Community Civics and Rural Life
by Arthur W. Dunn
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Such abuses as these are, of course, not faults of the TAXING system, but they naturally make citizens reluctant to pay taxes. People want to know that their money is spent for the purposes for which it was paid, and that it is used economically and effectively for these purposes. Nothing else will do so much to remove the dislike of taxation as assurance on these points. As Franklin said with reference to his successful experiment in street cleaning, it "raised a general desire to have all the streets paved, and made the people more willing to submit to a tax for that purpose."


A system of taxation must be JUST if it is to meet with popular approval. It is not easy, nor indeed possible, to devise a system that works with absolute justice in every case; for the assessment of taxes is a complicated process, and reliance must be placed to a considerable extent upon the honesty and conscientiousness of individual citizens. The people are satisfied, however, if they see that every reasonable effort is made to secure justice.

The first essential in a just system is that EVERY CITIZEN SHALL BEAR HIS SHARE of the burden. Therefore the paying of taxes is compulsory by law. It is also just that each citizen shall pay only IN PROPORTION TO HIS ABILITY. These two principles of taxation are similar to those applied in the selective draft for war service. It is in assessing taxes according to ability to pay that one of the principal difficulties appears. But an effort has been made to do this by the following procedure.


It is first necessary to know how much money will be needed by the government. Each year, therefore, the heads of the various branches and departments of government make an estimate for the coming year, based on their knowledge of past expenditures and present and future needs. Such estimate can be made intelligently only when there is an accurate and businesslike system of keeping accounts and records, and a well-planned BUDGET SYSTEM. Unbusinesslike methods of keeping accounts and the lack of a budget system have been among the chief weaknesses of our governments, equally characteristic of local, state, and national governments. Efforts are being made to remedy these defects and are described in Chapters XXV, XXVI, and XXVII.


The second thing to be ascertained is the ability of each citizen to pay. In some states a uniform POLL TAX is assessed upon every adult citizen. This is a tax upon the PERSON and usually amounts to about two dollars. Only those are exempt who are incapable of self-support. But the chief reliance is upon a property tax. State and local governments depend principally upon a GENERAL PROPERTY TAX, for which purpose property is divided into two kinds: REAL ESTATE, which includes land and buildings, and PERSONAL PROPERTY, which includes furniture, tools, livestock, money, and valuables of various kinds. In addition to the general property tax there may be taxes upon INCOMES and upon INHERITANCES. There are also LICENSE TAXES, such as dog and automobile licenses. Finally there are taxes upon certain PRIVILEGES which are bestowed upon the individual by the community and have a money value. Of such a nature is the license tax imposed upon a peddler or upon a person who maintains a market stand on the public street. Such, also, are the taxes placed upon corporations for the privilege of using the public highways for car tracks, water mains, or telephone poles.

It is necessary, therefore, for the government to ASSESS THE VALUE of the property (or privilege) of each citizen, and it has its organization for this purpose. Each local community The assessment of (township, county, or city) has one or more TAX ASESSORS, who endeavor to ascertain by inquiry values or inspection the value of each citizen's property. The sum of the individual assessments constitutes the assessment valuation for the town, or county, or city; and the sum of the valuations of these local communities constitutes the valuation for the entire state.


The third step is to ascertain the RATE of taxation. This is found by dividing the total amount to be raised by taxation The rate of by the total property valuation of the county or taxation state, as the case may be. If the amount to be raised is $500,000, and the property valuation is $10,000,000, the rate would be 5 per cent, and the tax is levied against each citizen at this rate. A citizen who owns twice as much property as another should pay twice as much tax. Each should pay according to his ability.


This seems like a simple procedure; but it is very difficult to get a just result. The difficulty lies chiefly in the assessment It requires a good deal of intelligence to assess property fairly, even with the best of intentions. Assessors are not always competent. Two assessors may differ in their judgment, so that assessments in one part of the community may run at a lower level than in another part. Thus assessments vary in their fairness in different townships of the same county, and in different counties of the same state. An attempt is made to avoid this by means of county and state TAX EQUALIZATION BOARDS, which seek to adjust differences of this sort. But their efforts are only partially successful.


Property owners are themselves, however, more responsible than anyone else for the inequities of taxation in our country. It is a common practice of tax assessors to accept the property owner's own statement of the valuation of his property. In an astonishingly large proportion of cases he gives a valuation far below the real one. Even when the assessor inspects the property, it is easy to conceal from his eyes certain forms of personal property, such as money, stocks and bonds, and jewelry. Land and livestock cannot be concealed; and for this reason farmers are likely to pay a heavier share of taxes than others whose property is in less conspicuous forms. But they may make false valuations.


In one state, where the law requires the assessment of real estate "at its true value in money when sold in the ordinary manner of sale," a study in one township showed that "the average TAX value of farm land in the open country ... is $7.89, while the average MARKET value runs around $20. The 73 largest taxpayers give in their farm holdings at values ranging from $6 to $20 an acre. Thus the burden of state and county support falls three or four times as heavily on one acre of farm land as on another—on farms lying side by side.

"When we look at suburban farm land the tax values range from $17 to $2220 an acre.

"But the most amazing 'jokes' appear in the values put by their owners on improved town lots. In the same end of the town we found three handsome town properties worth around $15,000 each, the tax values were $550, $4400, $4950. In another neighborhood, two adjoining homes about equal in value were listed at $500 and $3400; one at about 50 per cent and the other at about 8 per cent of the actual value."

With regard to personal property in the same township, the wealthiest private taxpayer in the township lists household goods and utensils, work-stock, vehicles, money, jewelry ... at $216. The next wealthiest private taxpayer covers all these properties with $105. He's a farmer and well-to-do, but his household furniture, farm animals, vehicles, implements, and the like, are worth only $105—on the tax list.

"Another large landowner covers his household goods, farm animals, vehicles, and the like, with $82; another with $457, and another with $2272. The differences lie not so much in the properties as in the consciences of these big landlords."[Footnote: 1 E. C. Branson, A Township Tax-List Study; in North Carolina Club Year Book, 1917-1918, pp. 66, 67 (The University of North Carolina Extension Series No. 30).]


