Civil Government in the United States Considered with - Some Reference to Its Origins
by John Fiske
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1. What feature is conspicuous in the westward movement of population in the United States?

2. What looseness characterized early surveys in Kentucky?

3. What led to the passage of the land ordinance of 1785?

4. Give the leading features of the government survey of western lands:—a. The principal meridians. b. The range lines, c. The base lines. d. The township lines.

5. Illustrate the application of the system in the case of a town.

6. Contrast in shape western townships and counties with corresponding divisions in Massachusetts and Virginia.

7. Contrast them in convenience and in picturesqueness.

8. What had the convenience of the government system to do with the settlement of the West?

9. What were the divisions of the township, and what disposition was made of them?

10. What important reservations were made in the townships?

11. Show how these reservations involved a kind of taxation.

12. What profound influence has the reservation for schools exerted upon local government?

13. Why did the county system prevail at first?

Section 3. The Representative Township-County System in the West.

[Sidenote: The town-meeting in Michigan.] The first western state to adopt the town-meeting was Michigan, where the great majority of the settlers had come from New England, or from central New York, which was a kind of westward extension of New England.[9] Counties were established in Michigan Territory in 1805, and townships were first incorporated in 1825. This was twelve years before Michigan became a state. At first the powers of the town-meeting were narrowly limited. It elected the town and county officers, but its power of appropriating money seems to have been restricted to the purpose of extirpating noxious animals and weeds. In 1827, however, it was authorized to raise money for the support of schools, and since then its powers have steadily increased, until now they approach those of the town-meeting in Massachusetts.

[Footnote 9: "Of the 496 members of the Michigan Pioneer Association in 1881, 407 are from these sections" [New England and New York]. Bemis, Local Government in Michigan and the Northwest, J. H. U. Studies, I., v]

[Sidenote: Settlement of Illinois.] The history of Illinois presents an extremely interesting example of rivalry and conflict between the town system of New England and the county system of the South. Observe that this great state is so long that, while the parallel of latitude starting from its northern boundary runs through Marblehead in Massachusetts, the parallel through its southernmost point, at Cairo, runs a little south of Petersburg in Virginia. In 1818, when Illinois framed its state government and was admitted to the Union, its population was chiefly in the southern half, and composed for the most part of pioneers from Virginia and Virginia's daughter-state Kentucky. These men brought with them the old Virginia county system, but with the very great difference that the county officers were not appointed by the governor, or allowed to be a self-perpetuating board, but were elected by the people of the county. This was a true advance in the democratic direction, but an essential defect of the southern system remained in the absence of any kind of local meeting for the discussion of public affairs and the enactment of local laws.

[Sidenote: Effects of the Ordinance of 1787.] By the famous Ordinance of 1787, to which we shall again have occasion to refer, negro slavery had been forever prohibited to the north of the Ohio river, so that, in spite of the wishes of her early settlers, Illinois was obliged to enter the Union as a free state. But in 1820 Missouri was admitted as a slave state, and this turned the stream of southern migration aside from Illinois to Missouri. These emigrants, to whom slaveholding was a mark of social distinction, preferred to go where they could own slaves. About the same time settlers from New England and New York, moving along the southern border of Michigan and the northern borders of Ohio and Indiana, began pouring into the northern part of Illinois. These new-comers did not find the representative county system adequate for their needs, and they demanded township government. A memorable political struggle ensued between the northern and southern halves of the state, ending in 1848 with the adoption of a new constitution. It was provided that the legislature should enact a general law for the political organization of townships, under which any county might act whenever a majority of its voters should so determine.[10] This was introducing the principle of local option, and in accordance therewith township governments with town-meetings were at once introduced in the northern counties of the state, while the southern counties kept on in the old way. Now comes the most interesting part of the story. The two systems being thus brought into immediate contact in the same state, with free choice between them left to the people, the northern system has slowly but steadily supplanted the southern system, until at the present day only one fifth part of the counties in Illinois remain without township government.

[Footnote 10: Shaw, Local Government if Illinois, J. H. U. Studies, I., iii.]

[Sidenote: Intense vitality of the township system.] This example shows the intense vitality of the township system. It is the kind of government that people are sure to prefer when they have tried it under favourable conditions. In the West the hostile conditions against which it has to contend are either the recent existence of negro slavery and the ingrained prejudice in favour of the Virginia method, as in Missouri; or simply the sparseness of population, as in Nebraska. Time will evidently remove the latter obstacle, and probably the former also. It is very significant that in Missouri, which began so lately as 1879 to erect township governments under a local option law similar to that of Illinois, the process has already extended over about one sixth part of the state; and in Nebraska, where the same process began in 1883, it has covered nearly one third of the organized counties of the state.

[Sidenote: County option and township option.] The principle of local option as to government has been carried still farther in Minnesota and Dakota. The method just described may be called county option; the question is decided by a majority vote of the people of the county. But in Minnesota in 1878 it was enacted that as soon as any one of the little square townships in that state should contain as many as twenty-five legal voters, it might petition the board of county commissioners and obtain a township organization, even though, the adjacent townships in the same county should remain under county government only. Five years later the same provision was adopted by Dakota, and under it township government is steadily spreading.

[Sidenote: Grades of township government.] Two distinct grades of township government are to be observed in the states west of the Alleghanies; the one has the town-meeting for deliberative purposes, the other has not. In Ohio and Indiana, which derived their local institutions largely from Pennsylvania, there is no such town-meeting, the administrative offices are more or less concentrated in a board of trustees, and the town is quite subordinate to the county. The principal features of this system have been reproduced in Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas.

The other system, was that which we have seen beginning in Michigan, under the influence of New York and New England. Here the town-meeting, with legislative powers, is always present. The most noticeable feature of the Michigan system is the relation between township and county, which was taken from New York. The county board is composed of the supervisors of the several townships, and thus represents the townships. It is the same in Illinois. It is held by some writers that this is the most perfect form of local government,[11] but on the other hand the objection is made that county boards thus constituted are too large.[12] We have seen that in the states in question there are not less than 16, and sometimes more than 20, townships in each county. In a board of 16 or 20 members it is hard to fasten responsibility upon anybody in particular; and thus it becomes possible to have "combinations," and to indulge in that exchange of favours known as "log-rolling," which is one of the besetting sins of all large representative bodies. Responsibility is more concentrated in the smaller county boards of Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

[Footnote 11: Howard, Local Const. Hist., passim.]

[Footnote 12: Bemis, Local Government in Michigan, J. H. U. Studies, I., v.]

[Sidenote: An excellent result of the absence of centralization in the United States.] It is one signal merit of the peaceful and untrammelled way in which American institutions have grown up, the widest possible scope being allowed to individual and local preferences, that different states adopt different methods of attaining the great end at which all are aiming in common,—good government. One part of our vast country can profit by the experience of other parts, and if any system or method thus comes to prevail everywhere in the long run, it is likely to be by reason of its intrinsic excellence. Our country affords an admirable field for the study of the general principles which lie at the foundations of universal history. Governments, large and small, are growing up all about us, and in such wise that we can watch the processes of growth, and learn lessons which, after making due allowances for difference of circumstance, are very helpful in the study of other times and countries.

The general tendency toward the spread of township government in the more recently settled parts of the United States is unmistakable, and I have already remarked upon the influence of the public school system in aiding this tendency. The school district, as a preparation for the self-governing township, is already exerting its influence in Colorado, Nevada, California, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

[Sidenote: Township government is germinating in the South.] Something similar is going on in the southern states, as already hinted in the case of South Carolina. Local taxation for school purposes has also been established in Kentucky and Tennessee, in both Virginias, and elsewhere. There has thus begun a most natural and wholesome movement, which might easily be checked, with disastrous results, by the injudicious appropriation of national revenue for the aid of southern schools. It is to be hoped that throughout the southern, states, as formerly in Michigan, the self-governing school district may prepare the way for the self-governing township, with its deliberative town-meeting. Such a growth must needs be slow, inasmuch as it requires long political training on the part of the negroes and the lower classes of white people; but it is along such a line of development that such political training can best be acquired; and in no other way is complete harmony between the two races so likely to be secured.

