sheriff for the whole colony,
who "held his office by patent from the crown." [1] A court sat in
Charleston, but the arm of justice was hardly long enough to reach
offenders in the mountains. "To punish a horse-thief or prosecute a
debtor one was sometimes compelled to travel a distance of several
hundred miles, and be subjected to all the dangers and delays incident
to a wild country." When people cannot get justice in what in civilized
countries is the regular way, they will get it in some irregular way. So
these mountaineers began to form themselves into bands known as
"regulators," quite like the "vigilance committees" formed for the same
purposes in California a hundred years later. For thieves and murderers
the "regulators" provided a speedy trial, and the nearest tree served as
a gallows.

[Footnote 1: B. J. Ramage, in _Johns Hopkins Univ. Studies_, I., xii.]

[Sidenote: The district system.]
In order to put a stop to this lynch law, the legislature in 1768
divided the back country into districts, each with its sheriff and
court-house, and the judges were sent on circuit through these
districts. The upland region with its districts was thus very
differently organized from the lowland region with its parishes, and the
effect was for a while almost like dividing South Carolina into two
states. At first the districts were not allowed to choose their own
sheriffs, but in course of time they acquired this privilege. It was
difficult to apportion the representation in the state legislature so as
to balance evenly the districts in the west against the parishes in the
east, and accordingly there was much dissatisfaction, especially in the
west which did not get its fair share. In 1786 the capital was moved
from Charleston to Columbia as a concession to the back country, and in
1808 a kind of compromise was effected, in such wise that the uplands
secured a permanent majority in the house of representatives, while the
lowlands retained control of the senate. The two sections had each its
separate state treasurer, and this kind of double government lasted
until the Civil War.

[Sidenote: The modern South Carolina county.]
At the close of the war "the parishes were abolished and the district
system was extended to the low country." But soon afterward, by the
new constitution of 1868, the districts were abolished and the state
was divided into 34 counties, each of which sends one senator to the
state senate, while they send representatives in proportion to
their population. In each county the people elect three county
commissioners, a school commissioner, a sheriff, a judge of probate,
a clerk, and a coroner. In one respect the South Carolina county is
quite peculiar: it has no organization for judicial purposes. "The
counties, like their institutional predecessor the district, are
grouped into judicial circuits, and a judge is elected by the
legislature for each circuit. Trial justices are appointed by the
governor for a term of two years."

[Sidenote: The counties are too large.]
This system, like the simple county system everywhere, is a
representative system; the people take no direct part in the
management of affairs. In one respect it seems obviously to need
amendment. In states where county government has grown up naturally,
after the Virginia fashion, the county is apt to be much smaller than
in states where it is simply a district embracing several township
governments. Thus the average size of a county in Massachusetts is 557
square miles, and in Connecticut 594 square miles; but in Virginia
it is only 383 and in Kentucky 307 square miles. In South Carolina,
however, where the county did not grow up of itself, but has been
enacted, so to speak, by a kind of afterthought, it has been made too
large altogether. The average area of the county in South Carolina is
about 1,000 square miles. Charleston County, more than 40 miles in
length and not less than 35 in average width, is larger than the
state of Rhode Island. Such an area is much too extensive for
local self-government. Its different portions are too far apart to
understand each other's local wants, or to act efficiently toward
supplying them; and roads, bridges, and free schools suffer
accordingly. An unsuccessful attempt has been made to reduce the size
of the counties. But what seems perhaps more likely to happen is the
practical division of the counties into school districts, and the
gradual development of these school districts into something like
self-governing townships. To this very interesting point we shall
again have occasion to refer.