Such inequalities as these may be found in almost every tax list in any community. One of the strange things about it is that citizens evade taxation who would not think of being dishonest or unfair in a private business transaction. The reason is not easy to understand. Doubtless it is partly due to the feeling that as long as "everybody does it" it is justifiable. Of course this is not true. One taxpayer is reported as saying, "I feel dog-mean whenever I give in my taxes; but I'm doing as well as the rest and a little better than most."


Dishonest returns by one taxpayer defraud the citizen who is honest, because they place a heavier burden of taxation upon the latter. Moreover, the dishonest taxpayer and good cheats himself along with others, for the lower the business valuation of property, the higher the rate of taxation, or the poorer the service received from the government. "It is good sense and good business for a state to show up with large tax values and low tax rates. It shows a brisk and lively prosperity that is attractive to outside capital and enterprise." [Footnote: E. C. Branson, A Township Tax-List Study]


To secure fairer taxation and better returns from taxation there is need of improvement in the organization for tax assessment and tax equalization. It is especially important to make it more difficult for the "tax dodger" to evade his responsibility. It would seem, however, that there would be fewer "tax dodgers" if the people once got "the right idea" of what taxation really means in a democracy. Great improvement would doubtless result, even under present conditions, if honest citizens would take more interest in the results of assessments as shown in the tax lists. The writer quoted in the paragraphs above asserts that, next to the Bible, "the most important book in any county is the Tax List, and it is the one book that the people in general know least about."

Everybody knows in a vague, general way that something is wrong with our tax system ... but what everybody does not know is what the facts are in concrete, accurate detail. There is no cure like publicity for wrongs in a democracy. Give the folks the facts, whatever they are, and the folks will do the rest. ... But at present nobody knows the facts. That is to say, nobody but the tax listers, the registers, and the sheriffs. And they are dumb because their official lives depend on silence. [Footnote:. C. Branson, A Township Tax-List Study.]

Investigate and report on the following:

Do people of your acquaintance like to pay taxes? What reasons do they give?

The cost of your town government, your county government, and your state government per year.

The purposes for which most money is spent by your town government, your county government, and your state government.

The assessed valuation of property in your town, county, state.

Does the law in your state require that property shall be assessed at its full market value? If not, at what part of its market value?

The tax rate in your county. Is it high or low? Reasons why it is high or low.

The tax list of your town.

The sources of revenue in your county and state, and the amount raised from each source.

The work of a tax assessor in your town.

Where taxes are paid in your community.

Who has charge of tax collections in your community?

What happens to a citizen in your community who fails to pay his taxes?

The difference between "assessing" and "levying" taxes.

Who levies the taxes in your town? county? state?

Explain the statement that "large tax values and low tax rates attract outside capital and enterprise".


We have been speaking so far of taxation, for the purposes of state and local governments. But Congress also has power by "to lay and collect taxes ... to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States" (Constitution, Art. I, sec. 8, clause i). State and local governments raise most of their revenues by DIRECT taxation upon the property of citizens. The national government, on the other hand, has always relied chiefly upon INDIRECT taxation. Congress levies DUTIES ON IMPORTS. These duties are paid in the first instance by the importer. The latter, however, adds the tax to the price of the goods, so that it is paid finally by the consumers and not by the importer. In a similar manner Congress levies EXCISE TAXES, which are taxes upon products manufactured in this country. The principal excise taxes have been those levied on alcoholic liquors and tobacco. But here again the tax is paid by the consumer in the price which he pays for the liquor or tobacco.


The chief advantage of indirect taxes is the ease and certainty with which they may be collected by the government. the citizen pays them whenever he buys the articles on which the tax is levied. The retail dealer passes them on to the wholesaler, and so finally the importer is reimbursed. The government collects the taxes at customs houses at ports of entry, or at the tobacco factories and, formerly, at distilleries. Prohibition has deprived the government of one of its chief sources of revenue. Indirect taxes are also less objectionable to the people, for they are seldom conscious of paying them when they buy goods upon which they are levied.


Congress has the power to levy direct as well as indirect taxes, but it has usually avoided direct taxation, partly for the reasons stated above, and partly because the Constitution provides that "no capitation or other direct tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration hereinbefore directed to be taken"; that is, in proportion to population. It has been found difficult in practice to make such apportionment. Various attempts by Congress to levy a direct tax on incomes have been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court because it was not so apportioned. The Constitution has now been amended, however, to give Congress the power "to lay and collect taxes on incomes from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration" (Amendment XVI).

A large revenue is now derived from the national income tax. The law at first exempted from it single persons whose income was less than $3000, and married persons whose income was less than $4000. As a result of the war, only those are now exempt whose incomes are less than $1000, if single, and $2000 if married, with an additional exemption for each dependent child. The tax is PROGRESSIVE: that is, the larger one's income, the higher RATE one pays.


In ordinary times of peace, state and local governments together spend much more money than the national government. In war time the reverse is true. Enormous sums of money were required for the conduct of the recent war. As a result the rates of import, excise, and income taxes were greatly increased, and unusual forms of taxation were adopted. A war tax was placed upon many articles of common use, an inheritance tax was imposed similar to that in some of the states, and the EXCESS PROFITS of businesses which the war made unusually prosperous were taxed heavily. The effort in every case was to distribute the tax so that every one should do his share, while the burden should rest most heavily upon those who could best bear it.


A large part of the money necessary for war purposes, and for permanent improvements in time of peace, is raised by borrowing. Governments, whether national, state, or local, borrow money by the sale of BONDS, the purchase price with interest being returned to the purchaser after a stated period of years. The national government borrowed more than 22 billion dollars during the war by the sale of "liberty bonds," and an additional large sum by the sale of "war savings stamps". These loans made by the people are ultimately paid off with funds raised by taxation. The people to- day advance money to the government, which the people of to-morrow pay back by taxation. This is justifiable because the war was fought for the benefit of future generations as well as of the people to-day. For the same reason, the cost of permanent improvements, such as roads and public buildings, is distributed over a period of years.