[Sidenote: woman suffrage.] Dr. Edward Bemis, who in a profoundly interesting essay[13] has called attention to this function of the school district as a stage in the evolution of the township, remarks also upon the fact that "it is in the local government of the school district that woman suffrage is being tried." In several states women may vote for school committees, or may be elected to school committees, or to sundry administrative school offices. At present (1894) there are not less than twenty-one states in which women have school suffrage. In Colorado and Wyoming women have full suffrage, voting at municipal, state, and national elections. In Kansas they have municipal suffrage, and a constitutional amendment granting them full suffrage is now awaiting ratification. In England, it may be observed, unmarried women and widows who pay taxes vote not only on school matters, but generally in the local elections of vestries, boroughs, and poor-law unions. In the new Parish Councils Bill this municipal suffrage is extended to married women. In the Isle of Man women vote for members of Parliament. In Australia they have long had municipal suffrage, and in 1893 they were endowed with full rights of suffrage in New Zealand.

[Footnote 13: Local Government in Michigan and the Northwest, J.H.U. Studies, I., v.]

The historical reason why the suffrage has so generally been restricted to men is perhaps to be sought in the conditions under which voting originated. In primeval times voting was probably adopted as a substitute for fighting. The smaller and presumably weaker party yielded to the larger without an actual trial of physical strength; heads were counted instead of being broken. Accordingly it was only the warriors who became voters. The restriction of political activity to men has also probably been emphasized by the fact that all the higher civilizations have passed through a well-defined patriarchal stage of society in which each household was represented by its oldest warrior. From present indications it would seem that under the conditions of modern industrial society the arrangements that have so long subsisted are likely to be very essentially altered.


1. Describe the origin and development of the town-meeting in Michigan.

2. Describe the settling of southern Illinois.

3. Describe the settling of northern Illinois.

4. What difference in thought and feeling existed between these sections?

5. What systems of local government came into rivalry in Illinois, and why?

6. What compromise between them was put into the state constitution?

7. Which system, the town or the county, has shown the greater vitality, and why?

8. What obstacles has the town system to work against?

9. Show how the principle of local option in government has been applied in Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Dakota.

10. What two grades of town government exist west of the Alleghanies?

11. What objection exists to large county boards of government?

12. Why is our country an excellent field for the study of the principles of government?

13. What unmistakable tendency in the ease of township government is noticeable?

14. Speak of township government in the South.

15. What part have women in the affairs of the school district in many states?

16. What is the historical reason why suffrage has been restricted to men?


It may need to be repeated (see page 12) that it is not expected that each pupil shall answer all the miscellaneous questions put, or respond to all the suggestions made in this book. Indeed, the teacher may be pardoned if now and then he finds it difficult himself to answer a question,—particularly if it is framed to provoke thought rather than lead to a conclusion, or if it is better fitted for some other community or part of the country than that in which he lives. Let him therefore divide the questions among his pupils, or assign to them selected questions. In cases that call for special knowledge, let the topics go to pupils who may have exceptional facilities for information at home.

The important point is not so much the settlement of all the questions proposed as it is the encouragement of the inquiring and thinking spirit on the part of the pupil.

1. What impression do you get from this chapter about the hold of town government upon popular favour?

2. What do you regard as the best features of town government?

3. Is there any tendency anywhere to divide towns into smaller towns? If it exists, illustrate and explain it.

4. Is there any tendency anywhere to unite towns into larger towns or into cities? If it exists, illustrate and explain it.

5. In every town-meeting there are leaders,—usually men of character, ability, and means. Do you understand that these men practically have their own way in town affairs,—that the voters as a whole do but little more than fall in with the wishes and plans of their leaders? Or is there considerable independence in thought and action on the side of the voters?

6. Can a town do what it pleases, or is it limited in its action? If limited, by whom or by what is it restricted, and where are the restrictions recorded? (Consult the Statutes.)

7. Why should the majority rule in town-meeting? Suggest, if possible, a better way.

8. Is it, on the whole, wise that the vote of the poor man shall count as much as that of the rich, the vote of the ignorant as much as that of the intelligent, the vote of the unprincipled as much as that of the high-toned?

9. Have the poor, the ignorant, or the unprincipled any interests to be regarded in government?

10. Is the single vote a man casts the full measure of his influence and power in the town-meeting?

11. What are the objections to a suffrage restricted by property and intellectual qualifications? To a suffrage unrestricted by such qualifications?

12. Do women vote in your town? If so, give some account of their voting and of the success or popularity of the plan.

13. Is lynch law ever justifiable?

14. Ought those who resort to lynch law to be punished? If so, for what?

15. Compare the condition or government of a community where lynch law is resorted to with the condition or government of a community where it is unknown.

16. May the citizen who is not an officer of the law interfere (1) to stop the fighting of boys in the public streets, (2) to capture a thief who is plying his trade, (3) to defend a person who is brutally assaulted? Is there anything like lynch law i.e. such interference? Where does the citizen's duty begin and end In such cases?

17. How came the United States to own the public domain or any part of it? (Consult my Critical Period of Amer. Hist., pp. 187-207.)

18. How does this domain get into the possession of individuals?

19. Is it right for the United States to give any part of it away? If right, under what conditions is it right? If wrong, under what conditions is It wrong?

20. What is the "homestead act" of the United States, and what is its object?

21. Can perfect squares of the same size be laid out with the range and township lines of the public surveys? Are all the sections of a township of the same size? Explain.


Section 1. VARIOUS LOCAL SYSTEMS.—J.H.V. Studies, I., vi., Edward Ingle, Parish Institutions of Maryland; I., vii., John Johnson, Old Maryland Manors; I., xii., B.J. Ramage, Local Government and Free Schools in South Carolina; III., v.-vii., L.

W. Wilhelm, Local Institutions of Maryland; IV., i., Irving Elting, Dutch Village Communities on the Hudson River.

Section 2. SETTLEMENT OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.—J. H. U. Studies, III., i. H. B. Adams, Maryland's Influence upon Land Cessions to the United States; IV., vii.-ix., Shoshuke Sato, History of the Land Question in the United States.

Section 3. THE REPRESENTATIVE TOWNSHIP-COUNTY SYSTEM.—J H. U. Studies, I., iii., Albert Shaw, Local Government in Illinois; I., v., Edward Bemis, Local Government in Michigan and the Northwest; II., vii., Jesse Macy, Institutional Beginnings in a Western State (Iowa). For farther illustration of one set of institutions supervening upon another, see also V., v.-vi., J. G. Bourinot, Local Government in Canada; VIII., in., D. E. Spencer, Local Government in Wisconsin.



Section 1. Direct and Indirect Government.

[Sidenote: Summary of foregoing results.] In the foregoing survey of local institutions and their growth, we have had occasion to compare and sometimes to contrast two different methods of government as exemplified on the one hand in the township and on the other hand in the county. In the former we have direct government by a primary assembly,[1] the town-meeting; in the latter we have indirect government by a representative board. If the county board, as in colonial Virginia, perpetuates itself, or is appointed otherwise than by popular vote, it is not strictly a representative board, in the modern sense of the phrase; the government is a kind of oligarchy. If, as in colonial Pennsylvania, and in the United States generally to-day, the county board consists of officers elected by the people, the county government is a representative democracy. The township government, on the other hand, as exemplified in New England and in the northwestern states which have adopted it, is a pure democracy. The latter, as we have observed, has one signal advantage over all other kinds of government, in so far as it tends to make every man feel that the business of government is part of his own business, and that where he has a stake in the management of public affairs he has also a voice. When people have got into the habit of leaving local affairs to be managed by representative boards, their active interest in local affairs is liable to be somewhat weakened, as all energies in this world are weakened, from want of exercise. When some fit subject of complaint is brought up, the individual is too apt to feel that it is none of his business to furnish a remedy, let the proper officers look after it. He can vote at elections, which is a power; he can perhaps make a stir in the newspapers, which is also a power; but personal participation in town-meeting is likewise a power, the necessary loss of which, as we pass to wider spheres of government, is unquestionably to be regretted.

