Civil Government in the United States Considered with
Part 3 out of 8
[Sidenote: and of Western counties.]
If now we look at Livingston County, in which, this township of Deerfield
is situated, we observe that the county is made up of sixteen townships,
in four rows of four; and the next county, Washtenaw, is made up of
twenty townships, in five rows of four. Maps of our Western states
are thus apt to have somewhat of a checkerboard aspect, not unlike
the wonderful country which Alice visited after she had gone through
the looking-glass. Square townships are apt to make square or
rectangular counties, and the state, too, is likely to acquire a more
Nothing could be more unlike the jagged, irregular shape of counties
in Virginia or townships in Massachusetts, which grew up just as it
happened. The contrast is similar to that between Chicago, with its
straight streets crossing at right angles, and Boston, or London, with
their labyrinths of crooked lanes. For picturesqueness the advantage
is entirely with the irregular city, but for practical convenience it
is quite the other way. So with our western lands the simplicity and
regularity of the system have made it a marvel of convenience for the
settlers, and doubtless have had much to do with the rapidity with
which civil governments have been built up in the West. "This fact,"
says a recent writer, "will be appreciated by those who know from
experience the ease and certainty with which the pioneer on the
great plains of Kansas, Nebraska, or Dakota is enabled to select his
homestead or 'locate his claim' unaided by the expensive skill of the
[Footnote 8: Howard, _Local Const. Hist. of U. S._, vol. i. p.
[Sidenote: Some effects of the system.]
There was more in it than this, however. There was a germ of
organization planted in these western townships, which must be noted
as of great importance. Each township, being six miles in length and
six miles in breadth, was divided into thirty-six numbered sections,
each containing just one square mile, or 640 acres. Each section,
moreover, was divided into 16 tracts of 40 acres each, and sales to
settlers were and are generally made by tracts at the rate of a dollar
and a quarter per acre. For fifty dollars a man may buy forty acres of
unsettled land, provided he will actually go and settle upon it, and
this has proved to be a very effective inducement for enterprising
young men to "go West." Many a tract thus bought for fifty dollars has
turned out to be a soil upon which princely fortunes have grown. A
tract of forty acres represents to-day in Chicago or Minneapolis an
amount of wealth difficult for the imagination to grasp.
[Sidenote: The reservation for public schools.]
[Sidenote: In this reservation there were the germs of township
But in each of these townships there was at least one section which
was set apart for a special purpose. This was usually the sixteenth
section, nearly in the centre of the township; and sometimes the
thirty-sixth section, in the southeast corner, was also reserved.
These reservations were for the support of public schools. Whatever
money was earned, by selling the land or otherwise, in these sections,
was to be devoted to school purposes. This was a most remarkable
provision. No other nation has ever made a gift for schools on so
magnificent a scale. We have good reason for taking pride in such a
liberal provision. But we ought not to forget that all national
gifts really involve taxation, and this is no exception to the rule,
although in this case it is not a taking of money, but a keeping of it
back. The national government says to the local government, whatever
revenues may come from that section of 640 acres, be they great or
small, be it a spot in a rural grazing district, or a spot in some
crowded city, are not to go into the pockets of individual men and
women, but are to be reserved for public purposes. This is a case of
disguised taxation, and may serve to remind us of what was said some
time ago, that a government _cannot_ give anything without in one
way or another depriving individuals of its equivalent. No man can sit
on a camp-stool and by any amount of tugging at that camp-stool lift
himself over a fence. Whatever is given comes from somewhere,
and whatever is given by governments comes from the people. This
reservation of one square mile in every township for purposes of
education has already most profoundly influenced the development of
local government in our western states, and in the near future its
effects are likely to become still deeper and wider. To mark out a
township on the map may mean very little, but when once you create in
that township some institution that needs to be cared for, you have
made a long stride toward inaugurating township government. When
a state, as for instance Illinois, grows up after the method just
described, what can be more natural than for it to make the township a
body corporate for school purposes, and to authorize its inhabitants
to elect school officers and tax themselves, so far as may be
necessary, for the support of the schools? But the school-house,
in the centre of the township, is soon found to be useful for many
purposes. It is convenient to go there to vote for state officers or
for congressmen and president, and so the school township becomes an
election district. Having once established such a centre, it is almost
inevitable that it should sooner or later be made to serve sundry
other purposes, and become an area for the election of constables,
justices of the peace, highway surveyors, and overseers of the poor.
In this way a vigorous township government tends to grow up about the
school-house as a nucleus, somewhat as in early New England it grew up
about the church.
[Sidenote: At first the county system prevailed.]
This tendency may be observed in almost all the western states and
territories, even to the Pacific coast. When the western country was
first settled, representative county government prevailed almost
everywhere. This was partly because the earliest settlers of the West
came in much greater numbers from the middle and southern states than
from New England. It was also partly because, so long as the country
was thinly settled, the number of people in a township was very small,
and it was not easy to have a government smaller than that of the
county. It was something, however, that the little squares on the
map, by grouping which the counties were made, were already called
townships. There is much in a name. It was still more important that
these townships were only six miles square; for that made it sure
that, in due course of time, when population should have become dense
enough, they would be convenient areas for establishing township
QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT.
1. What feature is conspicuous in the westward movement of population
in the United States?
2. What looseness characterized early surveys in Kentucky?
3. What led to the passage of the land ordinance of 1785?
4. Give the leading features of the government survey of western
lands:--_a_. The principal meridians.
b. The range lines,
c. The base lines.
d. The township lines.
5. Illustrate the application of the system in the case of a town.
6. Contrast in shape western townships and counties with corresponding
divisions in Massachusetts and Virginia.
7. Contrast them in convenience and in picturesqueness.
8. What had the convenience of the government system to do with the
settlement of the West?
9. What were the divisions of the township, and what disposition was
made of them?
10. What important reservations were made in the townships?
11. Show how these reservations involved a kind of taxation.
12. What profound influence has the reservation for schools exerted
upon local government?
13. Why did the county system prevail at first?
Section 3. _The Representative Township-County System in the
[Sidenote: The town-meeting in Michigan.] The first western state to
adopt the town-meeting was Michigan, where the great majority of the
settlers had come from New England, or from central New York, which
was a kind of westward extension of New England. Counties were
established in Michigan Territory in 1805, and townships were first
incorporated in 1825. This was twelve years before Michigan became a
state. At first the powers of the town-meeting were narrowly
limited. It elected the town and county officers, but its power of
appropriating money seems to have been restricted to the purpose
of extirpating noxious animals and weeds. In 1827, however, it was
authorized to raise money for the support of schools, and since then
its powers have steadily increased, until now they approach those of
the town-meeting in Massachusetts.
[Footnote 9: "Of the 496 members of the Michigan Pioneer Association
in 1881, 407 are from these sections" [New England and New York].
Bemis, _Local Government in Michigan and the Northwest_, J. H. U.
Studies, I., v]
[Sidenote: Settlement of Illinois.]
The history of Illinois presents an extremely interesting example of
rivalry and conflict between the town system of New England and the
county system of the South. Observe that this great state is so long
that, while the parallel of latitude starting from its northern
boundary runs through Marblehead in Massachusetts, the parallel
through its southernmost point, at Cairo, runs a little south of
Petersburg in Virginia. In 1818, when Illinois framed its state
government and was admitted to the Union, its population was chiefly
in the southern half, and composed for the most part of pioneers from
Virginia and Virginia's daughter-state Kentucky. These men brought
with them the old Virginia county system, but with the very great
difference that the county officers were not appointed by the
governor, or allowed to be a self-perpetuating board, but were elected
by the people of the county. This was a true advance in the democratic
direction, but an essential defect of the southern system remained in
the absence of any kind of local meeting for the discussion of public
affairs and the enactment of local laws.
[Sidenote: Effects of the Ordinance of 1787.]
By the famous Ordinance of 1787, to which we shall again have occasion
to refer, negro slavery had been forever prohibited to the north of
the Ohio river, so that, in spite of the wishes of her early settlers,
Illinois was obliged to enter the Union as a free state. But in 1820
Missouri was admitted as a slave state, and this turned the stream of
southern migration aside from Illinois to Missouri. These emigrants,
to whom slaveholding was a mark of social distinction, preferred to
go where they could own slaves. About the same time settlers from New
England and New York, moving along the southern border of Michigan
and the northern borders of Ohio and Indiana, began pouring into
the northern part of Illinois. These new-comers did not find the
representative county system adequate for their needs, and they
demanded township government. A memorable political struggle ensued
between the northern and southern halves of the state, ending in 1848
with the adoption of a new constitution. It was provided that the
legislature should enact a general law for the political organization
of townships, under which any county might act whenever a majority of
its voters should so determine. This was introducing the principle
of local option, and in accordance therewith township governments with
town-meetings were at once introduced in the northern counties of the
state, while the southern counties kept on in the old way. Now comes
the most interesting part of the story. The two systems being thus
brought into immediate contact in the same state, with free choice
between them left to the people, the northern system has slowly but
steadily supplanted the southern system, until at the present day only
one fifth part of the counties in Illinois remain without township
[Footnote 10: Shaw, _Local Government if Illinois_, J. H. U.
Studies, I., iii.]
[Sidenote: Intense vitality of the township system.]
This example shows the intense vitality of the township system. It is
the kind of government that people are sure to prefer when they
have tried it under favourable conditions. In the West the hostile
conditions against which it has to contend are either the recent
existence of negro slavery and the ingrained prejudice in favour of
the Virginia method, as in Missouri; or simply the sparseness of
population, as in Nebraska. Time will evidently remove the latter
obstacle, and probably the former also. It is very significant that in
Missouri, which began so lately as 1879 to erect township governments
under a local option law similar to that of Illinois, the process
has already extended over about one sixth part of the state; and in
Nebraska, where the same process began in 1883, it has covered nearly
one third of the organized counties of the state.
[Sidenote: County option and township option.]
The principle of local option as to government has been carried still
farther in Minnesota and Dakota. The method just described may be
called county option; the question is decided by a majority vote of
the people of the county. But in Minnesota in 1878 it was enacted that
as soon as any one of the little square townships in that state should
contain as many as twenty-five legal voters, it might petition the
board of county commissioners and obtain a township organization, even
though, the adjacent townships in the same county should remain under
county government only. Five years later the same provision was
adopted by Dakota, and under it township government is steadily
[Sidenote: Grades of township government.]