Investigate and report on:

The full meaning of Article I, section 8, clause i, and section 7, clause I, of the Constitution.

The loss to the nation of revenue as a result of the prohibition of the liquor traffic.

Compensating financial gains to the nation through prohibition of the liquor traffic.

Why an income tax is a good form of taxation. Why it should be "progressive".

The justice of an inheritance tax. Of a tax on excess profits.

Articles upon which you pay an import duty.

Why government is justified in using force to compel the payment of taxes.


County and state reports. Local tax lists.


Series B: Lesson 22, Financing the war. Lesson 23, Thrift and war savings.

The United States Treasury Department; in Federal Executive Departments,

Bulletin, 1919, No. 74, U.S. Bureau of Education.


Taxation and Government (John Fiske), pp. 249-254.

North Carolina Club YEAR BOOK, 1917-1918, pp. 49-68 (University of North Carolina Record, Extension Series No. 30, Chapel Hill, N.C.).

Tufts, Jas. H., THE REAL BUSINESS OF LIVING, pp. 52-54; 242-246 (Henry Holt Co.).

Hart, A.B., ACTUAL GOVERNMENT, pp. 381-429 (Longmans, Green & Co.).

Reed, T.H., FORM AND FUNCTIONS OF AMERICAN GOVERNMENT, pp. 468-481 (World Book Co.).





Early in our study we considered the question WHY we have government (Chapter IV). We saw then that it is the people's organization for teamwork in protecting and promoting their common interests. Succeeding chapters contain evidence that this is so, although they also show that the results achieved by government are by no means perfect. Now we are to consider HOW we have organized to get teamwork and how well our organization is suited to its purpose.


"American experience indicates that what men do for themselves, on their own initiative, is better done than what paternalistic government attempts to do for them." [Footnote: Editorial, SATURDAY EVENING POST, February 12, 1921.] Americans have always disliked PATERNALISM in government, which means an attempt on the part of government to control the personal affairs of the people as a father (Latin, PATER) controls the affairs of a small child. Democracy is founded on faith in the ability of the people to manage their own affairs with due regard for the equal rights of other people. We look upon our government chiefly as an instrument to ensure an equal opportunity to all to exercise initiative and to manage their own affairs; or, to use the terms we have used before, not so much to do things for us, as to secure teamwork in doing things for ourselves. We have had numerous examples of this principle in preceding chapters, one of which was the extent to which private initiative and enterprise were depended upon for the development of our public lands.


As our community life has become more complex, and as our dependence upon one another has become greater, we have gradually come to expect government to do many things for us, and to control our individual conduct in many ways, that were not thought of at an earlier time. We have had illustrations of this, also, in foregoing chapters. For example, whereas roads were at first built and controlled almost entirely by private enterprise, now they are mostly PUBLIC highways, maintained by state and local governments with the cooperation of the national government. Proposals to place railroads under government management have always met, and still meet, with opposition; but government exercises a much greater control over them than formerly. Even education has only gradually become compulsory by law, and the "public" high school is of recent origin. Until quite recently the people have been left largely to their own resources for the protection of health, and for recreation and social life.


There are those who take the extreme position that government should manage practically everything for us. Such are the Socialists, who believe that the unequal distribution of wealth and the resulting inequalities in opportunity to satisfy wants are due to the control of industry by a small and essentially selfish capitalistic class. They believe that all natural resources and all capital should belong to the people jointly, and that the people's government should control both the production and the distribution of wealth.

It has been objected to the socialist scheme that, since government would still be in the hands of imperfect human beings, it would not be wise enough to accomplish the desired result; that political motives would enter into government management, as they do in government enterprises to-day, and would prevent the achievement of the desired results; and that, the opportunity for private initiative and enterprise having been removed, there would be lacking one of the chief inducements to human progress.

Socialism has made considerable progress in some nations of the world, but it is by no means popular in the United States, although it has many advocates. We adhere in the main to the principle that government should do things for us only when they could not be so well done by private enterprise, and should control our conduct only so far as to secure equality of personal freedom. The fact remains, however, that an increasing amount of service is being performed for us by government, and an increasing control exercised by it over private enterprise.


Insofar as government performs service for us, it must have an organization for that purpose, with competent leadership. And if it is not to interfere unduly with freedom of action or personal liberty, the people must have an organization by which to maintain control over it. Thus there must be an organization to ensure efficient SERVICE, and there must be an organization to ensure democracy, or POPULAR CONTROL. If both organizations are effective, we have an EFFICIENT DEMOCRACY, toward which we have been striving through all our history, but which we have not yet completely attained.

A government may be efficient in performing service for the people without being democratic. In fact, it may be easier to get efficient service under an autocratic government. Germany before the war illustrated this. But we believe that a government may be both efficient and democratic. This depends upon competent leadership and popular control; and both of these depend upon education (Chapter XIX).

In the remaining pages of this book we shall consider both the organization of our government for service and that for popular control. In this chapter we shall examine some of the methods by which we seek to control government, or to be SELF-governing.


The people of a community may govern themselves by direct action or indirectly through representatives, just as a group of farmers may build their own schoolhouse or church, or employ someone to do it for them. When English colonists settled New England, geographical conditions and other reasons led them to form small, compact communities, in which it was easy to assemble frequently at the meetinghouse to discuss matters of community concern and to agree upon, rules, or laws, to regulate them. This local government by "town meeting" has persisted in many New England "towns," or "townships," to the present day.


This direct action of the people in the New England town is for the purpose of MAKING the laws only. When it comes to the enforcement of these laws, it is necessary to delegate the authority to someone. The town meeting could make a law against permitting hogs to run at large, but it chose someone, a "hog reeve," to see that the law was observed. When the community is large it is found more convenient to choose representatives also to make the laws. Thus each Massachusetts town had its representative in the lawmaking assembly of the colony as a whole. This representative system of government now prevails in our cities, counties, states, and nation.