[Sidenote: The _hundred_ in Maryland.]
[Sidenote: Clans, brotherhoods, and tribes]
We come now to Maryland. The early history of local institutions in
this state is a fascinating subject of study. None of the American
colonies had a more distinctive character of its own, or reproduced
old English usages in a more curious fashion. There was much in
colonial Maryland, with its lords of the manor, its bailiffs and
seneschals, its courts baron and courts leet, to remind one of the
England of the thirteenth century. But of these ancient institutions,
long since extinct, there is but one that needs to be mentioned in the
present connection. In Maryland the earliest form of civil community
was called, not a parish or township, but a _hundred_. This
curious designation is often met with in English history, and the
institution which it describes, though now almost everywhere extinct,
was once almost universal among men. It will be remembered that the
oldest form of civil society, which is still to be found among some
barbarous races, was that in which families were organized into clans
and clans into tribes; and we saw that among our forefathers in
England the dwelling-place of the clan became the township, and the
home of the tribe became the shire or county. Now, in nearly all
primitive societies that have been studied, we find a group that is
larger than the clan but smaller than the tribe,--or, in other words,
intermediate between clan and tribe. Scholars usually call this group
by its Greek name, _phratry_ or "brotherhood", for it was known
long ago that in ancient Greece clans were grouped into brotherhoods
and brotherhoods into tribes. Among uncivilized people all over the
world we find this kind of grouping. For example, a tribe of North
American Indians is regularly made up of phratries, and the phratries
are made up of clans; and, strange as it might at first seem, a good
many half-understood features of early Greek and Roman society have
had much light thrown upon them from the study of the usages of
Cherokees and Mohawks.

Wherever men have been placed, the problem of forming civil society
has been in its main outlines the same; and in its earlier stages it
has been approached in pretty much the same way by all.

[Sidenote: The hundred court.]
The ancient Romans had the brotherhood, and called it a _curia_.
The Roman people were organized in clans, curies, and tribes. But for
military purposes the curia was called a _century_, because
it furnished a quota of one hundred men to the army. The word
_century_ originally meant a company of a hundred men, and it was
only by a figure of speech that it afterward came to mean a period
of a hundred years. Now among all Germanic peoples, including the
English, the brotherhood seems to have been called the hundred.
Our English forefathers seem to have been organized, like other
barbarians, in clans, brotherhoods, and tribes; and the brotherhood
was in some way connected with the furnishing a hundred warriors to
the host. In the tenth century we find England covered with small
districts known as hundreds. Several townships together made a
hundred, and several hundreds together made a shire. The hundred
was chiefly notable as the smallest area for the administration of
justice. The hundred court was a representative body, composed of the
lords of lands or their stewards, with the reeve and four selected men
and the parish priest from each township. There was a chief magistrate
for the hundred, known originally as the hundredman, but after the
Norman conquest as the high constable.

[Sidenote: Decay of the hundred.]
[Sidenote: Hundred meetings in Maryland]
By the thirteenth century the importance of the hundred had much
diminished. The need for any such body, intermediate between township
and county, ceased to be felt, and the functions of the hundred were
gradually absorbed by the county. Almost everywhere in England, by the
reign of Elizabeth, the hundred had fallen into decay. It is curious
that its name and some of its peculiarities should have been brought
to America, and should in one state have remained to the present day.
Some of the early settlements in Virginia were called hundreds, but
they were practically nothing more than parishes, and the name soon
became obsolete, except upon the map, where we still see, for example,
Bermuda Hundred. But in Maryland the hundred flourished and became the
political unit, like the township in New England. The hundred was the
militia district, and the district for the assessment of taxes. In the
earliest times it was also the representative district; delegates
to the colonial legislature sat for hundreds. But in 1654 this was
changed, and representatives were elected by counties. The officers
of the Maryland hundred were the high constable, the commander of
militia, the tobacco-viewer, the overseer of roads, and the assessor
of taxes. The last-mentioned officer was elected by the people, the
others were all appointed by the governor. The hundred had also its
assembly of all the people, which was in many respects like the New
England town-meeting. These hundred-meetings enacted by-laws, levied
taxes, appointed committees, and often exhibited a vigorous political
life. But after the Revolution they fell into disuse, and in 1824 the
hundred became extinct in Maryland; its organization was swallowed up
in that of the county.