Two distinct grades of township government are to be observed in the
states west of the Alleghanies; the one has the town-meeting for
deliberative purposes, the other has not. In Ohio and Indiana, which
derived their local institutions largely from Pennsylvania, there is
no such town-meeting, the administrative offices are more or less
concentrated in a board of trustees, and the town is quite subordinate
to the county. The principal features of this system have been
reproduced in Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas.
The other system, was that which we have seen beginning in
Michigan, under the influence of New York and New England. Here the
town-meeting, with legislative powers, is always present. The most
noticeable feature of the Michigan system is the relation between
township and county, which was taken from New York. The county board
is composed of the supervisors of the several townships, and thus
represents the townships. It is the same in Illinois. It is held
by some writers that this is the most perfect form of local
government, but on the other hand the objection is made that county
boards thus constituted are too large. We have seen that in the
states in question there are not less than 16, and sometimes more than
20, townships in each county. In a board of 16 or 20 members it is
hard to fasten responsibility upon anybody in particular; and thus
it becomes possible to have "combinations," and to indulge in that
exchange of favours known as "log-rolling," which is one of the
besetting sins of all large representative bodies. Responsibility
is more concentrated in the smaller county boards of Massachusetts,
Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
[Footnote 11: Howard, _Local Const. Hist._, passim.]
[Footnote 12: Bemis, _Local Government in Michigan_, J. H. U.
Studies, I., v.]
[Sidenote: An excellent result of the absence of centralization in the
It is one signal merit of the peaceful and untrammelled way in which
American institutions have grown up, the widest possible scope being
allowed to individual and local preferences, that different states
adopt different methods of attaining the great end at which all are
aiming in common,--good government. One part of our vast country can
profit by the experience of other parts, and if any system or method
thus comes to prevail everywhere in the long run, it is likely to
be by reason of its intrinsic excellence. Our country affords an
admirable field for the study of the general principles which lie at
the foundations of universal history. Governments, large and small,
are growing up all about us, and in such wise that we can watch
the processes of growth, and learn lessons which, after making due
allowances for difference of circumstance, are very helpful in the
study of other times and countries.
The general tendency toward the spread of township government in the
more recently settled parts of the United States is unmistakable, and
I have already remarked upon the influence of the public school system
in aiding this tendency. The school district, as a preparation for
the self-governing township, is already exerting its influence in
Colorado, Nevada, California, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and
[Sidenote: Township government is germinating in the South.]
Something similar is going on in the southern states, as already
hinted in the case of South Carolina. Local taxation for school
purposes has also been established in Kentucky and Tennessee, in both
Virginias, and elsewhere. There has thus begun a most natural and
wholesome movement, which might easily be checked, with disastrous
results, by the injudicious appropriation of national revenue for
the aid of southern schools. It is to be hoped that throughout the
southern, states, as formerly in Michigan, the self-governing school
district may prepare the way for the self-governing township, with its
deliberative town-meeting. Such a growth must needs be slow, inasmuch
as it requires long political training on the part of the negroes and
the lower classes of white people; but it is along such a line of
development that such political training can best be acquired; and in
no other way is complete harmony between the two races so likely to be
[Sidenote: woman suffrage.]
Dr. Edward Bemis, who in a profoundly interesting essay has called
attention to this function of the school district as a stage in the
evolution of the township, remarks also upon the fact that "it is in
the local government of the school district that woman suffrage is
being tried." In several states women may vote for school committees,
or may be elected to school committees, or to sundry administrative
school offices. At present (1894) there are not less than twenty-one
states in which women have school suffrage. In Colorado and Wyoming
women have full suffrage, voting at municipal, state, and
national elections. In Kansas they have municipal suffrage, and a
constitutional amendment granting them full suffrage is now awaiting
ratification. In England, it may be observed, unmarried women and
widows who pay taxes vote not only on school matters, but generally in
the local elections of vestries, boroughs, and poor-law unions. In
the new Parish Councils Bill this municipal suffrage is extended
to married women. In the Isle of Man women vote for members of
Parliament. In Australia they have long had municipal suffrage, and in
1893 they were endowed with full rights of suffrage in New Zealand.
[Footnote 13: Local Government in Michigan and the Northwest, J.H.U.
Studies, I., v.]
The historical reason why the suffrage has so generally been
restricted to men is perhaps to be sought in the conditions under
which voting originated. In primeval times voting was probably adopted
as a substitute for fighting. The smaller and presumably weaker party
yielded to the larger without an actual trial of physical strength;
heads were counted instead of being broken. Accordingly it was only
the warriors who became voters. The restriction of political activity
to men has also probably been emphasized by the fact that all the
higher civilizations have passed through a well-defined patriarchal
stage of society in which each household was represented by its
oldest warrior. From present indications it would seem that under the
conditions of modern industrial society the arrangements that have so
long subsisted are likely to be very essentially altered.
QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT.
1. Describe the origin and development of the town-meeting in
2. Describe the settling of southern Illinois.
3. Describe the settling of northern Illinois.
4. What difference in thought and feeling existed between these
5. What systems of local government came into rivalry in Illinois, and
6. What compromise between them was put into the state constitution?
7. Which system, the town or the county, has shown the greater
vitality, and why?
8. What obstacles has the town system to work against?
9. Show how the principle of local option in government has been
applied in Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Dakota.
10. What two grades of town government exist west of the Alleghanies?
11. What objection exists to large county boards of government?
12. Why is our country an excellent field for the study of the
principles of government?
13. What unmistakable tendency in the ease of township government is
14. Speak of township government in the South.
15. What part have women in the affairs of the school district in many
16. What is the historical reason why suffrage has been restricted to
SUGGESTIVE QUESTIONS AND DIRECTIONS.
It may need to be repeated (see page 12) that it is not expected
that each pupil shall answer all the miscellaneous questions put, or
respond to all the suggestions made in this book. Indeed, the teacher
may be pardoned if now and then he finds it difficult himself to
answer a question,--particularly if it is framed to provoke thought
rather than lead to a conclusion, or if it is better fitted for some
other community or part of the country than that in which he lives.
Let him therefore divide the questions among his pupils, or assign to
them selected questions. In cases that call for special knowledge,
let the topics go to pupils who may have exceptional facilities for
information at home.
The important point is not so much the settlement of all the questions
proposed as it is the encouragement of the inquiring and thinking spirit
on the part of the pupil.
1. What impression do you get from this chapter about the hold of town
government upon popular favour?
2. What do you regard as the best features of town government?
3. Is there any tendency anywhere to divide towns into smaller towns? If
it exists, illustrate and explain it.
4. Is there any tendency anywhere to unite towns into larger towns or
into cities? If it exists, illustrate and explain it.
5. In every town-meeting there are leaders,--usually men of character,
ability, and means. Do you understand that these men practically have
their own way in town affairs,--that the voters as a whole do but little
more than fall in with the wishes and plans of their leaders? Or is
there considerable independence in thought and action on the side of the
6. Can a town do what it pleases, or is it limited in its action? If
limited, by whom or by what is it restricted, and where are the
restrictions recorded? (Consult the Statutes.)
7. Why should the majority rule in town-meeting? Suggest, if possible, a
8. Is it, on the whole, wise that the vote of the poor man shall count
as much as that of the rich, the vote of the ignorant as much as that of
the intelligent, the vote of the unprincipled as much as that of the
9. Have the poor, the ignorant, or the unprincipled any interests to be
regarded in government?
10. Is the single vote a man casts the full measure of his influence and
power in the town-meeting?
11. What are the objections to a suffrage restricted by property and
intellectual qualifications? To a suffrage unrestricted by such
12. Do women vote in your town? If so, give some account of their voting
and of the success or popularity of the plan.
13. Is lynch law ever justifiable?
14. Ought those who resort to lynch law to be punished? If so, for what?
15. Compare the condition or government of a community where lynch law
is resorted to with the condition or government of a community where it
16. May the citizen who is not an officer of the law interfere (1) to
stop the fighting of boys in the public streets, (2) to capture a thief
who is plying his trade, (3) to defend a person who is brutally
assaulted? Is there anything like lynch law i.e. such interference? Where
does the citizen's duty begin and end In such cases?
17. How came the United States to own the public domain or any part of
it? (Consult my _Critical Period of Amer. Hist_., pp. 187-207.)
18. How does this domain get into the possession of individuals?
19. Is it right for the United States to give any part of it away? If
right, under what conditions is it right? If wrong, under what
conditions is It wrong?
20. What is the "homestead act" of the United States, and what is its
21. Can perfect squares of the same size be laid out with the range and
township lines of the public surveys? Are all the sections of a township
of the same size? Explain.
Section 1. VARIOUS LOCAL SYSTEMS.--_J.H.V. Studies_, I., vi.,
Edward Ingle, _Parish Institutions of Maryland_; I., vii., John
Johnson, _Old Maryland Manors_; I., xii., B.J. Ramage, _Local
Government and Free Schools in South Carolina_; III., v.-vii., L.
W. Wilhelm, _Local Institutions of Maryland_; IV., i., Irving
Elting, _Dutch Village Communities on the Hudson River_.
Section 2. SETTLEMENT OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.--_J. H. U. Studies_,
III., i. H. B. Adams, _Maryland's Influence upon Land Cessions to
the United States_; IV., vii.-ix., Shoshuke Sato, _History of the
Land Question in the United States_.
Section 3. THE REPRESENTATIVE TOWNSHIP-COUNTY SYSTEM.--_J H. U.
Studies_, I., iii., Albert Shaw, _Local Government in Illinois_; I., v.,
Edward Bemis, _Local Government in Michigan and the Northwest_; II.,
vii., Jesse Macy, _Institutional Beginnings in a Western State (Iowa)_.
For farther illustration of one set of institutions supervening upon
another, see also V., v.-vi., J. G. Bourinot, _Local Government in
Canada_; VIII., in., D. E. Spencer, _Local Government in Wisconsin_.
Section 1. _Direct and Indirect Government_.
[Sidenote: Summary of foregoing results.]