Even in the larger communities, however, such as cities, states, and the nation itself, the people have sought to retain more or less direct control over lawmaking. In the first place, the "fundamental law" of the states and nation found in their constitutions, which determine what the form and powers of government shall be, has been adopted by more direct action of the people than most other laws. The Preamble to the federal Constitution asserts that "We, the people of the United ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Neither state nor national constitutions can be altered except by special action by the people themselves, either by direct vote at the polls or by conventions of representatives chosen especially for the purpose.


It has long been the practice in many communities to submit important local questions to popular vote for decision, such as the question of issuing bonds for public improvements, or of licensing saloons. Within recent years in a number of states the people have gained direct control over lawmaking in regard to any subject whatever, both in local and state affairs, by means of the "initiative and referendum." The "initiative" is the right of the voters themselves to "initiate," or propose, legislation. This is done by means of a petition signed by a specified number of voters. The legislature may then act upon the proposed law; but if it does not do so, the law is submitted to the people for their vote at the next election. On the other hand, if the legislature passes a law that is objectionable to some of the voters a petition signed by a specified number of voters requires the law to be REFERRED to the people for their approval or rejection. This is the "referendum."


Of the 21 states that had adopted the initiative and referendum (to 1917) only four were east of the Mississippi River (Maine, Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio). [Footnote: "The Initiative and Referendum," Bulletin No. 6, submitted to the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts (1917) by the Commission to Compile Information and Data, p. 10.] The movement to increase popular control over government has always been stronger in the West, as we shall see in other connections.

For the most part, however, our laws are made by our representatives, over whom we exercise more or less control. Some of the more important means by which this control is exercised are described in following chapters; but first of all we exercise control by CHOOSING our representatives at frequent intervals. Let us inquire to what extent the people have a voice in this choice.


It is not true that all citizens have a voice in choosing their representatives, though it is more nearly true today than ever before. The right to a voice in this choice is called the SUFFRAGE. It is bestowed only on those citizens who possess certain qualifications. The constitution of each state fixes the qualifications for those who live within the boundaries of the state, the national government having exercised no control over the matter except in two cases. After the Civil War, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution was adopted, providing that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any state, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude"; and recently Congress has enacted another amendment to the federal Constitution which, when approved by a sufficient number of states, will bestow the suffrage upon all women of the nation who possess the other necessary qualifications.


The founders of our nation were far from democratic as we now understand the term. They believed that the government should be controlled by the educated and propertied class, which was small. The lack of confidence in the people was shown in various ways, but among others by the restriction of the suffrage. This was true even in the New England town meeting, which we are in the habit of considering as the most democratic of institutions. For instance, no one could vote in colonial times who did not belong to the church. Religious qualifications were soon abolished however, and property qualifications have almost completely disappeared, though in some states voters must be taxpayers.


Today no citizen may vote in any state who has not reached the age of 21. The reason for this is clear and just, but it excludes from the suffrage about 30 million young citizens. Persons of unsound mind are denied the suffrage, and citizens may be disqualified by crime. In some states illiterates are denied the right to vote. In most states foreigners must have completed the process of naturalization, which requires five years before they may vote. All states require residence in the state and in their local districts for specified periods prior to voting. But with these exceptions, the suffrage is now possessed by practically all male citizens who are 21 years of age or over, and is rapidly being extended to women on equal terms with the men.


There are instances in our early history where women were permitted to vote—in New Jersey, for example, prior to 1807. In 1869, Wyoming, while still a territory, extended full suffrage to women, and has been an equal suffrage state since her admission to the Union in 1890. Woman suffrage has rapidly gained ground in recent years, most rapidly in the West, and at the present writing (1919) 15 states have granted women equal suffrage with men, all but two of these states being west of the Mississippi River. The women of Alaska also have this right. In many other states they have the suffrage at certain elections. Moreover, nearly all of the 36 required states have ratified the suffrage amendment to the federal Constitution.

Why may an autocratic government perform more efficient service than a democratic government?

What is a "benevolent despotism"? What is a "paternalistic government"?

Why do we consider an imperfect democracy better than an efficient autocracy?

Do you have direct or representative self-government in your community? Explain.

What voluntary organizations are there in your community (such as farmers' cooperative organizations, business corporations, churches, clubs, etc.) that have direct self-government? Representative self-government?

Does your county or town have representatives in state and national governments? What are their names? How long will they be your representatives?

Does your state have the initiative and referendum? If so, explain in detail how they are used. Give instances of the use of either.

Give instances (if any) of the use of the referendum in your community to settle a local question.

From your state constitution ascertain the exact qualifications for the suffrage in your state.

Report on the history of woman suffrage in your state.

Do you think any of the restrictions now existing on the suffrage in your state should be removed? Why?

Do you think any further restrictions should be placed on the suffrage in your state? Why?


One of the important principles upon which democratic government rests is that the will of the majority should control. It is the only arrangement that can be made with justice. It often happens, however, that a minority, and sometimes a very small minority, gains control. It also sometimes happens that the party in power in government, whether it is a majority or a minority, governs without full consideration for the interests of other parties or of the community as a whole. We shall try to get some idea of how this happens, and also of methods proposed to prevent it; for as long as it happens we cannot lay claim to a full measure of democracy in our government.

If the pupils of your class or school are voting on the kind of entertainment to be given, and a difference of opinion arises, can you think of a fairer way to decide than by a vote of the majority? How else might the matter be decided?

If the majority decides the question, should the minority yield gracefully to the decision? Why?

After the majority plan has been adopted, have the minority any rights in the matter?

Is the majority always right in its decisions? Give illustrations to prove your answer.

If your community takes a vote on the question of road improvement, or of school consolidation, is it right that the majority should decide?

If the majority rules in such a case, is it right that the citizens of the minority party should be taxed for the improvement as well as those of the majority? Why?

If your class president is elected by a majority of the class, or a county supervisor by a majority of the voters of the county, to what extent is it the duty of this officer to consider the interests of the minority which voted against him?