[Sidenote: The hundred in Delaware]
[Sidenote: The levy court, or representative county assembly.]
In Delaware, however, the hundred remains to this day. There it
is simply an imperfectly developed township, but its relations with
the county, as they have stood with but little change since 1743,
are very interesting. Each hundred used to choose its own assessor
of taxes, and every year in the month of November the assessors from
all the hundreds used to meet in the county court-house, along with
three or more justices of the peace and eight grand jurors, and assess
the taxes for the ensuing year. A month later they assembled again,
to hear complaints from persons who considered themselves overtaxed;
and having disposed of this business, they proceeded to appoint
collectors, one for each hundred. This county assembly was known as
the "court of levy and appeal," or more briefly as the levy court.
It appointed the county treasurer, the road commissioners, and the
overseers of the poor. Since 1793 the levy court has been composed
of special commissioners chosen by popular vote, but its essential
character has not been altered. As a thoroughly representative body,
it reminds one of the county courts of the Plantagenet period.

[Sidenote: The old Pennsylvania county.]
We next come to the great middle colonies, Pennsylvania and New York.
The most noteworthy feature of local government in Pennsylvania was
the general election of county officers by popular vote. The county
was the unit of representation in the colonial legislature, and on
election days the people of the county elected at the same time their
sheriffs, coroners, assessors, and county commissioners. In this
respect Pennsylvania furnished a model which has been followed by most
of the states since the Revolution, as regards the county governments.
It is also to be noted that before the Revolution, as Pennsylvania
increased in population, the townships began to participate in the
work of government, each township choosing its overseers of the poor,
highway surveyors, and inspectors of elections.[3]

[Footnote 3: Town-meetings were not quite unknown in Pennsylvania;
see W. P. Holcomb, "Pennsylvania Boroughs," _J. H. U. Studies_,
IV., iv.]

[Sidenote: Town-meetings in New York.]
[Sidenote: The county board of supervisors.]
New York had from the very beginning the rudiments of an excellent
system of local self-government. The Dutch villages had their
assemblies, which under the English rule were developed into
town-meetings, though with less ample powers than those of New
England. The governing body of the New York town consisted of the
constable and eight overseers, who answered in most respects to the
selectmen of New England. Four of the overseers were elected each year
in town-meeting, and one of the retiring overseers was at the same
time elected constable. In course of time the elective offices came
to include assessors and collectors, town clerk, highway surveyors,
fence-viewers, pound-masters, and overseers of the poor. At first
the town-meetings seem to have been held only for the election of
officers, but they acquired to a limited extent the power of levying
taxes and enacting by-laws. In 1703 a law was passed requiring each
town to elect yearly an officer to be known as the "supervisor," whose
duty was "to compute, ascertain, examine, oversee, and allow the
contingent, publick, and necessary charges" of the county.[4] For
this purpose the supervisors met once a year at the county town. The
principle was the same as that of the levy court in Delaware. This
board of supervisors was a strictly representative government, and
formed a strong contrast to the close corporation by which county
affairs were administered in Virginia. The New York system is
of especial interest, because it has powerfully influenced the
development of local institutions throughout the Northwest.

[Footnote 4: Howard, _Local Const. Hist_., i. 111.]


1. Describe the early local government of eastern South Carolina.

2. Describe the early local government of western South Carolina.

3. Explain the difference.

4. What effort was made in 1768 to put a stop to lynch law?

5. What difficulties arose from the attempted adjustment of

6. What compromises were made between the two sections
down to the time of the Civil War?

7. What changes have been made in local government since the
Civil War?

8. Mention a peculiarity of the South Carolina county.

9. Compare its size with that of counties in other states.

10. What disadvantage is due to this great size?

11. What was the earliest form of civil community in Maryland,
and from what source did it come?

12. Trace the development of the hundred in accordance with
the following outline:--

a. Intermediate groups between clans and tribes.
b. Illustrations from Greece and the North American Indians.
c. The Roman century and the German hundred.

13. Describe the English hundred in the tenth century.

14. Describe the hundred court.

15. Describe the Maryland hundred and its decay.

16. What is the relation of the Delaware hundred to the county?

17. Describe the Delaware levy court.

18. What were the prominent features of the Pennsylvania

19. Compare the town-meetings of New York with those of New

20. What was the government of the New York county?

21. How did this government compare with that of the Virginia county?

Section 2. _Settlement of the Public Domain._

[Sidenote: Westward movement of population.]
The westward movement of population in the United States has for the
most part followed the parallels of latitude. Thus Virginians and
North Carolinians, crossing the Alleghanies, settled Kentucky and
Tennessee; thus people from New England filled up the central and
northern parts of New York, and passed on into Michigan and Wisconsin;
thus Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois received many settlers from New York
and Pennsylvania. In the early times when Kentucky was settled, the
pioneer would select a piece of land wherever he liked, and after
having a rude survey made, and the limits marked by "blazing" the
trees with a hatchet, the survey would be put on record in the state
land-office. So little care was taken that half a dozen patents would
sometimes be given for the same tract. Pieces of land, of all shapes
and sizes, lay between the patents.... Such a system naturally begat
no end of litigation, and there remain in Kentucky curious vestiges of
it to this day. [5]