[Footnote 1: A primary assembly is one in which the members attend of their own right, without having been elected to it; a representative assembly is composed of elected delegates.]

[Sidenote: Direct government impossible in a county.] Nevertheless the loss is inevitable. A primary assembly of all the inhabitants of a county, for purposes of local government, is out of the question. There must be representative government, for this purpose the county system, an inheritance from the ancient English shire, has furnished the needful machinery. Our county government is near enough to the people to be kept in general from gross abuses of power. There are many points which can be much better decided in small representative bodies than in large miscellaneous meetings. The responsibility of our local boards has been fairly well preserved. The county system has had no mean share in keeping alive the spirit of local independence and self-government among our people. As regards efficiency of administration, it has achieved commendable success, except in the matter of rural highways; and if our roads are worse than those of any other civilized country, that is due not so much to imperfect administrative methods as to other causes,—such as the sparseness of population, the fierce extremes of sunshine and frost, and the fact that since this huge country began to be reclaimed from the wilderness, the average voter, who has not travelled in Europe, knows no more about good roads than he knows about the temples of Paestum or the pictures of Tintoretto, and therefore does not realize what demands he may reasonably make.

This last consideration applies in some degree, no doubt, to the ill-paved and filthy streets which are the first things to arrest one's attention in most of our great cities. It is time for us now to consider briefly our general system of city government, in its origin and in some of its most important features.

[Sidenote: The Boston town-meeting in 1820.] Representative government in counties is necessitated by the extent of territory covered; in cities it is necessitated by the multitude of people. When the town comes to have a very large population, it becomes physically impossible to have town-meetings. No way could be devised by which all the taxpayers of the city of New York could be assembled for discussion. In 1820 the population of Boston was about 40,000, of whom rather more than 7,000 were voters qualified to attend the town-meetings. Consequently when a town-meeting was held on any exciting subject in Faneuil Hall, those only who obtained places near the moderator could even hear the discussion. A few busy or interested individuals easily obtained the management of the most important affairs in an assembly in which the greater number could have neither voice nor hearing. When the subject was not generally exciting, town-meetings were usually composed of the selectmen, the town officers, and thirty or forty inhabitants. Those who thus came were for the most part drawn to it from some official duty or private interest, which, when performed or attained, they generally troubled themselves but little, or not at all, about the other business of the meeting.[2]

[Footnote 2: Quincy's Municipal History of Boston, p. 28.]

Under these circumstances it was found necessary in 1822 to drop the town-meeting altogether and devise a new form of government for Boston. After various plans had been suggested and discussed, it was decided that the new government should be vested in a Mayor; a select council of eight persons to be called the Board of Aldermen; and a Common Council of forty-eight persons, four from each of twelve wards into which the city was to be divided. All these officials were to be elected by the people. At the same time the official name "Town of Boston" was changed to "City of Boston."

[Sidenote: Distinctions between towns and cities.] There is more or less of history involved in these offices and designations, to which we may devote a few words of explanation. In New England local usage there is an ambiguity in the word "town." As an official designation it means the inhabitants of a township considered as a community or corporate body. In common parlance it often means the patch of land constituting the township on the map, as when we say that Squire Brown's elm is "the biggest tree in town." But it still oftener means a collection of streets, houses, and families too large to be called a village, but without the municipal government that characterizes a city. Sometimes it is used par excellence for a city, as when an inhabitant of Cambridge, itself a large suburban city, speaks of going to Boston as going "into town." But such cases are of course mere survivals from the time when the suburb was a village. In American usage generally the town is something between village and city, a kind of inferior or incomplete city. The image which it calls up in the mind is of something urban and not rural. This agrees substantially with the usage in European history, where "town" ordinarily means a walled town or city as contrasted with a village. In England the word is used either in this general sense, or more specifically as signifying an inferior city, as in America. But the thing which the town lacks, as compared with the complete city, is very different in America from what it is in England. In America it is municipal government—with mayor, aldermen, and common council—which must be added to the town in order to make it a city. In England the town may (and usually does) have this municipal government; but it is not distinguished by the Latin name "city" unless it has a cathedral and a bishop. Or in other words the English city is, or has been, the capital of a diocese. Other towns in England are distinguished as "boroughs," an old Teutonic word which was originally applied to towns as fortified places.[3] The voting inhabitants of an English city are called "citizens;" those of a borough are called "burgesses." Thus the official corporate designation of Cambridge is "the mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of Cambridge;" but Oxford is the seat of a bishopric, and its corporate designation is "the mayor, aldermen, and citizens of Oxford."

[Footnote 3: The word appears in many town names, such as Edinburgh, Scarborough, Canterbury, Bury St. Edmunds; and on the Continent, as Hamburg, Cherbourg, Burgos, etc. In Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota, the name "borough" is applied to a certain class of municipalities with some of the powers of cities.]


1. What is the essential difference between township government and county government?

2. What is the distinct advantage of the former?

3. Why is direct government impossible in the county?

4. Speak of the degree of efficiency in county government.

5. Why is direct government impossible in a city?

6. What difficulties in direct government were experienced in Boston in 1820 and many years preceding?

7. What remedy for these difficulties was adopted?

8. Show how the word "town" is used to indicate

a. The land of a township. b. A somewhat large collection of streets, houses, and families. c. And even, in some instances, a city.

9. What is the town commonly understood to be in American usage?

10. What is the difference in the United States between a town and a city?

11. What is the difference in England between a town and a city?

12. Distinguish between citizens and burgesses in England.

Section 2. Origin of English Boroughs and Cities.

[Sidenote: "Chesters."] [Sidenote: Coalescence of towns to fortified boroughs.] What, then, was the origin of the English borough or city? In the days when Roman legions occupied for a long time certain military stations in Britain, their camps were apt to become centres of trade and thus to grow into cities. Such places were generally known as casters or chesters, from the Latin castra, "camp," and there are many of them on the map of England to-day. But these were exceptional cases. As a rule the origin of the borough was as purely English as its name. We have seen that the town was originally the dwelling-place of a stationary clan, surrounded by palisades or by a dense quickset hedge. Now where such small enclosed places were thinly scattered about they developed simply into villages. But where, through the development of trade or any other cause, a good many of them grew up close together within a narrow compass, they gradually coalesced into a kind of compound town; and with the greater population and greater wealth, there was naturally more elaborate and permanent fortification than that of the palisaded village. There were massive walls and frowning turrets, and the place came to be called a fortress or "borough." The borough, then, was simply several townships packed tightly together; a hundred smaller in extent and thicker in population than other hundreds.[4]

[Footnote 4: Freeman, Norman Conquest, vol. v. p. 466. For a description of the hundred, see above, pp. 75-80.]

[Sidenote: The borough as a hundred.] From this compact and composite character of the borough came several important results. We have seen that the hundred was the smallest area for the administration of justice. The township was in many respects self-governing, but it did not have its court, any more than the New England township of the present day has its court. The lowest court was that of the hundred, but as the borough was equivalent to a hundred it soon came to have its own court. And although much obscurity still surrounds the early history of municipal government in England, it is probable that this court was a representative board, like any other hundred court, and that the relation of the borough to its constituent townships resembled the relation of the modern city to its constituent wards.