Our government is a government by political parties. That is, political parties control the government. Voters acting independently of one another cannot exercise much influence. There must be teamwork in political matters as in everything else. A political party consists of those voters who think alike and act together on questions of government policy, or in electing their representatives in government. It is a voluntary organization, entirely outside of the government and not recognized in our constitutions, but exercising very great influence upon government.

In his Farewell Address to the people, Washington said:

The spirit [of party] unfortunately is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but in those of the popular form it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy. The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party a frightful despotism... The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.


As long as people differ on questions of public policy there are bound to be political parties, as Washington knew, and they have always played an important part in our government. But necessary and useful as parties have been, the events of our history have shown that Washington's warning was exceedingly wise, the "party spirit" having often proved the "worst enemy" of our democratic government.


When some great question is before the country, like that of the adoption of the Constitution, or that of slavery, the people are usually divided into two great parties. The party that marshals the greater number of votes constitutes a majority and gains control of the government. The defeated minority usually accepts its defeat in a sportsmanlike manner and loyally supports the government. Nevertheless it does not cease its opposition to the principles of the party in power. One of the chief values of the party system is that it keeps important questions in constant discussion. The opposition of the minority serves as a check upon the acts of the party in power, which is anxious to avoid arousing too much opposition. This is one means of control over the government enjoyed by the minority party. A defeated minority at one election may become a victorious majority at the next. The fact that a party is in the minority does not necessarily mean that it is in the wrong.


Minorities, however, sometimes win elections. If more than two parties are contesting the election, which often happens, that one wins which has the greatest number of votes, though this number may be less than the combined votes of the opposing parties. No other arrangement seems possible. President Wilson won his first election by a minority vote, the opposition being divided between Taft and Roosevelt.

A minority may win through better teamwork. There are always some voters who, through indifference or other causes, do not cast their vote. This is especially likely to happen in local elections, in which there is almost never as large a vote cast as in the same district at a general election. It is one of the chief objects of a party organization to keep its members informed and interested and to see that they cast their votes. The party that is best organized for these purposes is very likely to win over its opponents even though the latter are more numerous.


The organization of the national political parties is very thorough. Each party has a managing committee in every local district, the local organizations are united in a state organization, and the several state organizations in a national organization. The shrewdest men the party affords are made chairmen of committees and chosen for other positions of leadership. Such organization is necessary and proper; it is only commonsense teamwork. But unfortunately it has frequently fallen into the hands of designing men who have used it to promote private interests rather than those of the public. A political "boss," who is at the head of an inner "ring" of politicians, often decides who shall be nominated for the various offices of government, leaving no choice to the voters themselves. This makes of our government a real autocracy, and the worst kind of autocracy, because the autocrat (the "boss") acts in secret, and is in no way responsible to the people. It is the "frightful despotism" of which Washington warned his countrymen (p. 385).


Political "bosses" are often allied with powerful business interests which seek legislation and governmental administration favorable to themselves. This has given rise to the charge sometimes made that our government is a "plutocracy," a government of the people by a small wealthy class. It is the feeling that this is so that has caused much of the social unrest at the present time, and that explains in part the growth of the socialists, and of other groups that would go much further than the socialists in their proposed changes, such as the I.W.W. (Independent Workers of the World) in our country, the Bolshevists in Russia, and anarchists everywhere.


Unquestionably selfish groups representing great wealth have often exerted undue influence in governmental affairs without regard for the public welfare. We have seen how the public lands and the nation's natural resources have in some cases fallen into the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations to the injury of the nation and of those who want to use them for productive purposes. On the other hand, it is natural that men who have been successful in managing their private business affairs should also be influential in managing public affairs without necessarily having unworthy motives. Nevertheless, when government falls under the control of ANY particular class or group, whether it represents wealth, or labor, or any other interest, if it has not due regard for all classes, and if it denies to the members of other groups the voice in government to which they are entitled, it establishes a despotism and overthrows democracy.


Why do the people submit to "boss rule"? In the first place, they do not always submit to it. Occasionally, when the "bosses" go to unusual extremes, the people give way to "fits of public rage," to use the words of former Senator Elihu Root, "in which the people rouse up and tear down the political leader, first of one party and then of the other party." It is thus possible for the people to escape the despotism of "boss rule." But two things seem to be necessary to bring it about: first, the people must be sufficiently INTERESTED in the management of their public affairs; and, second, they require LEADERSHIP. It takes close attention to public affairs to enable a citizen to make wise decisions for himself; and the average citizen looks around for guidance. The absence of RESPONSIBLE leadership gives the irresponsible "boss" his chance.


One difficulty encountered by the citizen who wishes to vote intelligently is the large number of persons to be chosen. There have been cases where the names of several hundred candidates appeared on the same ticket. In a small community a voter may know personally all the candidates, but in larger communities this is not so. It was once thought that to make as many of the government offices as possible elective was a step in the direction of democracy, and that it gave the people direct control over them. But it has not worked out this way. It is impossible for the average voter to choose wisely among so many candidates, and he therefore falls an easy prey to "boss rule." The SHORT BALLOT is now quite generally advocated to meet this situation. By this plan the number of officers to be elected is reduced, and includes only those who are responsible for determining the policies of government, such as members of legislatures and the chief executive officers. These few important officers and representatives are then made responsible for the appointment of all other subordinate officers whose business is to carry policies into effect. This really gives the people better control over their government by fixing responsibility in a few places, and is therefore no less democratic than the older plan.

Do you have a long ballot or a short ballot in your county or town? In your state?

How many offices in your county government are elective? How many of the men holding these offices do you know? Consult your parents as to the number of these officers they know personally. How many does your teacher know?

At the next election, get a copy of the ballot used in your community and ascertain the number of candidates for all offices, including local, state, and national.

What national political parties exist at present?

Are the voters of your local community divided into parties on local questions? If so, what are some of these questions?

Investigate the organization in your county (or town) of the political party of which your father is a member. Who is chairman of its local committee?

Investigate the work that a party organization does in your community during an election campaign; on election day; in the time between elections.

Why is secret control over government dangerous?

What is meant by "social unrest"?

Are all men of your acquaintance equally capable of directing the affairs Of government in office? Why?