[Footnote 5: Hinsdale, _Old Northwest_, p. 261.]

[Sidenote: Method of surveying the public lands.]
[Sidenote: Origins of Western townships.]
In order to avoid such confusion in the settlement of the territory
north of the Ohio river, Congress passed the land-ordinance of 1785,
which was based chiefly upon the suggestions of Thomas Jefferson, and
laid the foundation of our simple and excellent system for surveying
national lands. According to this system as gradually perfected, the
government surveyors first mark out a north and south line which is
called the _principal meridian_. Twenty-four such meridians have been
established. The first was the dividing line between Ohio and Indiana;
the last one runs through Oregon a little to the west of Portland. On
each side of the principal meridian there are marked off subordinate
meridians called _range [6] Then a true parallel of latitude is drawn,
crossing these meridians at right angles. It is called the _base line_,
or standard parallel. Eleven such base lines, for example, run across
the great state of Oregon. Finally, on each side of the base line are
drawn subordinate parallels called _township lines_, six miles apart,
and numbered north and south from their base line. By these range lines
and township lines the whole land is thus divided into townships just
six miles square, and the townships are all numbered. Take, for example,
the township of Deerfield in Michigan. That is the fourth township north
of the base line, and it is in the fifth range east of the first
principal meridian. It would be called township number 4 north range 5
east, and was so called before it was settled and received a name.
Evidently one must go 24 miles from the principal meridian, or 18 miles
from the base line, in order to enter this township. It is all as simple
as the numbering of streets in Philadelphia.[7]

[Footnote 6: The following is a diagram of the first principal meridian,
and of the base line running across southern Michigan. A B is the
principal meridian; C D is the base line. The figures on the base line
mark the range lines; the figures on the principal meridian mark the
township lines. E is township 4 north in range 5 east; F is township 5
south in range 4 west; G is township 3 north in range 3 west.
[Illustration] As the intervals between meridians diminish as we go
northward, it is sometimes necessary to introduce a correction line, the
nature of which will be seen from the following diagram:--

[Footnote 7: In Philadelphia the streets for the most part cross each
other at right angles and at equal distances, so that the city is laid
out like a checkerboard. The parallel streets running in one direction
have names, often taken from trees. Market Street is the central
street from which the others are reckoned in both directions according
to the couplet

"Market, Arch, Race, and Vine,
Chestnut, Walnut, Spruce, and Pine," etc.

The cross streets are not named but numbered, as First, Second, etc.
The houses on one side of the street have odd numbers and on the other
side even numbers, as is the general custom in the United States. With
each new block a new century of numbers begins, although there are
seldom more than forty real numbers in a block. For example, the
corner house on Market Street, just above Fifteenth, is 1501 Market
Street. At somewhere about 1535 or 1539 you come to Sixteenth Street;
then there is a break in the numbering, and the next corner house is
1601. So in going along a numbered street, say Fifteenth, from Market,
the first number will be 1; after passing Arch, 101; after passing
Race, 201, etc. With this system a very slight familiarity with the
city enables one to find his way to any house, and to estimate the
length of time needful for reaching it. St. Louis and some other large
cities have adopted the Philadelphia plan, the convenience of which
is as great as its monotony. In Washington the streets running in
one direction are lettered A, B, C, etc., and the cross streets are
numbered; and upon the checkerboard plan is superposed another plan in
which broad avenues radiate in various directions from the Capitol,
and a few other centres. These avenues cut through the square system
of streets in all directions, so that instead of the dull checkerboard
monotony there is an almost endless variety of magnificent vistas.]


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