In the foregoing survey of local institutions and their growth, we
have had occasion to compare and sometimes to contrast two different
methods of government as exemplified on the one hand in the township
and on the other hand in the county. In the former we have direct
government by a primary assembly, the town-meeting; in the latter
we have indirect government by a representative board. If the county
board, as in colonial Virginia, perpetuates itself, or is appointed
otherwise than by popular vote, it is not strictly a representative
board, in the modern sense of the phrase; the government is a kind of
oligarchy. If, as in colonial Pennsylvania, and in the United States
generally to-day, the county board consists of officers elected by
the people, the county government is a representative democracy. The
township government, on the other hand, as exemplified in New England
and in the northwestern states which have adopted it, is a pure
democracy. The latter, as we have observed, has one signal advantage
over all other kinds of government, in so far as it tends to make
every man feel that the business of government is part of his own
business, and that where he has a stake in the management of public
affairs he has also a voice. When people have got into the habit of
leaving local affairs to be managed by representative boards, their
active interest in local affairs is liable to be somewhat weakened, as
all energies in this world are weakened, from want of exercise. When
some fit subject of complaint is brought up, the individual is too apt
to feel that it is none of his business to furnish a remedy, let the
proper officers look after it. He can vote at elections, which is a
power; he can perhaps make a stir in the newspapers, which is also a
power; but personal participation in town-meeting is likewise a
power, the necessary loss of which, as we pass to wider spheres of
government, is unquestionably to be regretted.
[Footnote 1: A primary assembly is one in which the members attend of
their own right, without having been elected to it; a representative
assembly is composed of elected delegates.]
[Sidenote: Direct government impossible in a county.]
Nevertheless the loss is inevitable. A primary assembly of all the
inhabitants of a county, for purposes of local government, is out
of the question. There must be representative government, for this
purpose the county system, an inheritance from the ancient English
shire, has furnished the needful machinery. Our county government is
near enough to the people to be kept in general from gross abuses of
power. There are many points which can be much better decided in
small representative bodies than in large miscellaneous meetings. The
responsibility of our local boards has been fairly well preserved. The
county system has had no mean share in keeping alive the spirit of
local independence and self-government among our people. As regards
efficiency of administration, it has achieved commendable success,
except in the matter of rural highways; and if our roads are worse
than those of any other civilized country, that is due not so much
to imperfect administrative methods as to other causes,--such as the
sparseness of population, the fierce extremes of sunshine and frost,
and the fact that since this huge country began to be reclaimed from
the wilderness, the average voter, who has not travelled in Europe,
knows no more about good roads than he knows about the temples of
Paestum or the pictures of Tintoretto, and therefore does not realize
what demands he may reasonably make.
This last consideration applies in some degree, no doubt, to the
ill-paved and filthy streets which are the first things to arrest
one's attention in most of our great cities. It is time for us now to
consider briefly our general system of city government, in its origin
and in some of its most important features.
[Sidenote: The Boston town-meeting in 1820.]
Representative government in counties is necessitated by the extent of
territory covered; in cities it is necessitated by the multitude
of people. When the town comes to have a very large population, it
becomes physically impossible to have town-meetings. No way could be
devised by which all the taxpayers of the city of New York could be
assembled for discussion. In 1820 the population of Boston was about
40,000, of whom rather more than 7,000 were voters qualified to attend
the town-meetings. Consequently when a town-meeting was held on any
exciting subject in Faneuil Hall, those only who obtained places near
the moderator could even hear the discussion. A few busy or interested
individuals easily obtained the management of the most important
affairs in an assembly in which the greater number could have neither
voice nor hearing. When the subject was not generally exciting,
town-meetings were usually composed of the selectmen, the town
officers, and thirty or forty inhabitants. Those who thus came were
for the most part drawn to it from some official duty or private
interest, which, when performed or attained, they generally troubled
themselves but little, or not at all, about the other business of the
[Footnote 2: Quincy's _Municipal History of Boston_, p. 28.]
Under these circumstances it was found necessary in 1822 to drop
the town-meeting altogether and devise a new form of government for
Boston. After various plans had been suggested and discussed, it was
decided that the new government should be vested in a Mayor; a select
council of eight persons to be called the Board of Aldermen; and a
Common Council of forty-eight persons, four from each of twelve wards
into which the city was to be divided. All these officials were to be
elected by the people. At the same time the official name "Town of
Boston" was changed to "City of Boston."
[Sidenote: Distinctions between towns and cities.]
There is more or less of history involved in these offices and
designations, to which we may devote a few words of explanation. In
New England local usage there is an ambiguity in the word "town."
As an official designation it means the inhabitants of a township
considered as a community or corporate body. In common parlance it
often means the patch of land constituting the township on the map, as
when we say that Squire Brown's elm is "the biggest tree in town." But
it still oftener means a collection of streets, houses, and families
too large to be called a village, but without the municipal government
that characterizes a city. Sometimes it is used _par excellence_
for a city, as when an inhabitant of Cambridge, itself a large
suburban city, speaks of going to Boston as going "into town." But
such cases are of course mere survivals from the time when the suburb
was a village. In American usage generally the town is something
between village and city, a kind of inferior or incomplete city. The
image which it calls up in the mind is of something urban and not
rural. This agrees substantially with the usage in European history,
where "town" ordinarily means a walled town or city as contrasted with
a village. In England the word is used either in this general sense,
or more specifically as signifying an inferior city, as in America.
But the thing which the town lacks, as compared with the complete
city, is very different in America from what it is in England. In
America it is municipal government--with mayor, aldermen, and common
council--which must be added to the town in order to make it a city.
In England the town may (and usually does) have this municipal
government; but it is not distinguished by the Latin name "city"
unless it has a cathedral and a bishop. Or in other words the English
city is, or has been, the capital of a diocese. Other towns in England
are distinguished as "boroughs," an old Teutonic word which was
originally applied to towns as _fortified_ places. The voting
inhabitants of an English city are called "citizens;" those of
a borough are called "burgesses." Thus the official corporate
designation of Cambridge is "the mayor, aldermen, and _burgesses_
of Cambridge;" but Oxford is the seat of a bishopric, and its
corporate designation is "the mayor, aldermen, and _citizens_ of
[Footnote 3: The word appears in many town names, such as
_Edinburgh, Scarborough, Canterbury, Bury St. Edmunds_; and
on the Continent, as _Hamburg, Cherbourg, Burgos_, etc. In
Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, the name
"borough" is applied to a certain class of municipalities with some of
the powers of cities.]
QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT.
1. What is the essential difference between township government
and county government?
2. What is the distinct advantage of the former?
3. Why is direct government impossible in the county?
4. Speak of the degree of efficiency in county government.
5. Why is direct government impossible in a city?
6. What difficulties in direct government were experienced in
Boston in 1820 and many years preceding?
7. What remedy for these difficulties was adopted?
8. Show how the word "town" is used to indicate
a. The land of a township.
b. A somewhat large collection of streets, houses, and families.
c. And even, in some instances, a city.
9. What is the town commonly understood to be in American
10. What is the difference in the United States between a town
and a city?
11. What is the difference in England between a town and a
12. Distinguish between citizens and burgesses in England.
Section 2. _Origin of English Boroughs and Cities_.
[Sidenote: Coalescence of towns to fortified boroughs.]
What, then, was the origin of the English borough or city? In the days
when Roman legions occupied for a long time certain military stations in
Britain, their camps were apt to become centres of trade and thus to
grow into cities. Such places were generally known as _casters_ or
_chesters_, from the Latin _castra_, "camp," and there are many of them
on the map of England to-day. But these were exceptional cases. As a
rule the origin of the borough was as purely English as its name. We
have seen that the town was originally the dwelling-place of a
stationary clan, surrounded by palisades or by a dense quickset hedge.
Now where such small enclosed places were thinly scattered about they
developed simply into villages. But where, through the development of
trade or any other cause, a good many of them grew up close together
within a narrow compass, they gradually coalesced into a kind of
compound town; and with the greater population and greater wealth, there
was naturally more elaborate and permanent fortification than that of
the palisaded village. There were massive walls and frowning turrets,
and the place came to be called a fortress or "borough." The borough,
then, was simply several townships packed tightly together; a hundred
smaller in extent and thicker in population than other hundreds.
[Footnote 4: Freeman, _Norman Conquest_, vol. v. p. 466. For a
description of the _hundred_, see above, pp. 75-80.]
[Sidenote: The borough as a hundred.]
From this compact and composite character of the borough came several
important results. We have seen that the hundred was the smallest area
for the administration of justice. The township was in many respects
self-governing, but it did not have its court, any more than the New
England township of the present day has its court. The lowest court
was that of the hundred, but as the borough was equivalent to a
hundred it soon came to have its own court. And although much
obscurity still surrounds the early history of municipal government in
England, it is probable that this court was a representative board,
like any other hundred court, and that the relation of the borough to
its constituent townships resembled the relation of the modern city to
its constituent wards.
[Sidenote: The borough as a county.]
But now as certain boroughs grew larger and annexed outlying
townships, or acquired adjacent territory which presently became
covered with streets and houses, their constitution became still more
complex. The borough came to embrace several closely packed hundreds,
and thus became analogous to a shire. In this way it gained for itself
a sheriff and the equivalent of a county court. For example, under the
charter granted by Henry I. in 1101, London was expressly recognized
as a county by itself. Its burgesses could elect their own chief
magistrate, who was called the port-reeve, inasmuch as London is a
seaport; in some other towns he was called the borough-reeve. He was
at once the chief executive officer and the chief judge. The burgesses
could also elect their sheriff, although in all rural counties Henry's
father, William the Conqueror, had lately deprived the people of
this privilege and appointed the sheriffs himself. London had its
representative board, or council, which was the equivalent of a county
court. Each ward, moreover, had its own representative board, which
was the equivalent of a hundred court. Within the wards, or hundreds,
the burgesses were grouped together in township, parish, or manor....
Into the civic organization of London, to whose special privileges
all lesser cities were ever striving to attain, the elements of local
administration embodied in the township, the hundred, and the shire
thus entered as component parts. Constitutionally, therefore,
London was a little world in itself, and in a less degree the same was
true of other cities and boroughs which afterwards obtained the same
kind of organization, as for example, York and Newcastle, Lincoln and
Norwich, Southampton and Bristol.
[Footnote 5: Hannis Taylor, _Origin and Growth of the English
Constitution_, vol. i. p. 458.]
[Sidenote: The guilds.]
[Sidenote: mayor, aldermen, and common council.]
