Civil Government in the United States Considered with - Some Reference to Its Origins
by John Fiske
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1. What reason exists for beginning the study of government with that of the New England township?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Give an account of the selectmen:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. Describe a warrant for a town-meeting.

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

16. Explain the following:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

22. What difficulties beset the taxation of personal property?

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

24. How do high taxes operate as a burden?

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

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

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

28. What of the power and responsibility of selectmen?

Section 2. Origin of the Township.

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

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

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

[Footnote 1: Pronounced "toon."]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



1. Obtain the following documents:—

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

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

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

2. Give an account of the following:—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. What difficulties beset the work of the assessors?

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

14. Does any one absolutely escape taxation?

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

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

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

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

19. Look up the meaning of ham, wick, and stead. Think of towns whose names contain these words; also of towns whose names contain the word tun or ton or town.

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

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

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

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

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

25. Are boys and girls represented in town government?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The great book on local self-government in England is Toulmin Smith's The Parish, 2d ed., London, 1859. For the ancient history of the township, see Gomme's Primitive Folk-Moots, London, 1880; Gomme's Village Community, London, 1890; Seebohm's English Village Community, London, 1883; Nasse's Agricultural Community of the Middle Ages, London, 1872; Laveleye's Primitive Property, London, 1878; Phear's Aryan Village in India and Ceylon, London, 1880; Hearn (of the University of Melbourne, Australia), The Aryan Household, London & Melbourne, 1879; and the following works of Sir Henry Maine: Ancient Law, London, 1861; Village Communities in the East and West, London, 1871; Early History of Institutions, London, 1875; Early Law and Custom, London, 1883. All of Maine's works are republished in New York. See also my American Political Ideas, N. Y., 1885.

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



Section 1. The County in its Beginnings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 2: Chalmers, Local Government, p. 90.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 2. The Modern County in Massachusetts.

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

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

[Footnote 6: Martin's Civil Government, p. 197.]

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Section 3. The Old Virginia County.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 11: Edward Channing, op. cit. p. 478.]

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

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

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

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

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

[Sidenote: Jefferson's opinion of township government.] These differences are striking and profound. There can be no doubt that, as Thomas Jefferson clearly saw, in the long run the interests of political liberty are much safer under the New England system than under the Virginia system. Jefferson said, "Those wards, called townships in New England, are the vital principle of their governments, and have proved themselves the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government, and for its preservation[13]....As Cato, then, concluded every speech with the words Carthago delenda est, so do I every opinion with the injunction: Divide the counties into wards!" [14]

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

[Footnote 14: Id., vi. 544]

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

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

[Footnote 15: Ingle, loc. cit.]


1. Why was Virginia more sparsely settled than Massachusetts?

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

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

4. What distinction of classes naturally arose?

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

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

7. Show how the vestry became a close corporation.

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

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

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

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

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

13. Describe the assessment of the various taxes.

14. What were the sheriff's duties?

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

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

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

18. What was the equivalent in Virginia of the New England town-meeting?

19. What was the value of this frequent assembling?

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

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

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


1. How many counties are there in your state?

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

3. In what county do you live?

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

5. Give its boundaries.

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

7. How many towns and cities does it contain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15. What is a criminal action?

16. What is a civil action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

30. Give the organization of your county government.

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

* * * * *


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

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

Section 3. THE OLD VIRGINIA COUNTY. The best account is in J.H.U. Studies, III., ii.-iii. Edward Ingle, Virginia Local Institutions.

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



Section 1. Various Local Systems.

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

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

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

[Footnote 1: B. J. Ramage, in Johns Hopkins Univ. Studies, I., xii.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 4: Howard, Local Const. Hist., i. 111.]


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

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

3. Explain the difference.

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

5. What difficulties arose from the attempted adjustment of 1768?

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

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

8. Mention a peculiarity of the South Carolina county.

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

10. What disadvantage is due to this great size?

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

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

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

13. Describe the English hundred in the tenth century.

14. Describe the hundred court.

15. Describe the Maryland hundred and its decay.

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

17. Describe the Delaware levy court.

18. What were the prominent features of the Pennsylvania county?

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

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

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

Section 2. Settlement of the Public Domain.

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

[Footnote 5: Hinsdale, Old Northwest, p. 261.]

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

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

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

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

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

[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 symmetrical shape.

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 surveyor." [8]

[Footnote 8: Howard, Local Const. Hist. of U. S., vol. i. p. 139.]

[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 government.] 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 government.

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