What is meant by "responsible" and "irresponsible" leadership?

What does it mean to say that a leader must be "responsive as well as responsible" to the people?


Various schemes have been adopted to ensure to every voter a free expression of his choice for representatives, and to the majority their right to govern. One of these is the SECRET BALLOT. At the polls each voter enters a booth by himself to mark his ballot, or to operate the voting machine, and need have no fear that a possible "watcher" may cause him to lose his job or otherwise suffer for voting as he thinks best. The secret ballot also reduces the likelihood that votes will be bought, for there is no way of telling whether the man who sells his vote will vote as he has agreed; and the man who sells his vote is not to be trusted. The only voters who are embarrassed by the secret ballot are those who cannot read their ballots. These have to seek help, and are thus open to influence by agents of the "boss."


Another device to ensure to the voter a voice in his government is the DIRECT PRIMARY for the nomination of candidates for office. By the older method candidates were nominated by party conventions; but under "boss rule" they were in reality determined upon in advance by the "boss," the nomination by the convention being largely a matter of form, the delegates voting according to instructions. The ordinary voter had nothing to say about it. Under the direct primary plan any voter possessing the necessary qualifications for holding office may become a candidate by merely securing the signatures of a specified number of voters to a petition. Then a PRIMARY ELECTION is held at which the voters of each party go to the polls to express their choice for one among the several candidates who have been announced for each office to be filled. The candidates receiving the highest number of votes become the nominees of their party. The direct primary is now used quite widely throughout the United States and is believed to be a great improvement over the old method, though it does not always work as well as was expected of it. The truth is that ANY organization is open to abuse by clever people who wish to abuse it, and NO political organization will work effectively unless the voters are intelligent and eternally vigilant.


The President and Vice President of the United States are still nominated by national party conventions. But in some states there are PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENTIAL PRIMARIES. These are direct primaries at which the voters ex press their PREFERENCE for the presidential candidates. This is intended to be a guide to the nominating convention, but there is nothing to compel the convention to follow the guidance.


Democratic government demands certain rights for minorities. We have seen how a minority party may exercise a wholesome check upon the party in power by constant opposition. We never have a Congress or a state legislature in which the members are all of one party. This is a good thing, for it results in discussion and debate in the legislative body by which the people are kept informed.

The initiative and referendum (p. 380) are also weapons in the hands of a minority; for, as we have seen, a small number of voters may compel the legislature to consider, or reconsider, any piece of legislation, or to submit it to the people for their decision. Minority parties may thus keep prominently before the people measures that have been adversely acted upon by the majority.


Another device that has been introduced in some states and local communities is the RECALL of officials. By means of this a specified number of voters may demand that an officer of government who is displeasing to them be brought before the people for their vote as to whether he shall be removed from office or not. A small minority may thus call an elected officer to account.


One plan strongly advocated by some students of government to insure to minorities an actual voice in government is that of PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION of parties in legislative bodies. By this plan each party would be represented in proportion to its strength. If two parties were of about equal strength they would be represented equally; if one were twice as strong as another, it would have twice the representation. The plan is actually in use in very few localities. In Illinois, however, the CUMULATIVE-VOTE plan is in use, by which each voter is permitted as many votes as there are places to be filled, and to distribute these votes among the several candidates or to cast them all for one candidate. Thus, if there are three representatives to be elected from his district, he may give one vote to each of the three, or he may give three votes to one of them. A minority may thus, by concentrating all of their votes upon a single candidate, be reasonably sure of representation. But it requires good team work to get this result.


Representation in our government is on a TERRITORIAL, OR GEOGRAPHICAL, BASIS. That is, each representative represents the people in a given territory or district. Thus, in many counties the board of supervisors is composed of representatives from each township, the members of state legislatures represent districts of the state, members of the United States House of Representatives represent congressional districts in each state, and United States Senators represent states.

In each district under our present system, however, the representatives are ELECTED BY A MAJORITY, though they are supposed to REPRESENT ALL the people when elected. If proportional representation were adopted, it would be necessary to increase the number of representatives from each district, in order that each party should have at least one. Then we should have REPRESENTATION BY PARTIES, as well as by districts.

We now hear a good deal about SOVIET GOVERNMENT in Russia. The "soviet" is a representative body with a different basis of representation than either of the above. Soviet government is government by "workers" and each representative represents a TRADE OR OCCUPATION. It is as if, in our country, all the farmers in a county, as a group, should elect their representatives to the board of county supervisors, all the carpenters their representatives, all the merchants theirs, and so on. It would be, as it is in Russia, REPRESENTATION BY OCCUPATIONAL GROUPS, instead of by geographical districts as now. It would differ from proportional representation by parties, as described above, because each political party is made up of representatives of all occupations. Only in a few cases have political parties in our country tended to become identified with occupational interests, as in the case of "labor parties," and the old "greenback party," which was largely made up of farmers.

At election time visit the nearest polling place, observe the procedure of voting, and report. Get sample copies of the ballot used.

Who are the different persons on duty at the polling place, and what are their duties?

Why and how do voters "register" before an election?

Describe a primary election in your community.

How do discussion and debate protect the rights of minorities?

Is the "recall" used in your state? If so, what instances of its exercise do you know, and what were the circumstances?

What advantages and disadvantages can you see in representation by occupational groups as compared with representation by geographical districts?


In Foerster and Pierson's AMERICAN IDEALS:

Contributions of the west to democracy (F.J. Turner), pp. 72-97. A charter of democracy (Theodore Roosevelt), pp. 114-132. Can democracy be organized? (E.A. Alderman), pp. 158-174. The sovereignty of the people (A. de Tocqueville), pp. 257-260. General tendency of the laws (A. de Tocqueville), pp. 261-266. The activity of the body politic (A. de Tocqueville), pp. 267-272. The German and the American temper (Kuno Francke), pp. 273-281. The "Divine Average" (G. Lowes Dickinson), pp 282-284.


Farewell Address (Washington), pp. 105-123. The independent in politics (James Russell Lowell), pp. 241-243. Liberty is responsibility, not license (McKinley), pp. 254-255. The right of the people to rule (Roosevelt), pp. 272-273.