In such boroughs or cities all classes of society were brought into
close contact,--barons and knights, priests and monks, merchants and
craftsmen, free labourers and serfs. But trades and manufactures,
which always had so much to do with the growth of the city, acquired
the chief power and the control of the government. From an early
period tradesmen and artisans found it worth while to form themselves
into guilds or brotherhoods, in order to protect their persons and
property against insult and robbery at the hands of great lords and
their lawless military retainers. Thus there came to be guilds, or
"worshipful companies," of grocers, fishmongers, butchers, weavers,
tailors, ironmongers, carpenters, saddlers, armourers, needle-makers,
etc. In large towns there was a tendency among such trade guilds
to combine in a "united brotherhood," or "town guild," and this
organization at length acquired full control of the city government.
In London this process was completed in the course of the thirteenth
century. To obtain the full privileges of citizenship one had to
be enrolled in a guild. The guild hall became the city hall. The
_aldermen_, or head men of sundry guilds, became the head men
of the several wards. There was a representative board, or _common
council_, elected by the citizens. The aldermen and common council
held their meetings in the Guildhall, and over these meetings presided
the chief magistrate, or port-reeve, who by this time, in accordance
with the fashion then prevailing, had assumed the French title of
_mayor_. As London had come to be a little world in itself,
so this city government reproduced on a small scale the national
government; the mayor answering to the king, the aristocratic board of
aldermen to the House of Lords, and the democratic common council to
the House of Commons. A still more suggestive comparison, perhaps,
would be between the aldermen and our federal Senate, since the
aldermen represented wards, while the common council represented the
[Sidenote: The city of London.]
The constitution thus perfected in the city of London six hundred
years ago has remained to this day without essential change. The voters
are enrolled members of companies which represent the ancient guilds.
Each year they choose one of the aldermen to be lord mayor. Within the
city he has precedence next to the sovereign and before the royal
family; elsewhere he ranks as an earl, thus indicating the equivalence
of the city to a county, and with like significance he is lord
lieutenant of the city and justice of the peace. The twenty-six
aldermen, one for each ward, are elected by the people, such as are
entitled to vote for members of parliament; they are justices of the
peace. The common councilmen, 206 in number, are also elected by the
people, and their legislative power within the city is practically
supreme; parliament does not think of overruling it. And the city
government thus constituted is one of the most clean-handed and
efficient in the world.
[Footnote 6: The city of London extends east and west from the Tower
to Temple Bar, and north and south from Finsbury to the Thames, with
a population of not more than 100,000, and is but a small part of the
enormous metropolitan area now known as London, which is a circle of
twelve miles radius in every direction from its centre at Charing
Cross, with a population of more than 5,000,000. This vast area is an
agglomeration of many parishes, manors, etc., and has no municipal
government in common.]
[Footnote 7: Loftie, _History of London _, vol. i. p. 446]
[Sidenote: English cities, the bulwarks of liberty.]
The development of other English cities and boroughs was so far like
that of London that merchant guilds generally obtained control, and
government by mayor, aldermen, and common council came to be the
prevailing type. Having also their own judges and sheriffs, and not
being obliged to go outside of their own walls to obtain justice, to
enforce contracts and punish crime, their efficiency as independent
self-governing bodies was great, and in many a troubled time they
served as staunch bulwarks of English liberty. The strength of their
turreted walls was more than supplemented by the length of their
purses, and such immunity from the encroachments of lords and king
as they could not otherwise win, they contrived to buy. Arbitrary
taxation they generally escaped by compounding with the royal
exchequer in a fixed sum or quit-rent, known as the _firma
burgi_. We have observed the especial privilege which Henry I.
confirmed to London, of electing its own sheriff. London had been
prompt in recognizing his title to the crown, and such support, in
days when the succession was not well regulated, no prudent king could
afford to pass by without some substantial acknowledgment. It was
never safe for any king to trespass upon the liberties of London, and
through the worst times that city has remained a true republic with
liberal republican sentiments. If George III. could have been guided
by the advice of London, as expressed by its great alderman Beckford,
the American colonies would not have been driven into rebellion.
[Sidenote: Simon de Montfort and the cities.]
The most signal part played by the English boroughs and cities, in
securing English freedom, dates from the thirteenth century, when
the nation was vaguely struggling for representative government on a
national scale, as a means of curbing the power of the crown. In that
memorable struggle, the issue of which to some extent prefigured
the shape that the government of the United States was to take five
hundred years afterward, the cities and boroughs supported Simon de
Montfort, the leader of the popular party and one of the foremost
among the heroes and martyrs of English liberty. Accordingly on the
morrow of his decisive victory at Lewes in 1264, when for the moment
he stood master of England, as Cromwell stood four centuries later
Simon called a parliament to settle the affairs of the kingdom, and
to this parliament he invited, along with the lords who came by
hereditary custom, not only two elected representatives from each
rural county, but also two elected representatives from each city and
borough. In this parliament, which met in 1265, the combination of
rural with urban representatives brought all parts of England together
in a grand representative body, the House of Commons, with interests
in common; and thus the people presently gained power enough to defeat
all attempts to establish irresponsible government, such as we call
despotism, on the part of the crown.
[Sidenote: Oligarchical abuses in English cities (cir. 1500-1835).]
If we look at the later history of English cities and boroughs, it
appears that, in spite of the splendid work which they did for the
English people at large, they did not always succeed in preserving
their own liberties unimpaired. London, indeed, has always maintained
its character as a truly representative republic. But in many English
cities, during the Tudor and Stuart periods, the mayor and aldermen
contrived to dispense with popular election, and thus to become close
corporations or self-perpetuating oligarchical bodies. There was a
notable tendency toward this sort of irresponsible government in
the reign of James I., and the Puritans who came to the shores of
Massachusetts Bay were inspired with a feeling of revolt against such
methods. This doubtless lent an emphasis to the mood in which they
proceeded to organize themselves into free self-governing townships.
The oligarchical abuses in English cities and boroughs remained until
they were swept away by the great Municipal Reform Act of 1835.
[Sidenote: Government of the city of New York (1686-1821).]
The first city governments established in America were framed in
conscious imitation of the corresponding institutions in England.
The oldest city government in the United States is that of New York.
Shortly after the town was taken from the Dutch in 1664, the new
governor, Colonel Nichols, put an end to its Dutch form of government,
and appointed a mayor, five aldermen, and a sheriff. These officers
appointed inferior officers, such as constables, and little or nothing
was left to popular election. But in 1686, under Governor Dongan,
New York was regularly incorporated and chartered as a city. Its
constitution bore an especially close resemblance to that of Norwich,
then the third city in England in size and importance. The city of New
York was divided into six wards. The governing corporation consisted
of the mayor, the recorder, the town-clerk, six aldermen, and six
assistants. All the land not taken up by individual owners was granted
as public land to the corporation, which in return paid into the
British exchequer one beaver-skin yearly. This was a survival of the
old quit-rent or _firma burgi_. The city was made a county,
and thus had its court, its sheriff and coroner, and its high
constable. Other officers were the chamberlain or treasurer, seven
inferior constables, a sergeant-at-arms, and a clerk of the market,
who inspected weights and measures, and punished delinquencies in the
use of them. The principal judge was the recorder, who, as we have
just seen, was one of the corporation. The aldermen, assistants, and
constables were elected annually by the people; but the mayor and
sheriff were appointed by the governor. The recorder, town-clerk, and
clerk of the market were to be appointed by the king, but in case
the king neglected to act, these appointments also were made by the
governor. The high constable was appointed by the mayor, the treasurer
by the mayor, aldermen, and assistants, who seem to have answered
to the ordinary common council. The mayor, recorder, and aldermen,
without the assistants, were a judicial body, and held a weekly court
of common pleas. When the assistants were added, the whole became a
legislative body empowered to enact by-laws.
[Footnote 8: Jameson, "The Municipal Government of New York," _Mag.
Amer. Hist_., vol. viii. p. 609.]
Although this charter granted very imperfect powers of
self-government, the people contrived to live under it for a hundred
and thirty-five years, until 1821. Before the Revolution their
petitions succeeded in obtaining only a few unimportant amendments.
When the British army captured the city in September, 1776, it was
forthwith placed under martial law, and so remained until the army
departed in November, 1783. During those seven years New York was not
altogether a comfortable place in which to live. After 1783 the city
government remained as before, except that the state of New York
assumed the control formerly exercised by the British crown. Mayor and
recorder, town-clerk and sheriff, were now appointed by a council of
appointment consisting of the governor and four senators. This did not
work well, and the constitution of 1821 gave to the people the power
of choosing their sheriff and town-clerk, while the mayor was to be
elected by the common council. Nothing but the appointment of the
recorder remained in the hands of the governor. Thus nearly forty
years after the close of the War of Independence the city of New York
acquired self-government as complete as that of the city of London.
In 1857, as we shall see, this self-government was greatly curtailed,
with results more or less disastrous.
[Footnote 9: Especially in the so-called Montgomerie charter of 1730.]
[Sidenote: City government in Philadelphia (1701-1789).]
The next city governments to be organized in the American colonies,
after that of New York, were those of Philadelphia, incorporated in
1701, and Annapolis, incorporated in 1708. These governments were
framed after the wretched pattern then so common in England. In
both the mayor, the recorder, the aldermen, and the common council
constituted a close self-electing corporation. The resulting abuses
were not so great as in England, probably because the cities were
so small. But in course of time, especially in Philadelphia as it
increased in population, the viciousness of the system was abundantly
illustrated. As the people could not elect the governing corporation
or any of its members, they very naturally and reasonably distrusted
it, and through the legislature they contrived so to limit its powers
of taxation that it was really unable to keep the streets in repair,
to light them at night, or to support an adequate police force. An
attempt was made to supply such wants by creating divers independent
boards of commissioners, one for paving and draining, another for
street-lamps and watchmen, a third for town-pumps, and so on. In this
way responsibility got so minutely parcelled out and scattered, and
there was so much jealousy and wrangling between the different boards
and the corporation, that the result was chaos. The public money was
habitually wasted and occasionally embezzled, and there was general
dissatisfaction. In 1789 the close corporation was abolished, and
thereafter the aldermen and common council were elected by the
citizens, the mayor was chosen by the aldermen out of their own
number, and the recorder was appointed by the mayor and aldermen. Thus
Philadelphia obtained a representative government.
[Sidenote: Traditions of good government lacking.]
These instances of New York and Philadelphia sufficiently illustrate
the beginnings of city government in the United States. In each case
the system was copied from England at a time when city government
in England was sadly demoralized. What was copied was not the free
republic of London, with its noble traditions of civic honour and
sagacious public spirit, but the imperfect republics or oligarchies
into which the lesser English boroughs were sinking, amid the foul
political intrigues and corruption which characterized the Stuart
period. The government of American cities in our own time is admitted
on all hands to be far from satisfactory. It is interesting to observe
that the cities which had municipal government before the Revolution,
though they have always had their full share of able and high-minded
citizens, do not possess even the tradition of good government. And
the difficulty, in those colonial times, was plainly want of adequate
self-government, want of responsibility on the part of the public
servants toward their employers the people.
QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT.
1. What was the origin of the _casters_ and _chesters_ that are found
in England to-day?
2. Trace the development of the English borough until it became
a kind of hundred.
3. Compare this borough, with the hundred in the administration
4. Trace the further development of the borough in cases in
which it became a county.
5. Illustrate this development with London, showing how the elements of
the township, the hundred, and the shire government enter into its civic
6. Explain the origin and the objects of the various guilds.
7. Speak of the "town guild" under the following heads:--
a. Its composition and power.
b. Its relation to citizenship.
c. Its place of meeting.
d. The aldermen.
e. The common council.
f. The chief magistrate.
8. Compare the government of London with that of Great Britain or of the
9. Give some account of the lord mayor, the aldermen, and the councilmen
10. Distinguish between London the city and London the metropolis.
11. Show how the English cities and boroughs became bulwarks of liberty
by (1) their facilities for obtaining justice, (2) the strength of their
walls, and (3) the length of their purses.
12. Contrast the power of London with that of the throne.
13. What notable advance in government was made under the leadership of
Simon de Montfort?
14. What abuses crept into the government of many of the English cities?
15. What was the Puritan attitude towards such abuses?
16. Give an account of the government of New York city:--
a. The charter of 1686.
b. The governing corporation.
c. The public land.
d. The city's privileges as a county.
e. Officers by election and by appointment.
f. Judicial functions.
g. Martial law.
h. The charter of 1821.
17. Give an account of the government of Philadelphia:--
a. The governments after which it was patterned.
b. The viciousness of the system adopted.
c. The legislative interference that was thus provoked.
d. The division of responsibility and the results of such
e. The nature of the changes made in 1789.
18. Why are the traditions of good government lacking in the older
Section 3. The Government of Cities in the United States.
[Sidenote: Several features of our city governments.]
At the present day American municipal governments are for the most
part constructed on the same general plan, though with many variations
in detail. There is an executive department, with the mayor at its
head. The mayor is elected voters of the city, and holds office
generally for one year, but sometimes for two or three years, and in
St. Louis and Philadelphia even for four years. Under the mayor are
various heads of departments,--street commissioners, assessors,
overseers of the poor, etc.,--sometimes elected by the citizens,
sometimes appointed by the mayor or the city council. This city
council Is a legislative body, usually consisting of two chambers, the
aldermen and the common council, elected by the citizens; but in many
small cities, and a few of the largest,--such as New York, Brooklyn,
Chicago, and San Francisco,--there is but one such chamber. Then there
are city judges, sometimes appointed by the governor of the state, to
serve for life or during good behaviour, but usually elected by the
citizens for short terms.
All appropriations of money for city purposes are made by the city
council; and as a general rule this council has some control over the
heads of executive departments, which it exercises through committees.
Thus there may be a committee upon streets, upon public buildings,
upon parks or almshouses or whatever the municipal government is
concerned with. The head of a department is more or less dependent
upon his committee, and in practice this is found to divide and weaken
responsibility. The heads of departments are apt to be independent of
one another, and to owe no allegiance in common to any one. The mayor,
when he appoints them, usually does so subject to the approval, of the
city council or of one branch of it. The mayor is usually not a member
of the city council, but can veto its enactments, which however can be
passed over his veto by a two thirds majority.
[Sidenote: They do not seem to work well.]
[Sidenote: some difficulties to be stated.]
City governments thus constituted are something like state governments
in miniature. The relation of the mayor to the city council is
somewhat like that of the governor to the state legislature, and of
the president to the national congress. In theory nothing could well
be more republican, or more unlike such city governments as those of
New York and Philadelphia before the Revolution. Yet in practice it
does not seem to work well. New York and Philadelphia seem to
have heard as many complaints in the nineteenth century as in the
eighteenth, and the same kind of complaints,--of excessive taxation,
public money wasted or embezzled, ill-paved and dirty streets,
inefficient police, and so on to the end of the chapter. In most of
our large cities similar evils have been witnessed, and in too many of
the smaller ones the trouble seems to be the same in kind, only less
in degree. Our republican government, which, after making all due
allowances, seems to work remarkably well in rural districts, and in
the states, and in the nation, has certainly been far less successful
as applied to cities. Accordingly our cities have come to furnish
topics for reflection to which writers and orators fond of boasting
the unapproachable excellence of American institutions do not like to
allude. Fifty years ago we were wont to speak of civil government
in the United States as if it had dropped from heaven or had been
specially created by some kind of miracle upon American soil; and we
were apt to think that in mere republican forms there was some kind of
mystic virtue which made them a panacea for all political evils. Our
later experience with cities has rudely disturbed this too confident
frame of mind. It has furnished facts which do not seem to fit our
self-complacent theory, so that now our writers and speakers are
inclined to vent their spleen upon the unhappy cities, perhaps too
unreservedly. We hear them called "foul sinks of corruption" and
"plague spots on our body politic." Yet in all probability our cities
are destined to increase in number and to grow larger and larger; so
that perhaps it is just as well to consider them calmly, as presenting
problems which had not been thought of when our general theory of
government was first worked out a hundred years ago, but which, after
we have been sufficiently taught by experience, we may hope to succeed
in solving, just as we have heretofore succeeded in other things. A
general discussion of the subject does not fall within the province of
this brief historical sketch. But our account would be very incomplete
if we were to stop short of mentioning some of the recent attempts
that have been made toward reconstructing our theories of city
government and improving its practical working. And first, let us
point out a few of the peculiar difficulties of the problem, that we
may see why we might have been expected, up to the present time,
to have been less successful in managing our great cities than in
managing our rural communities, and our states, and our nation.
[Sidenote: Rapid growth of American cities.]
In the first place, the problem is comparatively new and has taken us
unawares. At the time of Washington's inauguration to the presidency
there were no large cities in the United States. Philadelphia had a
population of 42,000; New York had 33,000; Boston, which came next, with
18,000, was not yet a city. Then came Baltimore, with 13,000; while
Brooklyn was a village of 1,600 souls. Now these five cities have a
population of more than 4,000,000, or more than that of the United
States in 1789. And consider how rapidly new cities have been added to
the list. One hardly needs to mention the most striking cases, such as
Chicago, with 4,000 inhabitants in 1840. and at least 1,000,000 in 1890;
or Denver, with its miles of handsome streets and shops, and not one
native inhabitant who has reached his thirtieth birthday. Such facts are
summed up in the general statement that, whereas in 1790 the population
of the United States was scarcely 4,000,000, and out of each 100
inhabitants only 3 dwelt in cities and the other 97 in rural places; on
the other hand in 1880, when the population was more than 50,000,000,
out of each 100 inhabitants 23 dwelt in cities and 77 in rural places.
But duly to appreciate the rapidity of this growth of cities, we must
observe that most of it has been subsequent to 1840. In 1790 there were
six towns in the United States that might be ranked as cities from their
size, though to get this number we must include Boston. In 1800 the
number was the same. By 1810 the number had risen from 6 to 11; by 1820
it had reached 13; by 1830 this thirteen had doubled and become 26; and
in 1840 there were 44 cities altogether. The urban population increased
from 210,873 in 1800 to 1,453,994 in 1840. But between 1840 and 1880 the
number of new cities which came into existence was 242, and the urban
population increased to 11,318,547. Nothing like this was ever known
before in any part of the world, and perhaps it is not strange that such
a tremendous development did not find our methods of government fully
prepared to deal with it.
[Sidenote: Want of practical foresight.]
This rapidity of growth has entailed some important consequences. In the
first place it obliges the city to make great outlays of money in order
to get immediate results. Public works must be undertaken with a view to
quickness rather than thoroughness. Pavements, sewers, and reservoirs of
some sort must be had at once, even if inadequately planned and
imperfectly constructed; and so, before a great while, the work must be
done over again. Such conditions of imperative haste increase the
temptations to dishonesty as well as the liability to errors of judgment
on the part of the men who administer the public funds. Then the
rapid growth of a city, especially of a new city, requiring the
immediate construction of a certain amount of public works, almost
necessitates the borrowing of money, and debt means heavy taxes. It is
like the case of a young man who, in order to secure a home for his
quickly growing family, buys a house under a heavy mortgage. Twice a
year there comes in a great bill for interest, and in order to meet it
he must economize in his table or now and then deny himself a new suit
of clothes. So if a city has to tax heavily to pay its debts, it must
cut down its current expenses somewhere, and the results are sure to be
visible in more or less untidiness and inefficiency. Mr. Low tells us
that "very few of our American cities have yet paid in full the cost of
their original water-works." Lastly, much wastefulness results from want
of foresight. It is not easy to predict how a city will grow, or the
nature of its needs a few years hence. Moreover, even when it is easy
enough to predict a result, it is not easy to secure practical foresight
on the part of a city council elected for the current year. Its members
are afraid of making taxes too heavy this year, and considerations of
ten years hence are apt to be dismissed as "visionary." It is always
hard for us to realize how terribly soon ten years hence will be here.
The habit of doing things by halves has been often commented on (and,
perhaps, even more by our own writers than by foreigners) as especially
noticeable in America. It has doubtless been fostered by the conditions
which in so many cases have made it absolutely necessary to adopt
temporary makeshifts. These conditions have produced a certain habit of
[Footnote 10: This and some of the following considerations have been
ably set forth and illustrated by Hon. Seth Low, president of Columbia
College, and lately mayor of Brooklyn, in an address at Johns Hopkins
University, published in _J. H. U. Studies, Supplementary Notes_,
[Sidenote: Growth in complexity of government in cities.]
Let us now observe that as cities increase in size the amount of
government that is necessary tends in some respects to increase.
Wherever there is a crowd there is likely to be some need of rules and
regulations. In the country a man may build his house pretty much as he
pleases; but in the city he may be forbidden to build it of wood, and
perhaps even the thickness of the party walls or the position of the
chimneys may come in for some supervision on the part of the government.
For further precaution against spreading fires, the city has an
organized force of men, with costly engines, engine-houses, and stables.