[Sidenote: The borough as a county.] But now as certain boroughs grew larger and annexed outlying townships, or acquired adjacent territory which presently became covered with streets and houses, their constitution became still more complex. The borough came to embrace several closely packed hundreds, and thus became analogous to a shire. In this way it gained for itself a sheriff and the equivalent of a county court. For example, under the charter granted by Henry I. in 1101, London was expressly recognized as a county by itself. Its burgesses could elect their own chief magistrate, who was called the port-reeve, inasmuch as London is a seaport; in some other towns he was called the borough-reeve. He was at once the chief executive officer and the chief judge. The burgesses could also elect their sheriff, although in all rural counties Henry's father, William the Conqueror, had lately deprived the people of this privilege and appointed the sheriffs himself. London had its representative board, or council, which was the equivalent of a county court. Each ward, moreover, had its own representative board, which was the equivalent of a hundred court. Within the wards, or hundreds, the burgesses were grouped together in township, parish, or manor.... Into the civic organization of London, to whose special privileges all lesser cities were ever striving to attain, the elements of local administration embodied in the township, the hundred, and the shire thus entered as component parts.[5] Constitutionally, therefore, London was a little world in itself, and in a less degree the same was true of other cities and boroughs which afterwards obtained the same kind of organization, as for example, York and Newcastle, Lincoln and Norwich, Southampton and Bristol.

[Footnote 5: Hannis Taylor, Origin and Growth of the English Constitution, vol. i. p. 458.]

[Sidenote: The guilds.] [Sidenote: mayor, aldermen, and common council.] In such boroughs or cities all classes of society were brought into close contact,—barons and knights, priests and monks, merchants and craftsmen, free labourers and serfs. But trades and manufactures, which always had so much to do with the growth of the city, acquired the chief power and the control of the government. From an early period tradesmen and artisans found it worth while to form themselves into guilds or brotherhoods, in order to protect their persons and property against insult and robbery at the hands of great lords and their lawless military retainers. Thus there came to be guilds, or "worshipful companies," of grocers, fishmongers, butchers, weavers, tailors, ironmongers, carpenters, saddlers, armourers, needle-makers, etc. In large towns there was a tendency among such trade guilds to combine in a "united brotherhood," or "town guild," and this organization at length acquired full control of the city government. In London this process was completed in the course of the thirteenth century. To obtain the full privileges of citizenship one had to be enrolled in a guild. The guild hall became the city hall. The aldermen, or head men of sundry guilds, became the head men of the several wards. There was a representative board, or common council, elected by the citizens. The aldermen and common council held their meetings in the Guildhall, and over these meetings presided the chief magistrate, or port-reeve, who by this time, in accordance with the fashion then prevailing, had assumed the French title of mayor. As London had come to be a little world in itself, so this city government reproduced on a small scale the national government; the mayor answering to the king, the aristocratic board of aldermen to the House of Lords, and the democratic common council to the House of Commons. A still more suggestive comparison, perhaps, would be between the aldermen and our federal Senate, since the aldermen represented wards, while the common council represented the citizens.

[Sidenote: The city of London.] The constitution thus perfected in the city of London[6] six hundred years ago has remained to this day without essential change. The voters are enrolled members of companies which represent the ancient guilds. Each year they choose one of the aldermen to be lord mayor. Within the city he has precedence next to the sovereign and before the royal family; elsewhere he ranks as an earl, thus indicating the equivalence of the city to a county, and with like significance he is lord lieutenant of the city and justice of the peace. The twenty-six aldermen, one for each ward, are elected by the people, such as are entitled to vote for members of parliament; they are justices of the peace. The common councilmen, 206 in number, are also elected by the people, and their legislative power within the city is practically supreme; parliament does not think of overruling it. And the city government thus constituted is one of the most clean-handed and efficient in the world.[7]

[Footnote 6: The city of London extends east and west from the Tower to Temple Bar, and north and south from Finsbury to the Thames, with a population of not more than 100,000, and is but a small part of the enormous metropolitan area now known as London, which is a circle of twelve miles radius in every direction from its centre at Charing Cross, with a population of more than 5,000,000. This vast area is an agglomeration of many parishes, manors, etc., and has no municipal government in common.]

[Footnote 7: Loftie, History of London , vol. i. p. 446] [Sidenote: English cities, the bulwarks of liberty.]

The development of other English cities and boroughs was so far like that of London that merchant guilds generally obtained control, and government by mayor, aldermen, and common council came to be the prevailing type. Having also their own judges and sheriffs, and not being obliged to go outside of their own walls to obtain justice, to enforce contracts and punish crime, their efficiency as independent self-governing bodies was great, and in many a troubled time they served as staunch bulwarks of English liberty. The strength of their turreted walls was more than supplemented by the length of their purses, and such immunity from the encroachments of lords and king as they could not otherwise win, they contrived to buy. Arbitrary taxation they generally escaped by compounding with the royal exchequer in a fixed sum or quit-rent, known as the firma burgi. We have observed the especial privilege which Henry I. confirmed to London, of electing its own sheriff. London had been prompt in recognizing his title to the crown, and such support, in days when the succession was not well regulated, no prudent king could afford to pass by without some substantial acknowledgment. It was never safe for any king to trespass upon the liberties of London, and through the worst times that city has remained a true republic with liberal republican sentiments. If George III. could have been guided by the advice of London, as expressed by its great alderman Beckford, the American colonies would not have been driven into rebellion.

[Sidenote: Simon de Montfort and the cities.] The most signal part played by the English boroughs and cities, in securing English freedom, dates from the thirteenth century, when the nation was vaguely struggling for representative government on a national scale, as a means of curbing the power of the crown. In that memorable struggle, the issue of which to some extent prefigured the shape that the government of the United States was to take five hundred years afterward, the cities and boroughs supported Simon de Montfort, the leader of the popular party and one of the foremost among the heroes and martyrs of English liberty. Accordingly on the morrow of his decisive victory at Lewes in 1264, when for the moment he stood master of England, as Cromwell stood four centuries later Simon called a parliament to settle the affairs of the kingdom, and to this parliament he invited, along with the lords who came by hereditary custom, not only two elected representatives from each rural county, but also two elected representatives from each city and borough. In this parliament, which met in 1265, the combination of rural with urban representatives brought all parts of England together in a grand representative body, the House of Commons, with interests in common; and thus the people presently gained power enough to defeat all attempts to establish irresponsible government, such as we call despotism, on the part of the crown.

[Sidenote: Oligarchical abuses in English cities (cir. 1500-1835).] If we look at the later history of English cities and boroughs, it appears that, in spite of the splendid work which they did for the English people at large, they did not always succeed in preserving their own liberties unimpaired. London, indeed, has always maintained its character as a truly representative republic. But in many English cities, during the Tudor and Stuart periods, the mayor and aldermen contrived to dispense with popular election, and thus to become close corporations or self-perpetuating oligarchical bodies. There was a notable tendency toward this sort of irresponsible government in the reign of James I., and the Puritans who came to the shores of Massachusetts Bay were inspired with a feeling of revolt against such methods. This doubtless lent an emphasis to the mood in which they proceeded to organize themselves into free self-governing townships. The oligarchical abuses in English cities and boroughs remained until they were swept away by the great Municipal Reform Act of 1835.

[Sidenote: Government of the city of New York (1686-1821).] The first city governments established in America were framed in conscious imitation of the corresponding institutions in England. The oldest city government in the United States is that of New York. Shortly after the town was taken from the Dutch in 1664, the new governor, Colonel Nichols, put an end to its Dutch form of government, and appointed a mayor, five aldermen, and a sheriff. These officers appointed inferior officers, such as constables, and little or nothing was left to popular election. But in 1686, under Governor Dongan, New York was regularly incorporated and chartered as a city. Its constitution bore an especially close resemblance to that of Norwich, then the third city in England in size and importance. The city of New York was divided into six wards. The governing corporation consisted of the mayor, the recorder, the town-clerk, six aldermen, and six assistants. All the land not taken up by individual owners was granted as public land to the corporation, which in return paid into the British exchequer one beaver-skin yearly. This was a survival of the old quit-rent or firma burgi.[8] The city was made a county, and thus had its court, its sheriff and coroner, and its high constable. Other officers were the chamberlain or treasurer, seven inferior constables, a sergeant-at-arms, and a clerk of the market, who inspected weights and measures, and punished delinquencies in the use of them. The principal judge was the recorder, who, as we have just seen, was one of the corporation. The aldermen, assistants, and constables were elected annually by the people; but the mayor and sheriff were appointed by the governor. The recorder, town-clerk, and clerk of the market were to be appointed by the king, but in case the king neglected to act, these appointments also were made by the governor. The high constable was appointed by the mayor, the treasurer by the mayor, aldermen, and assistants, who seem to have answered to the ordinary common council. The mayor, recorder, and aldermen, without the assistants, were a judicial body, and held a weekly court of common pleas. When the assistants were added, the whole became a legislative body empowered to enact by-laws.