Series A: Lesson 16, Caste in India. Lesson 19, Active citizenship.

Series C: Lesson 17, Custom as a basis for law. Lesson 18, Cooperation through law.

Hart, A.B., ACTUAL GOVERNMENT, Chapters IV, V.

Ashley, R.L., THE NEW CIVICS (Macmillan), Chapters, VI, VII.


Bryce, James, THE AMERICAN COMMONWEALTH, Vol. II, Part III, The party system; and Part V, Chapters, XCVII-XCIX, The faults and strength of democracy.

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AMERICAN GOVERNMENT, under the several topics referred to in this chapter.

Teachable Facts about Bolshevism and Sovietism, Institute for Public Service, 51 Chambers St., New York City.




When the first colonists of America undertook to organize governments for their local settlements, they naturally adopted forms with which they had been familiar in England. There were two such forms which met their needs, the TOWN, OR TOWNSHIP, AND THE COUNTY. These have remained to this day the chief units of our local government.


Geographical conditions were such in New England that the colonists settled in compact communities. There the township, or town, was adopted as the more convenient unit. It included a central village and the neighboring farming region with irregular boundaries. It is still the unit of local government throughout rural New England, and in many communities that have grown to the proportion of cities. It has been said of the New England town government that it is "the fullest and most perfect example of local self-government either then or now in existence ... . The state might fall to pieces, and the town would still supply all the wants of everyday government." [Footnote: Henry Cabot Lodge, A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH COLONIES IN AMERICA, p. 414.]


The chief feature of the New England town government is the TOWN MEETING, which is an assemblage of the voters of the town at the town hall (formerly often at the church), the regular annual town meeting being held in the spring or autumn, and special meetings as necessary. These meetings are called by the SELECTMEN (see below) by means of a WARRANT which contains a statement of the business to be transacted. At the annual meeting, reports are heard from the officers of the preceding year, officers for the new year are elected, by-laws (town laws) are enacted, taxes are levied and appropriations made for the various purposes of government. It is direct self-government.


Among the officers elected by the town meeting are the selectmen, varying in number from three to nine, who have charge of the town property and are responsible to the town meeting for the conduct of the town's business; a town clerk, who keeps the town records, issues marriage licenses, registers births and deaths, and performs other clerical services; an assessor of taxes; a treasurer; several constables, who have police duties, execute warrants issued by the selectmen and by the justices of the peace, and sometimes act as tax collectors; school committeemen; overseers of the poor; members of the board of health and of other boards for public service. In some of the New England states the justices of the peace, who are not strictly town officers, are elected by the town meeting.


There is here given a copy of portions of a warrant for a special town meeting. This warrant is very brief as compared with those issued for a regular annual meeting; but it gives an idea of the variety of business transacted.

Town Warrant


To Henry Atchison, one of the constables of the Town of Framingham or to either of them,


In the name of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you are hereby required to notify and warn the inhabitants of the Town of Framingham, qualified to vote in elections, and Town affairs, to meet at the Casino in said Framingham, on WEDNESDAY, JULY 16TH, A.D. 1919 at eight o'clock P.M. Then and there to act on the following articles, viz.: Article I. To hear and act upon such reports of any of the officers of the Town or Committees of the Town as may be then and there presented, appropriate money to carry out the recommendations thereof, or any of them, pass any vote or take any action relative to any of said reports, or any part thereof.

Art. 2. To hear and act on the report of the Committee directed to investigate school needs in the Apple Street District. ...

Art. 3. To see if the Town will vote to instruct the Town Treasurer to place to the credit of the Park Department ... for the care and maintenance of parks and playgrounds, any and all sums of money which may be received by him ... on account of said Department, and authorize the use of the same by said Department. ...

Art. 4. To see if the Town will grant or appropriate a sum not exceeding twenty-five hundred dollars ($2500) for the purchase by the tree warden of a new tree spraying machine. ...

Art. 5. To see if the Town will authorize its Board of Park Commissioners to sell and dispose of two of the unused schoolhouses placed in charge of the Park Commission some years ago. ...

Art. 6. To see if the Town will appropriate the sum of fifty-five hundred dollars ... to be expended under the direction of the following committee ... for the purpose of selecting a site, location and erection of a temporary memorial tablet, and cause to be inscribed thereon the names of the Framingham soldiers, sailors, marines ... and nurses, who gave their lives in the late war. ...

Art. 8. To see if the Town will vote to install and maintain incandescent electric lights on following named streets ... .

Art. 9. To see if the Town will vote to raise the pay of its Police Officers fifty cents a day. ...

Art. 10. To see if the Town will vote to appoint and instruct a committee to petition the County Commissioners to relocate Marble Street. ...

Art. 12. To see if the Town will vote to appropriate a sum ... to reimburse Wellington H. Pratt for expenses incurred in the construction of a sewer and laying of water pipes. ...

And you are directed to serve this warrant by posting an attested copy of the same at each of the Meeting Houses and Post-Offices in said Town, eight days at least, including two Sundays, before the time of holding said meeting.

Hereof fail not, and make due return of this warrant, with your doing thereon, to the Town Clerk at the time and place of said meeting.

Given under our hands this first day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and nineteen.

(Signed by the Selectmen)

It has been said that


The thing most characteristic of a town meeting is the lively and educating debate; for attendants on town meeting from year to year become skilled in parliamentary law, and effective in sharp, quick argument on their feet. Children and others than voters are allowed to be present as spectators. In every such assembly, four or five men ordinarily do half the talking; but anybody has a right to make suggestions or propose amendments, and occasionally even a non-voter is allowed to make a statement; and the debate is often very effective. [Footnote: Albert Bushnell Hart, ACTUAL GOVERNMENT, p. 171.]

Another writer says,

The retiring officers present their reports, which in the larger towns have been previously printed and distributed. Any citizen present is free to express any criticism or ask any question. No better method of checking the conduct of public officers has ever been discovered than this system of report in open meeting. Keen questions and sharp comment rip open and expose to view the true inwardness of the officers' behavior.