In the country a board of health has comparatively little to do; in the
city it is often confronted with difficult sanitary problems which call
for highly paid professional skill on the part of physicians and
chemists, architects and plumbers, masons and engineers. So, too, the
water supply of a great city is likely to be a complicated business, and
the police force may well need as much, management as a small army. In
short, with a city, increase in size is sure to involve increase in
complexity of organization, and this means a vast increase in the number
of officials for doing the work and of details to be superintended. For
example, let us enumerate the executive department and officers of the
city of Boston at the present time.
[Sidenote: Municipal officers in Boston.]
There are three street commissioners with power to lay out streets and
assess damages thereby occasioned. These are elected by the people. The
following officers are appointed by the mayor, with the concurrence of
the aldermen: a superintendent of streets, an inspector of buildings,
three commissioners each for the fire and health departments, four
overseers of the poor, besides a board of nine directors for the
management of almshouses, houses of correction, lunatic hospital, etc.;
a city hospital board of five members, five trustees of the public
library, three commissioners each for parks and water-works; five chief
assessors, to estimate the value of property and assess city, county,
and state taxes; a city collector, a superintendent of public buildings,
five trustees of Mount Hope Cemetery, six sinking fund commissioners,
two record commissioners, three registrars of voters, a registrar of
births, deaths, and marriages, a city treasurer, city auditor, city
solicitor, corporation counsel, city architect, city surveyor,
superintendent of Faneuil Hall Market, superintendent of street lights,
superintendent of sewers, superintendent of printing, superintendent of
bridges, five directors of ferries, harbour master and ten assistants,
water registrar, inspector of provisions, inspector of milk and vinegar,
a sealer and four deputy sealers of weights and measures, an inspector
of lime, three inspectors of petroleum, fifteen inspectors of pressed
hay, a culler of hoops and staves, three fence-viewers, ten
field-drivers and pound-keepers, three surveyors of marble, nine
superintendents of hay scales, four measurers of upper leather, fifteen
measurers of wood and bark, twenty measurers of grain, three weighers of
beef, thirty-eight weighers of coal, five weighers of boilers and heavy
machinery, four weighers of ballast and lighters, ninety-two
undertakers, 150 constables, 968 election officers and their deputies. A
few of these officials serve without pay, some are paid by salaries
fixed by the council, some by fees. Besides these there is a clerk of
the common council elected by that body, and also the city clerk, city
messenger, and clerk of committees, in whose election both branches of
the city council concur. The school committee, of twenty-four members,
elected by the people, is distinct from the rest of the city government,
and so is the board of police, composed of three commissioners appointed
by the state executive.
[Footnote 11: Bugbee, "The City Government of Boston," _J.H.U.
Studies_, V., iii.]
[Sidenote: How city government comes to be a mystery.]
This long list may serve to give some idea of the mere quantity of
administrative work required in a large city. Obviously under such
circumstances city government must become more or less of a mystery to
the great mass of citizens. They cannot watch its operations as the
inhabitants of a small village can watch the proceedings of their
township and county governments. Much work must go on which cannot
even be intelligently criticised without such special knowledge as it
would be idle to expect in the average voter, or perhaps in any voter.
It becomes exceedingly difficult for the taxpayer to understand just
what his money goes for, or how far the city expenses might reasonably
be reduced; and it becomes correspondingly easy for municipal
corruption to start and acquire a considerable headway before it can
be detected and checked.
[Sidenote: In some respects it is more of a mystery that state and
In some respects city government is harder to watch intelligently
than the government of the state or of the nation. For these wider
governments are to some extent limited to work of general supervision.
As compared with the city, they are more concerned with the
establishment and enforcement of certain general principles, and less
with the administration of endlessly complicated details. I do not
mean to be understood as saying that there is not plenty of intricate
detail about state and national governments. I am only comparing one
thing with another, and it seems to me that one chief difficulty with
city government is the bewildering vastness and multifariousness of
the details with which it is concerned. The modern city has come to be
a huge corporation for carrying on a huge business with many branches,
most of which call for special aptitude and training.
[Sidenote: The mayor at first had too little power.]
As these points have gradually forced themselves upon public attention
there has been a tendency in many of our large cities toward
remodeling their governments on new principles. The most noticeable
feature of this tendency is the increase in the powers of the mayor.
A hundred years ago our legislators and constitution-makers were much
afraid of what was called the "one-man power." In nearly all the
colonies a chronic quarrel had been kept up between the governors
appointed by the king and the legislators elected by the people, and
this had made the "one-man power" very unpopular. Besides, it was
something that had been unpopular in ancient Greece and Rome, and it
was thought to be essentially unrepublican in principle. Accordingly
our great grandfathers preferred to entrust executive powers to
committees rather than to single individuals; and when they assigned
an important office to an individual they usually took pains to
curtail its power and influence. This disposition was visible in our
early attempts to organize city governments like little republics.
First, in the board of aldermen and the common council we had a
two-chambered legislature. Then, lest the mayor should become
dangerous, the veto power was at first generally withheld from him,
and his appointments of executive officers needed to be confirmed by
at least one branch of the city council. These executive officers,
moreover, as already observed, were subject to more or less control or
oversight from committees of the city council.
[Sidenote: Scattering and weakening of responsibility.]
Now this system, in depriving the mayor of power, deprived him of
responsibility, and left the responsibility nowhere in particular. In
making appointments the mayor and council would come to some sort of
compromise with each other and exchange favours. Perhaps for private
reasons incompetent or dishonest officers would get appointed, and
if the citizens ventured to complain the mayor would say that he
appointed as good men as the council could be induced to confirm,
and the council would declare their willingness to confirm good
appointments if the mayor could only be persuaded to make them.
[Sidenote: Committees inefficient for executive purposes.]
Then the want of subordination of the different executive departments
made it impossible to secure unity of administration or to carry out
any consistent and generally intelligible policy. Between the various
executive officers and visiting committees there was apt to be a
more or less extensive interchange of favours, or what is called
"log-rolling;" and sums of money would be voted by the council only
thus to leak away in undertakings the propriety or necessity of which
was perhaps hard to determine. There was no responsible head who could
be quickly and sharply called to account. Each official's hands were
so tied that whatever went wrong he could declare that it was not his
fault. The confusion was enhanced by the practice of giving executive
work to committees or boards instead of single officers. Benjamin
Franklin used to say, if you wish to be sure that a thing is done, go
and do it yourself. Human experience certainly proves that this is the
only absolutely safe way. The next best way is to send some competent
person to do it for you; and if there is no one competent to be
had, you do the next best thing and entrust the work to the least
incompetent person you can find. If you entrust it to a committee your
prospect of getting it done is diminished and it grows less if
you enlarge your committee. By the time you have got a group of
committees, independent of one another and working at cross purposes,
you have got Dickens's famous Circumlocution Office, where the great
object in life was "how not to do it."
[Sidenote 1: Increase of city debts.]
[Sidenote 2: Attempt to cure the evil by state interference;
experience of New York.]
Amid the general dissatisfaction over the extravagance and
inefficiency of our city governments, people's attention was first
drawn to the rapid and alarming increase of city indebtedness in
various parts of the country. A heavy debt may ruin a city as surely
as an individual, for it raises the rate of taxation, and thus, as was
above pointed out, it tends to frighten people and capital away from
the city. At first it was sought to curb the recklessness of city
councils in incurring lavish expenditures by giving the mayor a veto
power. Laws were also passed limiting the amount of debt which a city
would be allowed to incur under any circumstances. Clothing the
mayor with the veto power is now seen to have been a wise step; and
arbitrary limitation of the amount of debt, though a clumsy expedient,
is confessedly a necessary one. But beyond this, it was in some
instances attempted to take the management of some departments of city
business out of the hands of the city and put them into the hands of
the state legislature. The most notable instance of this was in New
York in 1857. The results, there and elsewhere, have been generally
regarded as unsatisfactory. After a trial of thirty years the
experience of New York has proved that a state legislature is not
competent to take proper care of the government of cities. Its
members do not know enough about the details of each locality, and
consequently local affairs are left to the representatives from each
locality, with "log-rolling" as the inevitable result. A man fresh
from his farm on the edge of the Adirondacks knows nothing about the
problems pertaining to electric wires in Broadway, or to rapid transit
between Harlem and the Battery; and his consent to desired legislation
on such points can very likely be obtained only by favouring some
measure which he thinks will improve the value of his farm, or perhaps
by helping him to debauch the civil service by getting some neighbour
appointed to a position for which he is not qualified. All this is
made worse by the fact that the members of a state government are
generally less governed by a sense of responsibility toward the
citizens of a particular city than even the worst local government
that can be set up in such a city.
[Footnote 1: It is not intended to deny that there may be instances
in which the state government may advantageously participate in the
government of cities. It may be urged that, in the case of great
cities, like New York or Boston, many people who are not residents
either do business in the city or have vast business interests there,
and thus may be as deeply interested in its welfare as any of the
voters. It may also be said that state provisions for city government
do not always work badly. There are many competent judges who approve
of the appointment of police commissioners by the executive of
Massachusetts. There are generally two sides to a question; and to
push a doctrine to extremes is to make oneself a _doctrinaire_
rather than a wise citizen. But experience clearly shows that in all
doubtful cases it is safer to let the balance incline in favour of
local self-government than the other way.]
Moreover, even if legislatures were otherwise competent to manage the
local affairs of cities, they have not time enough, amid the pressure
of other duties, to do justice to such matters. In 1870 the number of
acts passed by the New York legislature was 808. Of these, 212, or
more than one fourth of the whole, related to cities and villages. The
808 acts, when printed, filled about 2,000 octavo pages; and of these
the 212 acts filled more than 1,500 pages. This illustrates what
I said above about the vast quantity of details which have to be
regulated in municipal government. Here we have more than three
fourths of the volume of state-legislation devoted to local affairs;
and it hardly need be added that a great part of these enactments were
worse than worthless because they were made hastily and
without due consideration,--though not always, perhaps, without what
lawyers call _a_ consideration.
[Footnote 13: Nothing could be further from my thought than to cast any
special imputation upon the New York legislature, which is probably a
fair average specimen of law-making bodies. The theory of legislative
bodies, as laid down in text-books, is that they are assembled for the
purpose of enacting laws for the welfare of the community in
general. In point of fact they seldom rise to such a lofty height of
disinterestedness. Legislation is usually a mad scramble in which the
final result, be it good or bad, gets evolved out of compromises and
bargains among a swarm of clashing local and personal interests.