[Footnote 8: Jameson, "The Municipal Government of New York," Mag. Amer. Hist., vol. viii. p. 609.]

Although this charter granted very imperfect powers of self-government, the people contrived to live under it for a hundred and thirty-five years, until 1821. Before the Revolution their petitions succeeded in obtaining only a few unimportant amendments.[9] When the British army captured the city in September, 1776, it was forthwith placed under martial law, and so remained until the army departed in November, 1783. During those seven years New York was not altogether a comfortable place in which to live. After 1783 the city government remained as before, except that the state of New York assumed the control formerly exercised by the British crown. Mayor and recorder, town-clerk and sheriff, were now appointed by a council of appointment consisting of the governor and four senators. This did not work well, and the constitution of 1821 gave to the people the power of choosing their sheriff and town-clerk, while the mayor was to be elected by the common council. Nothing but the appointment of the recorder remained in the hands of the governor. Thus nearly forty years after the close of the War of Independence the city of New York acquired self-government as complete as that of the city of London. In 1857, as we shall see, this self-government was greatly curtailed, with results more or less disastrous.

[Footnote 9: Especially in the so-called Montgomerie charter of 1730.]

[Sidenote: City government in Philadelphia (1701-1789).] The next city governments to be organized in the American colonies, after that of New York, were those of Philadelphia, incorporated in 1701, and Annapolis, incorporated in 1708. These governments were framed after the wretched pattern then so common in England. In both the mayor, the recorder, the aldermen, and the common council constituted a close self-electing corporation. The resulting abuses were not so great as in England, probably because the cities were so small. But in course of time, especially in Philadelphia as it increased in population, the viciousness of the system was abundantly illustrated. As the people could not elect the governing corporation or any of its members, they very naturally and reasonably distrusted it, and through the legislature they contrived so to limit its powers of taxation that it was really unable to keep the streets in repair, to light them at night, or to support an adequate police force. An attempt was made to supply such wants by creating divers independent boards of commissioners, one for paving and draining, another for street-lamps and watchmen, a third for town-pumps, and so on. In this way responsibility got so minutely parcelled out and scattered, and there was so much jealousy and wrangling between the different boards and the corporation, that the result was chaos. The public money was habitually wasted and occasionally embezzled, and there was general dissatisfaction. In 1789 the close corporation was abolished, and thereafter the aldermen and common council were elected by the citizens, the mayor was chosen by the aldermen out of their own number, and the recorder was appointed by the mayor and aldermen. Thus Philadelphia obtained a representative government.

[Sidenote: Traditions of good government lacking.] These instances of New York and Philadelphia sufficiently illustrate the beginnings of city government in the United States. In each case the system was copied from England at a time when city government in England was sadly demoralized. What was copied was not the free republic of London, with its noble traditions of civic honour and sagacious public spirit, but the imperfect republics or oligarchies into which the lesser English boroughs were sinking, amid the foul political intrigues and corruption which characterized the Stuart period. The government of American cities in our own time is admitted on all hands to be far from satisfactory. It is interesting to observe that the cities which had municipal government before the Revolution, though they have always had their full share of able and high-minded citizens, do not possess even the tradition of good government. And the difficulty, in those colonial times, was plainly want of adequate self-government, want of responsibility on the part of the public servants toward their employers the people.


1. What was the origin of the casters and chesters that are found in England to-day?

2. Trace the development of the English borough until it became a kind of hundred.

3. Compare this borough, with the hundred in the administration of justice.

4. Trace the further development of the borough in cases in which it became a county.

5. Illustrate this development with London, showing how the elements of the township, the hundred, and the shire government enter into its civic organization.

6. Explain the origin and the objects of the various guilds.

7. Speak of the "town guild" under the following heads:—

a. Its composition and power. b. Its relation to citizenship. c. Its place of meeting. d. The aldermen. e. The common council. f. The chief magistrate.

8. Compare the government of London with that of Great Britain or of the United States.

9. Give some account of the lord mayor, the aldermen, and the councilmen of London.

10. Distinguish between London the city and London the metropolis.

11. Show how the English cities and boroughs became bulwarks of liberty by (1) their facilities for obtaining justice, (2) the strength of their walls, and (3) the length of their purses.

12. Contrast the power of London with that of the throne.

13. What notable advance in government was made under the leadership of Simon de Montfort?

14. What abuses crept into the government of many of the English cities?

15. What was the Puritan attitude towards such abuses?

16. Give an account of the government of New York city:—

a. The charter of 1686. b. The governing corporation. c. The public land. d. The city's privileges as a county. e. Officers by election and by appointment. f. Judicial functions. g. Martial law. h. The charter of 1821.

17. Give an account of the government of Philadelphia:—

a. The governments after which it was patterned. b. The viciousness of the system adopted. c. The legislative interference that was thus provoked. d. The division of responsibility and the results of such division. e. The nature of the changes made in 1789.

18. Why are the traditions of good government lacking in the older American cities?

Section 3. The Government of Cities in the United States.

[Sidenote: Several features of our city governments.] At the present day American municipal governments are for the most part constructed on the same general plan, though with many variations in detail. There is an executive department, with the mayor at its head. The mayor is elected voters of the city, and holds office generally for one year, but sometimes for two or three years, and in St. Louis and Philadelphia even for four years. Under the mayor are various heads of departments,—street commissioners, assessors, overseers of the poor, etc.,—sometimes elected by the citizens, sometimes appointed by the mayor or the city council. This city council Is a legislative body, usually consisting of two chambers, the aldermen and the common council, elected by the citizens; but in many small cities, and a few of the largest,—such as New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, and San Francisco,—there is but one such chamber. Then there are city judges, sometimes appointed by the governor of the state, to serve for life or during good behaviour, but usually elected by the citizens for short terms.

All appropriations of money for city purposes are made by the city council; and as a general rule this council has some control over the heads of executive departments, which it exercises through committees. Thus there may be a committee upon streets, upon public buildings, upon parks or almshouses or whatever the municipal government is concerned with. The head of a department is more or less dependent upon his committee, and in practice this is found to divide and weaken responsibility. The heads of departments are apt to be independent of one another, and to owe no allegiance in common to any one. The mayor, when he appoints them, usually does so subject to the approval, of the city council or of one branch of it. The mayor is usually not a member of the city council, but can veto its enactments, which however can be passed over his veto by a two thirds majority.

[Sidenote: They do not seem to work well.] [Sidenote: some difficulties to be stated.] City governments thus constituted are something like state governments in miniature. The relation of the mayor to the city council is somewhat like that of the governor to the state legislature, and of the president to the national congress. In theory nothing could well be more republican, or more unlike such city governments as those of New York and Philadelphia before the Revolution. Yet in practice it does not seem to work well. New York and Philadelphia seem to have heard as many complaints in the nineteenth century as in the eighteenth, and the same kind of complaints,—of excessive taxation, public money wasted or embezzled, ill-paved and dirty streets, inefficient police, and so on to the end of the chapter. In most of our large cities similar evils have been witnessed, and in too many of the smaller ones the trouble seems to be the same in kind, only less in degree. Our republican government, which, after making all due allowances, seems to work remarkably well in rural districts, and in the states, and in the nation, has certainly been far less successful as applied to cities. Accordingly our cities have come to furnish topics for reflection to which writers and orators fond of boasting the unapproachable excellence of American institutions do not like to allude. Fifty years ago we were wont to speak of civil government in the United States as if it had dropped from heaven or had been specially created by some kind of miracle upon American soil; and we were apt to think that in mere republican forms there was some kind of mystic virtue which made them a panacea for all political evils. Our later experience with cities has rudely disturbed this too confident frame of mind. It has furnished facts which do not seem to fit our self-complacent theory, so that now our writers and speakers are inclined to vent their spleen upon the unhappy cities, perhaps too unreservedly. We hear them called "foul sinks of corruption" and "plague spots on our body politic." Yet in all probability our cities are destined to increase in number and to grow larger and larger; so that perhaps it is just as well to consider them calmly, as presenting problems which had not been thought of when our general theory of government was first worked out a hundred years ago, but which, after we have been sufficiently taught by experience, we may hope to succeed in solving, just as we have heretofore succeeded in other things. A general discussion of the subject does not fall within the province of this brief historical sketch. But our account would be very incomplete if we were to stop short of mentioning some of the recent attempts that have been made toward reconstructing our theories of city government and improving its practical working. And first, let us point out a few of the peculiar difficulties of the problem, that we may see why we might have been expected, up to the present time, to have been less successful in managing our great cities than in managing our rural communities, and our states, and our nation.

[Sidenote: Rapid growth of American cities.] In the first place, the problem is comparatively new and has taken us unawares. At the time of Washington's inauguration to the presidency there were no large cities in the United States. Philadelphia had a population of 42,000; New York had 33,000; Boston, which came next, with 18,000, was not yet a city. Then came Baltimore, with 13,000; while Brooklyn was a village of 1,600 souls. Now these five cities have a population of more than 4,000,000, or more than that of the United States in 1789. And consider how rapidly new cities have been added to the list. One hardly needs to mention the most striking cases, such as Chicago, with 4,000 inhabitants in 1840. and at least 1,000,000 in 1890; or Denver, with its miles of handsome streets and shops, and not one native inhabitant who has reached his thirtieth birthday. Such facts are summed up in the general statement that, whereas in 1790 the population of the United States was scarcely 4,000,000, and out of each 100 inhabitants only 3 dwelt in cities and the other 97 in rural places; on the other hand in 1880, when the population was more than 50,000,000, out of each 100 inhabitants 23 dwelt in cities and 77 in rural places. But duly to appreciate the rapidity of this growth of cities, we must observe that most of it has been subsequent to 1840. In 1790 there were six towns in the United States that might be ranked as cities from their size, though to get this number we must include Boston. In 1800 the number was the same. By 1810 the number had risen from 6 to 11; by 1820 it had reached 13; by 1830 this thirteen had doubled and become 26; and in 1840 there were 44 cities altogether. The urban population increased from 210,873 in 1800 to 1,453,994 in 1840. But between 1840 and 1880 the number of new cities which came into existence was 242, and the urban population increased to 11,318,547. Nothing like this was ever known before in any part of the world, and perhaps it is not strange that such a tremendous development did not find our methods of government fully prepared to deal with it.

[Sidenote: Want of practical foresight.] This rapidity of growth has entailed some important consequences. In the first place it obliges the city to make great outlays of money in order to get immediate results. Public works must be undertaken with a view to quickness rather than thoroughness. Pavements, sewers, and reservoirs of some sort must be had at once, even if inadequately planned and imperfectly constructed; and so, before a great while, the work must be done over again. Such conditions of imperative haste increase the temptations to dishonesty as well as the liability to errors of judgment on the part of the men who administer the public funds.[10] Then the rapid growth of a city, especially of a new city, requiring the immediate construction of a certain amount of public works, almost necessitates the borrowing of money, and debt means heavy taxes. It is like the case of a young man who, in order to secure a home for his quickly growing family, buys a house under a heavy mortgage. Twice a year there comes in a great bill for interest, and in order to meet it he must economize in his table or now and then deny himself a new suit of clothes. So if a city has to tax heavily to pay its debts, it must cut down its current expenses somewhere, and the results are sure to be visible in more or less untidiness and inefficiency. Mr. Low tells us that "very few of our American cities have yet paid in full the cost of their original water-works." Lastly, much wastefulness results from want of foresight. It is not easy to predict how a city will grow, or the nature of its needs a few years hence. Moreover, even when it is easy enough to predict a result, it is not easy to secure practical foresight on the part of a city council elected for the current year. Its members are afraid of making taxes too heavy this year, and considerations of ten years hence are apt to be dismissed as "visionary." It is always hard for us to realize how terribly soon ten years hence will be here. The habit of doing things by halves has been often commented on (and, perhaps, even more by our own writers than by foreigners) as especially noticeable in America. It has doubtless been fostered by the conditions which in so many cases have made it absolutely necessary to adopt temporary makeshifts. These conditions have produced a certain habit of mind.

[Footnote 10: This and some of the following considerations have been ably set forth and illustrated by Hon. Seth Low, president of Columbia College, and lately mayor of Brooklyn, in an address at Johns Hopkins University, published in J. H. U. Studies, Supplementary Notes, no. 4.]

[Sidenote: Growth in complexity of government in cities.] Let us now observe that as cities increase in size the amount of government that is necessary tends in some respects to increase. Wherever there is a crowd there is likely to be some need of rules and regulations. In the country a man may build his house pretty much as he pleases; but in the city he may be forbidden to build it of wood, and perhaps even the thickness of the party walls or the position of the chimneys may come in for some supervision on the part of the government. For further precaution against spreading fires, the city has an organized force of men, with costly engines, engine-houses, and stables. In the country a board of health has comparatively little to do; in the city it is often confronted with difficult sanitary problems which call for highly paid professional skill on the part of physicians and chemists, architects and plumbers, masons and engineers. So, too, the water supply of a great city is likely to be a complicated business, and the police force may well need as much, management as a small army. In short, with a city, increase in size is sure to involve increase in complexity of organization, and this means a vast increase in the number of officials for doing the work and of details to be superintended. For example, let us enumerate the executive department and officers of the city of Boston at the present time.

[Sidenote: Municipal officers in Boston.] There are three street commissioners with power to lay out streets and assess damages thereby occasioned. These are elected by the people. The following officers are appointed by the mayor, with the concurrence of the aldermen: a superintendent of streets, an inspector of buildings, three commissioners each for the fire and health departments, four overseers of the poor, besides a board of nine directors for the management of almshouses, houses of correction, lunatic hospital, etc.; a city hospital board of five members, five trustees of the public library, three commissioners each for parks and water-works; five chief assessors, to estimate the value of property and assess city, county, and state taxes; a city collector, a superintendent of public buildings, five trustees of Mount Hope Cemetery, six sinking fund commissioners, two record commissioners, three registrars of voters, a registrar of births, deaths, and marriages, a city treasurer, city auditor, city solicitor, corporation counsel, city architect, city surveyor, superintendent of Faneuil Hall Market, superintendent of street lights, superintendent of sewers, superintendent of printing, superintendent of bridges, five directors of ferries, harbour master and ten assistants, water registrar, inspector of provisions, inspector of milk and vinegar, a sealer and four deputy sealers of weights and measures, an inspector of lime, three inspectors of petroleum, fifteen inspectors of pressed hay, a culler of hoops and staves, three fence-viewers, ten field-drivers and pound-keepers, three surveyors of marble, nine superintendents of hay scales, four measurers of upper leather, fifteen measurers of wood and bark, twenty measurers of grain, three weighers of beef, thirty-eight weighers of coal, five weighers of boilers and heavy machinery, four weighers of ballast and lighters, ninety-two undertakers, 150 constables, 968 election officers and their deputies. A few of these officials serve without pay, some are paid by salaries fixed by the council, some by fees. Besides these there is a clerk of the common council elected by that body, and also the city clerk, city messenger, and clerk of committees, in whose election both branches of the city council concur. The school committee, of twenty-four members, elected by the people, is distinct from the rest of the city government, and so is the board of police, composed of three commissioners appointed by the state executive.[11]

[Footnote 11: Bugbee, "The City Government of Boston," J.H.U. Studies, V., iii.]