The "consideration" may be anything from log-rolling to bribery. In
American legislatures it is to be hoped that downright bribery is
rare. As for log-rolling, or exchange of favours, there are many
phases of it in which that which may be perfectly innocent shades
off by almost imperceptible degrees into that which is unseemly or
dishonourable or even criminal; and it is in this hazy region that
Satan likes to set his traps for the unwary pilgrim.]
[Sidenote: Tweed Ring in New York.]
The experience of New York thus proved that state intervention and
special legislation did not mend matters. It did not prevent the
shameful rule of the Tweed Ring from 1868 to 1871, when a small band
of conspirators got themselves elected or appointed to the principal
city offices, and, having had their own corrupt creatures chosen
judges of the city courts, proceeded to rob the taxpayers at their
leisure. By the time they were discovered and brought to justice,
their stealings amounted to many millions of dollars, and the rate of
taxation had risen to more than two per cent.
[Sidenote: New experiments.]
The discovery of these wholesale robberies, and of other villainies
on a smaller scale in other cities, has led to much discussion of the
problems of municipal government, and to many attempts at practical
reform. The present is especially a period of experiments, yet in
these experiments perhaps a general drift of opinion may be discerned.
People seem to be coming to regard cities more as if they were huge
business corporations than as if they were little republics. The
lesson has been learned that in executive matters too much limitation
of power entails destruction of responsibility; the "ring" is now more
dreaded than the "one-man power;" and there is accordingly a manifest
tendency to assail the evil by concentrating power and responsibility
in the mayor.
[Sidenote: New government of Brooklyn.]
The first great city to adopt this method was Brooklyn. In the first
place the city council was simplified and made a one-chambered council
consisting of nineteen aldermen. Besides this council of aldermen, the
people elect only three city officers,--the mayor, comptroller,
and auditor. The comptroller is the principal finance officer and
book-keeper of the city; and the auditor must approve bills against
the city, whether great or small, before they can be paid. The mayor
appoints, without confirmation by the council, all executive heads of
departments; and these executive heads are individuals, not
boards. Thus there is a single police commissioner, a single fire
commissioner, a single health commissioner, and so on; and each of
these heads appoints his own subordinates; so that the principle
of defined responsibility permeates the city government from top
to bottom, In a few cases, where the work to be done is rather
discretionary than executive in character, it is intrusted to a board;
thus there is a board of assessors, a board of education, and a board
of elections. These are all appointed by the mayor, but for terms
not coinciding with his own; "so that, in most cases, no mayor would
appoint the whole of any such board unless he were to be twice elected
by the people." But the executive officers are appointed by the mayor
for terms coincident with his own, that is for two years. "The mayor
is elected at the general election in November; he takes office on the
first of January following, and for one month the great departments of
the city are carried on for him by the appointees of his predecessor.
On the first of February it becomes his duty to appoint his own heads
of departments, and thus each incoming mayor has the opportunity to
make an administration in all its parts in sympathy with himself."
[Footnote 14: Seth Low on "Municipal Government," in Bryce's
_American Commonwealth_, vol. i. p. 626.]
With all these immense executive powers entrusted to the mayor,
however, he does not hold the purse-strings. He is a member of a board
of estimate, of which the other four members are the comptroller
and auditor, with the county treasurer and supervisor. This board
recommends the amounts to be raised by taxation for the ensuing year.
These estimates are then laid before the council of aldermen, who
may cut down single items as they see fit, but have not the power to
increase any item. The mayor must see to it that the administrative
work of the year does not use up more money than is thus allowed him.
[Sidenote: Some of its merits.]
This Brooklyn system has great merits. It ensures unity of
administration, it encourages promptness and economy, it locates
and defines responsibility, and it is so simple that everybody can
understand it. The people, having but few officers to elect, are
more likely to know something about them. Especially since everybody
understands that the success of the government depends upon the
character of the mayor, extraordinary pains are taken to secure good
mayors; and the increased interest in city politics is shown by the
fact that in Brooklyn more people vote for mayor than for governor
or for president. Fifty years ago such a reduction in the number of
elective officers would have greatly shocked all good Americans. But
In point of fact, while in small townships where everybody knows
everybody popular control is best ensured by electing all public
officers, it is very different in great cities where it is impossible
that the voters in general should know much about the qualifications
of a long list of candidates. In such cases citizens are apt to vote
blindly for names about which they know nothing except that they occur
on a Republican or a Democratic ticket; although, if the object of
a municipal election is simply to secure an upright and efficient
municipal government, to elect a city magistrate because he is a
Republican or a Democrat is about as sensible as to elect him because
he believes in homoeopathy or has a taste for chrysanthemums. To
vote for candidates whom one has never heard of is not to insure
popular control, but to endanger it. It is much better to vote for
one man whose reputation we know, and then to hold him strictly
responsible for the appointments he makes. The Brooklyn system seems
to be a step toward lifting city government out of the mire of party
[Footnote 15: Of course from the point of view of the party politician,
it Is quite different. Each party has its elaborate "machine" for
electing state and national officers; and in order to be kept at
its maximum of efficiency the machine must be kept at work on all
occasions, whether such occasions are properly concerned with
differences in party politics or not. To the party politician it
of course makes a great difference whether a city magistrate is a
Republican or a Democrat. To him even the political complexion of his
mail-carrier is a matter of importance. But these illustrations
only show that party politics may be carried to extremes that are
inconsistent with the best interests of the community. Once in a while
it becomes necessary to teach party organizations to know their place,
and to remind them that they are not the lords and masters but the
servants and instruments of the people.]
This system went into operation in Brooklyn in January, 1882, and
seems to have given general satisfaction. Since then changes in a
similar direction, though with variations in detail, have been made in
other cities, and notably in Philadelphia.
[Sidenote: Notion that the suffrage ought to be restricted.]
In speaking of the difficulties which beset city government in the
United States, mention is often (and perhaps too exclusively) made
of the great mass of ignorant voters, chiefly foreigners without
experience in self-government, with no comprehension of American
principles and traditions, and with little or no property to suffer
from excessive taxation. Such people will naturally have slight
compunctions about voting away other people's money; indeed, they are
apt to think that "the Government" has got Aladdin's lamp hidden away
somewhere in a burglar-proof safe, and could do pretty much everything
that is wanted, if it only would. In the hands of demagogues such
people may be dangerous, they are supposed to be especially accessible
to humbug and bribes, and their votes have no doubt been used to
sustain and perpetuate most flagrant abuses. We often hear it said
that the only way to get good government is to deprive such people of
their votes and limit the suffrage to persons who have some property
at stake. Such a measure has been seriously recommended in New York,
but it is generally felt to be impossible without a revolution.
[Sidenote: Testimony of Pennsylvania Municipal Commission.]
Perhaps, after all, it may not be so desirable as it seems. The
ignorant vote has done a great deal of harm, but not all the harm. In
1878 it was reported by the Pennsylvania Municipal Commission, as
a remarkable but notorious fact, that the accumulations of debt in
Philadelphia and other cities of the state have been due, not to a
non-property-holding, irresponsible element among the electors, but to
the desire for speculation among the property-owners themselves. Large
tracts of land outside the built-up portion of the city have been
purchased, combinations made among men of wealth, and councils
besieged until they have been driven into making appropriations to
open and improve streets and avenues, largely in advance of the real
necessities of the city. Extraordinary as the statement may seem
at first, the experience of the past shows clearly that frequently
property-owners need more protection against themselves than against
the non-property-holding class. This is a statement of profound
significance, and should be duly pondered by advocates of a restricted
[Footnote 16: Allinson and Penrose, _Philadelphia, 1681-1887; a
History of Municipal Development_, p. 278.]
[Sidenote: Dangers of a restricted suffrage.]
It should also be borne in mind that, while ignorant and needy voters,
led by unscrupulous demagogues, are capable of doing much harm with
their votes, it is by no means clear that the evil would be removed
by depriving them of the suffrage. It is very unsafe to have in any
community a large class of people who feel that political rights
or privileges are withheld from them by other people who are their
superiors in wealth or knowledge. Such poor people are apt to have
exaggerated ideas of what a vote can do; very likely they think it is
because they do not have votes that they are poor; thus they are ready
to entertain revolutionary or anarchical ideas, and are likely to be
more dangerous material in the hands of demagogues than if they were
allowed to vote. Universal suffrage has its evils, but it undoubtedly
acts as a safety-valve. The only cure for the evils which come
from ignorance and shiftlessness is the abolition of ignorance and
shiftlessness; and this is slow work. Church and school here find
enough to keep them busy; but the vote itself, even if often misused,
is a powerful educator; and we need not regret that the restriction of
the suffrage has come to be practically impossible.
[Sidenote: Baneful effects of mixing city politics with national
The purification of our city governments will never be completed
until they are entirely divorced from national party politics. The
connection opens a limitless field for "log-rolling," and rivets
upon cities the "spoils system," which is always and everywhere
incompatible with good government. It is worthy of note that the
degradation of so many English boroughs and cities during the Tudor
and Stuart periods was chiefly due to the encroachment of national
politics upon municipal politics. Because the borough returned members
to the House of Commons, it became worth while for the crown to
intrigue with the municipal government, with the ultimate object of
influencing parliamentary elections. The melancholy history of the
consequent dickering and dealing, jobbery and robbery, down to 1835,
when the great Municipal Corporations Act swept it all away, may be
read with profit by all Americans. It was the city of London only,
whose power and independence had kept it free from complications with
national politics, that avoided the abuses elsewhere prevalent, so
that it was excepted from the provisions of the Act of 1835, and still
retains its ancient constitution.
[Footnote 17: See _Parliamentary Reports_, 1835, "Municipal
Corporations Commission;" also Sir Erskine May, _Const. Hist._,
vol. ii. chap, xv.]
In the United States the entanglement of municipal with national
politics has begun to be regarded as mischievous and possibly
dangerous, and attempts have in some cases been made toward checking
it by changing the days of election, so that municipal officers may
not be chosen at the same time with presidential electors. Such a
change is desirable, but to obtain a thoroughly satisfactory result,
it will be necessary to destroy the "spoils system" root and branch,
and to adopt effective measures of ballot reform. To these topics I
shall recur when treating of our national government. But first we
shall have to consider the development of our several states.
QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT.
Give an account of city government in the United States, under the
1. The American city:--
a. The mayor.
b. The heads of departments.
c. The city council.
d. The judges.
f. The power of committees.