[Sidenote: How city government comes to be a mystery.] This long list may serve to give some idea of the mere quantity of administrative work required in a large city. Obviously under such circumstances city government must become more or less of a mystery to the great mass of citizens. They cannot watch its operations as the inhabitants of a small village can watch the proceedings of their township and county governments. Much work must go on which cannot even be intelligently criticised without such special knowledge as it would be idle to expect in the average voter, or perhaps in any voter. It becomes exceedingly difficult for the taxpayer to understand just what his money goes for, or how far the city expenses might reasonably be reduced; and it becomes correspondingly easy for municipal corruption to start and acquire a considerable headway before it can be detected and checked.

[Sidenote: In some respects it is more of a mystery that state and national government.] In some respects city government is harder to watch intelligently than the government of the state or of the nation. For these wider governments are to some extent limited to work of general supervision. As compared with the city, they are more concerned with the establishment and enforcement of certain general principles, and less with the administration of endlessly complicated details. I do not mean to be understood as saying that there is not plenty of intricate detail about state and national governments. I am only comparing one thing with another, and it seems to me that one chief difficulty with city government is the bewildering vastness and multifariousness of the details with which it is concerned. The modern city has come to be a huge corporation for carrying on a huge business with many branches, most of which call for special aptitude and training.

[Sidenote: The mayor at first had too little power.] As these points have gradually forced themselves upon public attention there has been a tendency in many of our large cities toward remodeling their governments on new principles. The most noticeable feature of this tendency is the increase in the powers of the mayor.

A hundred years ago our legislators and constitution-makers were much afraid of what was called the "one-man power." In nearly all the colonies a chronic quarrel had been kept up between the governors appointed by the king and the legislators elected by the people, and this had made the "one-man power" very unpopular. Besides, it was something that had been unpopular in ancient Greece and Rome, and it was thought to be essentially unrepublican in principle. Accordingly our great grandfathers preferred to entrust executive powers to committees rather than to single individuals; and when they assigned an important office to an individual they usually took pains to curtail its power and influence. This disposition was visible in our early attempts to organize city governments like little republics. First, in the board of aldermen and the common council we had a two-chambered legislature. Then, lest the mayor should become dangerous, the veto power was at first generally withheld from him, and his appointments of executive officers needed to be confirmed by at least one branch of the city council. These executive officers, moreover, as already observed, were subject to more or less control or oversight from committees of the city council.

[Sidenote: Scattering and weakening of responsibility.] Now this system, in depriving the mayor of power, deprived him of responsibility, and left the responsibility nowhere in particular. In making appointments the mayor and council would come to some sort of compromise with each other and exchange favours. Perhaps for private reasons incompetent or dishonest officers would get appointed, and if the citizens ventured to complain the mayor would say that he appointed as good men as the council could be induced to confirm, and the council would declare their willingness to confirm good appointments if the mayor could only be persuaded to make them.

[Sidenote: Committees inefficient for executive purposes.] Then the want of subordination of the different executive departments made it impossible to secure unity of administration or to carry out any consistent and generally intelligible policy. Between the various executive officers and visiting committees there was apt to be a more or less extensive interchange of favours, or what is called "log-rolling;" and sums of money would be voted by the council only thus to leak away in undertakings the propriety or necessity of which was perhaps hard to determine. There was no responsible head who could be quickly and sharply called to account. Each official's hands were so tied that whatever went wrong he could declare that it was not his fault. The confusion was enhanced by the practice of giving executive work to committees or boards instead of single officers. Benjamin Franklin used to say, if you wish to be sure that a thing is done, go and do it yourself. Human experience certainly proves that this is the only absolutely safe way. The next best way is to send some competent person to do it for you; and if there is no one competent to be had, you do the next best thing and entrust the work to the least incompetent person you can find. If you entrust it to a committee your prospect of getting it done is diminished and it grows less if you enlarge your committee. By the time you have got a group of committees, independent of one another and working at cross purposes, you have got Dickens's famous Circumlocution Office, where the great object in life was "how not to do it."

[Sidenote 1: Increase of city debts.]

[Sidenote 2: Attempt to cure the evil by state interference; experience of New York.]

Amid the general dissatisfaction over the extravagance and inefficiency of our city governments, people's attention was first drawn to the rapid and alarming increase of city indebtedness in various parts of the country. A heavy debt may ruin a city as surely as an individual, for it raises the rate of taxation, and thus, as was above pointed out, it tends to frighten people and capital away from the city. At first it was sought to curb the recklessness of city councils in incurring lavish expenditures by giving the mayor a veto power. Laws were also passed limiting the amount of debt which a city would be allowed to incur under any circumstances. Clothing the mayor with the veto power is now seen to have been a wise step; and arbitrary limitation of the amount of debt, though a clumsy expedient, is confessedly a necessary one. But beyond this, it was in some instances attempted to take the management of some departments of city business out of the hands of the city and put them into the hands of the state legislature. The most notable instance of this was in New York in 1857. The results, there and elsewhere, have been generally regarded as unsatisfactory. After a trial of thirty years the experience of New York has proved that a state legislature is not competent to take proper care of the government of cities. Its members do not know enough about the details of each locality, and consequently local affairs are left to the representatives from each locality, with "log-rolling" as the inevitable result. A man fresh from his farm on the edge of the Adirondacks knows nothing about the problems pertaining to electric wires in Broadway, or to rapid transit between Harlem and the Battery; and his consent to desired legislation on such points can very likely be obtained only by favouring some measure which he thinks will improve the value of his farm, or perhaps by helping him to debauch the civil service by getting some neighbour appointed to a position for which he is not qualified. All this is made worse by the fact that the members of a state government are generally less governed by a sense of responsibility toward the citizens of a particular city than even the worst local government that can be set up in such a city.[12]

[Footnote 1: It is not intended to deny that there may be instances in which the state government may advantageously participate in the government of cities. It may be urged that, in the case of great cities, like New York or Boston, many people who are not residents either do business in the city or have vast business interests there, and thus may be as deeply interested in its welfare as any of the voters. It may also be said that state provisions for city government do not always work badly. There are many competent judges who approve of the appointment of police commissioners by the executive of Massachusetts. There are generally two sides to a question; and to push a doctrine to extremes is to make oneself a doctrinaire rather than a wise citizen. But experience clearly shows that in all doubtful cases it is safer to let the balance incline in favour of local self-government than the other way.]

Moreover, even if legislatures were otherwise competent to manage the local affairs of cities, they have not time enough, amid the pressure of other duties, to do justice to such matters. In 1870 the number of acts passed by the New York legislature was 808. Of these, 212, or more than one fourth of the whole, related to cities and villages. The 808 acts, when printed, filled about 2,000 octavo pages; and of these the 212 acts filled more than 1,500 pages. This illustrates what I said above about the vast quantity of details which have to be regulated in municipal government. Here we have more than three fourths of the volume of state-legislation devoted to local affairs; and it hardly need be added that a great part of these enactments were worse than worthless because they were made hastily and without due consideration,—though not always, perhaps, without what lawyers call a consideration.[13]

[Footnote 13: Nothing could be further from my thought than to cast any special imputation upon the New York legislature, which is probably a fair average specimen of law-making bodies. The theory of legislative bodies, as laid down in text-books, is that they are assembled for the purpose of enacting laws for the welfare of the community in general. In point of fact they seldom rise to such a lofty height of disinterestedness. Legislation is usually a mad scramble in which the final result, be it good or bad, gets evolved out of compromises and bargains among a swarm of clashing local and personal interests. The "consideration" may be anything from log-rolling to bribery. In American legislatures it is to be hoped that downright bribery is rare. As for log-rolling, or exchange of favours, there are many phases of it in which that which may be perfectly innocent shades off by almost imperceptible degrees into that which is unseemly or dishonourable or even criminal; and it is in this hazy region that Satan likes to set his traps for the unwary pilgrim.]

[Sidenote: Tweed Ring in New York.] The experience of New York thus proved that state intervention and special legislation did not mend matters. It did not prevent the shameful rule of the Tweed Ring from 1868 to 1871, when a small band of conspirators got themselves elected or appointed to the principal city offices, and, having had their own corrupt creatures chosen judges of the city courts, proceeded to rob the taxpayers at their leisure. By the time they were discovered and brought to justice, their stealings amounted to many millions of dollars, and the rate of taxation had risen to more than two per cent.

[Sidenote: New experiments.] The discovery of these wholesale robberies, and of other villainies on a smaller scale in other cities, has led to much discussion of the problems of municipal government, and to many attempts at practical reform. The present is especially a period of experiments, yet in these experiments perhaps a general drift of opinion may be discerned. People seem to be coming to regard cities more as if they were huge business corporations than as if they were little republics. The lesson has been learned that in executive matters too much limitation of power entails destruction of responsibility; the "ring" is now more dreaded than the "one-man power;" and there is accordingly a manifest tendency to assail the evil by concentrating power and responsibility in the mayor.

[Sidenote: New government of Brooklyn.] The first great city to adopt this method was Brooklyn. In the first place the city council was simplified and made a one-chambered council consisting of nineteen aldermen. Besides this council of aldermen, the people elect only three city officers,—the mayor, comptroller, and auditor. The comptroller is the principal finance officer and book-keeper of the city; and the auditor must approve bills against the city, whether great or small, before they can be paid. The mayor appoints, without confirmation by the council, all executive heads of departments; and these executive heads are individuals, not boards. Thus there is a single police commissioner, a single fire commissioner, a single health commissioner, and so on; and each of these heads appoints his own subordinates; so that the principle of defined responsibility permeates the city government from top to bottom,[14] In a few cases, where the work to be done is rather discretionary than executive in character, it is intrusted to a board; thus there is a board of assessors, a board of education, and a board of elections. These are all appointed by the mayor, but for terms not coinciding with his own; "so that, in most cases, no mayor would appoint the whole of any such board unless he were to be twice elected by the people." But the executive officers are appointed by the mayor for terms coincident with his own, that is for two years. "The mayor is elected at the general election in November; he takes office on the first of January following, and for one month the great departments of the city are carried on for him by the appointees of his predecessor. On the first of February it becomes his duty to appoint his own heads of departments, and thus each incoming mayor has the opportunity to make an administration in all its parts in sympathy with himself."

[Footnote 14: Seth Low on "Municipal Government," in Bryce's American Commonwealth, vol. i. p. 626.]

With all these immense executive powers entrusted to the mayor, however, he does not hold the purse-strings. He is a member of a board of estimate, of which the other four members are the comptroller and auditor, with the county treasurer and supervisor. This board recommends the amounts to be raised by taxation for the ensuing year. These estimates are then laid before the council of aldermen, who may cut down single items as they see fit, but have not the power to increase any item. The mayor must see to it that the administrative work of the year does not use up more money than is thus allowed him.

[Sidenote: Some of its merits.] This Brooklyn system has great merits. It ensures unity of administration, it encourages promptness and economy, it locates and defines responsibility, and it is so simple that everybody can understand it. The people, having but few officers to elect, are more likely to know something about them. Especially since everybody understands that the success of the government depends upon the character of the mayor, extraordinary pains are taken to secure good mayors; and the increased interest in city politics is shown by the fact that in Brooklyn more people vote for mayor than for governor or for president. Fifty years ago such a reduction in the number of elective officers would have greatly shocked all good Americans. But In point of fact, while in small townships where everybody knows everybody popular control is best ensured by electing all public officers, it is very different in great cities where it is impossible that the voters in general should know much about the qualifications of a long list of candidates. In such cases citizens are apt to vote blindly for names about which they know nothing except that they occur on a Republican or a Democratic ticket; although, if the object of a municipal election is simply to secure an upright and efficient municipal government, to elect a city magistrate because he is a Republican or a Democrat is about as sensible as to elect him because he believes in homoeopathy or has a taste for chrysanthemums.[15] To vote for candidates whom one has never heard of is not to insure popular control, but to endanger it. It is much better to vote for one man whose reputation we know, and then to hold him strictly responsible for the appointments he makes. The Brooklyn system seems to be a step toward lifting city government out of the mire of party politics.

[Footnote 15: Of course from the point of view of the party politician, it Is quite different. Each party has its elaborate "machine" for electing state and national officers; and in order to be kept at its maximum of efficiency the machine must be kept at work on all occasions, whether such occasions are properly concerned with differences in party politics or not. To the party politician it of course makes a great difference whether a city magistrate is a Republican or a Democrat. To him even the political complexion of his mail-carrier is a matter of importance. But these illustrations only show that party politics may be carried to extremes that are inconsistent with the best interests of the community. Once in a while it becomes necessary to teach party organizations to know their place, and to remind them that they are not the lords and masters but the servants and instruments of the people.]

This system went into operation in Brooklyn in January, 1882, and seems to have given general satisfaction. Since then changes in a similar direction, though with variations in detail, have been made in other cities, and notably in Philadelphia.

[Sidenote: Notion that the suffrage ought to be restricted.] In speaking of the difficulties which beset city government in the United States, mention is often (and perhaps too exclusively) made of the great mass of ignorant voters, chiefly foreigners without experience in self-government, with no comprehension of American principles and traditions, and with little or no property to suffer from excessive taxation. Such people will naturally have slight compunctions about voting away other people's money; indeed, they are apt to think that "the Government" has got Aladdin's lamp hidden away somewhere in a burglar-proof safe, and could do pretty much everything that is wanted, if it only would. In the hands of demagogues such people may be dangerous, they are supposed to be especially accessible to humbug and bribes, and their votes have no doubt been used to sustain and perpetuate most flagrant abuses. We often hear it said that the only way to get good government is to deprive such people of their votes and limit the suffrage to persons who have some property at stake. Such a measure has been seriously recommended in New York, but it is generally felt to be impossible without a revolution.

[Sidenote: Testimony of Pennsylvania Municipal Commission.] Perhaps, after all, it may not be so desirable as it seems. The ignorant vote has done a great deal of harm, but not all the harm. In 1878 it was reported by the Pennsylvania Municipal Commission, as a remarkable but notorious fact, that the accumulations of debt in Philadelphia and other cities of the state have been due, not to a non-property-holding, irresponsible element among the electors, but to the desire for speculation among the property-owners themselves. Large tracts of land outside the built-up portion of the city have been purchased, combinations made among men of wealth, and councils besieged until they have been driven into making appropriations to open and improve streets and avenues, largely in advance of the real necessities of the city. Extraordinary as the statement may seem at first, the experience of the past shows clearly that frequently property-owners need more protection against themselves than against the non-property-holding class.[16] This is a statement of profound significance, and should be duly pondered by advocates of a restricted suffrage.

[Footnote 16: Allinson and Penrose, Philadelphia, 1681-1887; a History of Municipal Development, p. 278.]

[Sidenote: Dangers of a restricted suffrage.] It should also be borne in mind that, while ignorant and needy voters, led by unscrupulous demagogues, are capable of doing much harm with their votes, it is by no means clear that the evil would be removed by depriving them of the suffrage. It is very unsafe to have in any community a large class of people who feel that political rights or privileges are withheld from them by other people who are their superiors in wealth or knowledge. Such poor people are apt to have exaggerated ideas of what a vote can do; very likely they think it is because they do not have votes that they are poor; thus they are ready to entertain revolutionary or anarchical ideas, and are likely to be more dangerous material in the hands of demagogues than if they were allowed to vote. Universal suffrage has its evils, but it undoubtedly acts as a safety-valve. The only cure for the evils which come from ignorance and shiftlessness is the abolition of ignorance and shiftlessness; and this is slow work. Church and school here find enough to keep them busy; but the vote itself, even if often misused, is a powerful educator; and we need not regret that the restriction of the suffrage has come to be practically impossible.

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