2. The practical workings of city governments:--
a. The contrast they show between theory and practice.
b. Various complaints urged against city governments.
c. Their effect upon the old-time confidence in the perfection of our
3. The growth of American cities:--
a. The cities of Washington's time and those of to-day.
b. The population of cities in 1790 and their population to-day.
c. City growth since 1840.
4. Some consequences of rapid city growth:--
a. The pressure to construct public works.
b. The incurring of heavy debts.
c. The wastefulness due to a lack of foresight.
d. The increase in government due to the complexity of a city.
e. An illustration of this complexity in Boston.
f. The consequent mystery that enshrouds much of city government.
5. Some evils due to the fear of a "one-man" power:--
a. The objection to such power a century ago.
b. Restrictions imposed upon the mayor's power.
c. The division and weakening of responsibility.
d. The lack of unity in the administration of business.
e. The inefficiency of committees for executive purposes.
f. The alarming increase in city debts.
6. Attempts to remedy some of the evils of city government:--
a. The power of veto granted to the mayor.
b. The limitation of city indebtedness.
c. State control of some city departments.
7. Difficulties inherent in state control of cities:--
a. Lack of familiarity with city affairs.
b. The tendency to "log-rolling."
c. Lack of time due to the pressure of state affairs.
d. The failure of state control as shown in the rule of the Tweed ring.
8. The government of the city of Brooklyn:--
a. The elevation of the "one-man" power above that of the "ring."
b. Officers elected by the people.
c. Officers appointed by the mayor.
d. The principle of well-defined responsibility.
e. The appointment of certain boards by the mayor.
f. The holding of the purse-strings.
g. The inadequacy of the township elective system, in a city like
9. Restriction of the suffrage:--
a. The dangers from large masses of ignorant voters.
b. The responsibility for the debt of Philadelphia and other cities.
c. The dangers from large classes who feel that political rights are
d. Suffrage as a "safety-valve."
10. The mixture of city politics with those of the state or nation:
a. The degradation of the English borough.
b. The exemption, of London from the Municipal Corporations Act.
c. The importance of separate days for municipal elections.
d. The importance of abolishing the "spoils system."
SUGGESTIVE QUESTIONS AND DIRECTIONS.
(Chiefly for pupils who live in cities.)
1. When was your city organized?
2. Give some account of its growth, its size, and its present
population. How many wards has it? Give their boundaries.
In which ward do you live?
3. Examine its charter, and report a few of its leading provisions.
4. What description of government in this chapter comes nearest
to that of your city?
5. Consider the suggestions about the study of town government
(pp. 43, 44), and act upon such of them as are applicable
to city government.
6. What is the general impression about the purity of your city
government? (Consult several citizens and report what you find out.)
7. What important caution should be observed about vague rumours of
inefficiency or corruption?
8. What are the evidences of a sound financial condition in a city?
9. Is the financial condition of your city sound?
10. When debts are incurred, are provisions made at the same time for
meeting them when due?
11. What are "sinking funds"?
12. What wants has a city that a town is free from?
13. Describe your system of public water works, making an analysis of
important points that may be presented.
14. Do the same for your park system or any other system that involves a
long time for its completion as well as a great outlay.
15. Are the principles of civil service reform recognized in your city?
If so, to what extent? Do they need to be extended further?
16. Describe the parties that contended for the supremacy in your last
city election and tell what questions were at issue between them.
17. What great corporations exact an influence in your city affairs? Is
such influence bad because it is great? What is a possible danger from
18. In view of the vast number and range of city interests, what is the
most that the average citizen can reasonably be asked to know and to do
about them? What things is it indispensable for him to know and to do is
he is to contribute to good government?
Section 1. DIRECT AND INDIRECT GOVERNMENT.--The transition from
direct to indirect government, as illustrated in the gradual
development of a township into a city, may be profitably studied in
Quincy's _Municipal History of Boston_, Boston, 1852; and in
Winsor's _Memorial History of Boston_, vol. iii. pp. 189-302,
Section 2. ORIGIN OF ENGLISH BOROUGHS AND CITIES.--See Loftie's
_History of London_, 2 vols., London, 1883; Toulmin Smith's
_English Gilds_, with Introduction by Lujo Brentano, London,
1870; and the histories of the English Constitution, especially those
of Gneist, Stubbs, Taswell-Langmead, and Hannis Taylor.
Section 3. GOVERNMENT OF CITIES IN THE UNITED STATES.--_J.H.U. Studies_,
III., xi.-xii., J.A. Porter, _The City of Washington_; IV., iv., W.P.
Holcomb, _Pennsylvania Boroughs_; IV., x., C.H. Lovermore, _Town and
City Government of New Haven_; V., i.-ii., Allinson and Penrose, _City
Government of Philadelphia_; V., iii., J.M. Bugbee, _The City Government
of Boston_; V., iv., M.S. Snow, _The City Government of St. Louis_;
VII., ii.-iii., B. Moses, _Establishment of Municipal Government in San
Francisco_; VII., iv., W.W. Howe, _Municipal History of New Orleans_;
also _Supplementary Notes_, No. 4, Seth Low, _The Problem of City
Government_ (compare No. 1, Albert Shaw, _Municipal Government in
England_.) See, also, the supplementary volumes published at
Baltimore,--Levermore's _Republic of New Haven_, 1886, Allinson and
Penrose's _Philadelphia_, 1681-1887: _a History of Municipal
Section 1. _The Colonial Governments._
[Sidenote: Claims of Spain to the possession of North America.]
In the year 1600 Spain was the only European nation which had obtained
a foothold upon the part of North America now comprised within the
United States. Spain claimed the whole continent on the strength of
the bulls of 1493 and 1494, in which Pope Alexander VI. granted her
all countries to be discovered to the west of a certain meridian
which, happens to pass a little to the east of Newfoundland. From
their first centre in the West Indies the Spaniards had made a
lodgment in Florida, at St. Augustine, in 1565; and from Mexico they
had in 1605 founded Santa Fe, in what is now the territory of New
[Sidenote: Claims of France and England.]
France and England, however, paid little heed to the claim of Spain.
France had her own claim to North America, based on the voyages of
discovery made by Verrazano in 1524 and Cartier in 1534, in the course
of which New York harbour had been visited and the St. Lawrence partly
explored. England had a still earlier claim, based on the discovery
of the North American continent in 1497 by John Cabot. It presently
became apparent that to make such claims of any value, discovery must
be followed up by occupation of the country. Attempts at colonization
had been made by French Protestants in Florida in 1562-65, and by the
English in North Carolina in 1584-87, but both attempts had failed
miserably. Throughout the sixteenth century French and English sailors
kept visiting the Newfoundland fisheries, and by the end of the
century the French and English governments had their attention
definitely turned to the founding of colonies in North America.
[Sidenote: The London and Plymouth Companies.]
In 1606 two great joint-stock companies were formed in England for
the purpose of planting such colonies. One of these companies had its
headquarters at London, and was called the London Company; the other
had its headquarters at the seaport of Plymouth, in Devonshire, and
was called the Plymouth Company. To the London Company the king
granted the coast of North America from 34 deg. to 38 deg. north latitude;
that is, about from Cape Fear to the mouth of the Rappahannock. To the
Plymouth Company he granted the coast from 41 deg. to 45 deg.; that is, about
from the mouth of the Hudson to the eastern extremity of Maine. These
grants were to go in straight strips or zones across the continent
from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Almost nothing was then known
about American geography; the distance from ocean to ocean across
Mexico was not so very great, and people did not realize that further
north it was quite a different thing. As to the middle strip, starting
from the coast between the Rappahannock and the Hudson, it was open to
the two companies, with the understanding that neither was to plant a
colony within 100 miles of any settlement already begun by the
other. This meant practically that it was likely to be controlled by
whichever company should first come into the field with a flourishing
colony. Accordingly both companies made haste and sent out settlers in
1607, the one to the James River, the other to the Kennebec. The
first enterprise, after much suffering, resulted in the founding of
Virginia; the second ended in disaster, and it was not until 1620 that
the Pilgrims from Leyden made the beginnings of a permanent settlement
upon the territory of the Plymouth Company.
[Sidenote: Their common charter.]
These two companies were at first organized under a single charter.
Each was to be governed by a council in England appointed by the king,
and these councils were to appoint councils of thirteen to reside in
the colonies, with powers practically unlimited. Nevertheless the king
covenanted with his colonists as follows: Also we do, for us, our
heirs and successors, declare by these presents that all and every the
persons, being our subjects, which shall go and inhabit within the
said colony and plantation, and every their children and posterity,
which shall happen to be born within any of the limits thereof, shall
have and enjoy all liberties, franchises, and immunities of free
denizens and natural subjects within any of our other dominions, to
all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within
this our realm of England, or in any other of our dominions. This
principle, that British subjects born in America should be entitled to
the same political freedom as if born in England, was one upon which
the colonists always insisted, and it was the repeated and persistent
attempts of George III. to infringe it that led the American colonies
to revolt and declare themselves independent of Great Britain.
[Sidenote: Dissolution of the two companies.]
[Sidenote: Settlement of the three zones.]
Both the companies founded in 1606 were short-lived. In 1620 the
Plymouth Company got a new charter, which made it independent of the
London Company. In 1624 the king, James I., quarreled with the London
Company, brought suit against it in court, and obtained from the
subservient judges a decree annulling its charter. In 1635 the
reorganized Plymouth Company surrendered its charter to Charles I.
in pursuance of a bargain which need not here concern us. But the
creation of these short-lived companies left an abiding impression
upon the map of North America and upon the organization of civil
government in the United States. Let us observe what was done with the
three strips or zones into which the country was divided: the northern
or New England zone, assigned to the Plymouth Company; the southern or
Virginia zone, assigned to the London Company; and the central zone,
for which the two companies were, so to speak, to run a race.
[Footnote 1: See my _Beginnings of New England_, p. 112.]
[Sidenote: 1. the northern zone.]
[Sidenote: 2. The southern zone.]
In 1663 Charles II. cut off the southern part of Virginia, the area
covering the present states of North and South Carolina and Georgia,
and it was formed into a new province called Carolina. In 1729 the
two groups of settlements which had grown up along its coast were
definitively separated into North and South Carolina; and in 1732
the frontier portion toward Florida was organized into the colony of
Georgia. Thus four of the original thirteen states--Virginia, the two
Carolinas, and Georgia--were constituted in the southern zone.
Back to Full Books