At its best, the New England town meeting has never been equaled as a mechanism for local government. No mere representative system can give the opportunity for real participation in government which a town meeting affords. Even the small boys who come to enjoy the fun from the gallery are taught that government is a living reality. By grappling first-hand with their own small local problems, men are trained to take part wisely in the bigger affairs of state and nation. [Footnote: Thomas H. Reed, FORM AND FUNCTIONS OF AMERICAN GOVERNMENT, pp. 218, 220.]


Changing conditions, however, have tended to bring about changes in town government. In the early days the town meeting was a matter of great interest, and everybody attended, including the women and children. Many of the towns have now acquired large populations, the people are no longer acquainted with one another, and interest has declined. A few years ago it was reported that

In Brookline, Mass., with about 2500 votes cast, there are from 300 to 500 at the business sessions. In Hyde Park, Mass., with 2500 voters... from 500 to 600 attended the annual appropriation meeting. In Leominster, Mass., with 1400 voting, the normal attendance is about 800.

The same writer says that:

In many places the town meeting is being undermined by the caucus, held beforehand, to nominate candidates for office. Here a small group of persons not only narrow the choice for officers, but often arrange the other business to be determined at the town meeting. Sometimes every thing is "cut and dried" before it comes up for popular discussion; and that discussion thus becomes a mere formality. [J.A. Fairlie, LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN COUNTIES, TOWNS AND VILLAGES, p. 148.]


This illustrates what was said in the preceding chapter (p. 388) about the necessity for leadership and the tendency of the people, under certain conditions, to accept self-appointed leaders, sometimes not of the best, outside of the government. Conditions in large towns are likely to favor this. The questions that have to be acted upon are more complicated than formerly, and often involve the expenditure of large sums of money. The candidates for office are not known to many of the voters. There may be a considerable number of uneducated people in the town, and perhaps a foreign population that is unfamiliar with the English language and with American methods. These things make intelligent self- government by direct methods difficult.


Various means have been adopted to meet these changing conditions. One of these is the creation of a FINANCE COMMITTEE, before which are brought for consideration questions involving the expenditure of money. This committee holds hearings, at which citizens may present arguments for and against proposed measures. Thus important matters are sifted out by the committee which then reports to the town meeting. The town meeting usually votes in accordance with the recommendations of the committee. While this arrangement tends to secure careful consideration of financial measures, and to result in wise decisions, provided the committee is composed of reliable men, it tends, on the other hand, to prevent discussion in open town meeting, to make the vote in the latter a mere matter of form, and to destroy interest in it. In other words, while it tends to better SERVICE, it reduces the value of the town meeting as a means of EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRACY.


Another arrangement that has been adopted in a good many towns is the TOWN PLANNING BOARD. This is a committee which, after careful study of existing conditions and tendencies of community growth, formulates a definite PLAN for the promotion of the community's interests during a period of years. It considers such matters as the laying out of new roads and streets and the improvement of old ones, the location of parks, playgrounds, and public buildings, the construction of sewers, water works, and lighting systems, the style of architecture for public buildings, the enactment of housing laws. While town planning boards usually deal primarily with matters pertaining to the physical development of the town, they may also plan with reference to the improvement of the educational system, the promotion of public health, and of social needs generally.

The town planning board is usually composed of trained men, such as engineers, architects, and physicians, and it may call in expert advisers from other communities or from the state government. The advantage of having such a board is that it provides the town with a program of action carefully worked out from the point of view both of continuous community needs and of economy. It affords expert leadership.


As has been said many times in these pages, government is the community's official organization to secure cooperation; but it is effective only to the extent that the people COOPERATE. It is a machine that is valuable as the people USE it. The weakening of town, government, or of any other government, is due largely to a lack of interest and of actual participation by the people. Many people think they have done their share toward good government when they have helped elect their officers and have paid their taxes. But when they take this view they are likely to lose both interest in their government and control over it.


In many New England towns the decline in popular control of town government has been largely counterbalanced by COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION FOR VOLUNTARY COOPERATION. Much community service is, and probably always will be, performed by private enterprise and initiative rather than by government; and the efficiency of government depends to a considerable extent upon the efficiency of voluntary enterprise. Government must have the cooperation of the latter, and to some extent work through it. In practically every community there are groups of people organized to cooperate for one purpose or another; but they are often self-centered and act independently of one another, if not actually at cross purposes. The situation that exists in many communities is illustrated by the chart on page 402. [Footnote: This chart and the one on page 403 are taken from Extension Bulletin No. 23, Massachusetts Agricultural College, by E.L. Morgan.]


In a good many Massachusetts towns this situation has been very largely remedied by means of community organization for which the leadership has been provided in many cases by the Community Organization Department of the Extension Service of the State Agricultural College. The organization varies in detail in different communities to meet local needs, but the main features are the following:

First: a COMMUNITY COUNCIL, consisting of representatives of the various community interests and organizations including the town officials. This council serves at first as a sort of "steering committee" to bring the various interests together and to plan the organization and the work to be done.

Second: a COMMUNITY MEETING, the first one of which is called by the community council to consider the questions: Is it possible for a community to plan for its future development? Do we care to do it? Is it worthwhile? How can it be done? The community meeting becomes a sort of UNOFFICIAL TOWN MEETING, and is often more largely attended than the official town meeting, partly because it is attended by the women of the community.

Third: a number of WORKING COMMITTEES, appointed as a result of the first community meeting. They may include:

A committee on farm production.

A committee on conservation.

A committee on boys' and girls' interests.

A committee on farm business.

A committee on community life (education, health, recreation, etc.)

These committees make a study of the conditions and needs of the community in their respective fields, and prepare plans and projects, which are submitted to the community meeting in due time.

Fourth: a COMMUNITY PROGRAM, which has been agreed upon by the community meeting, is supervised by the community council, and is carried out by the various community organizations represented, including the public officials.


This organization is entirely outside of the official govern mental organization. It may be asked why it is necessary to have a "community meeting" when the official town meeting already exists. The answer is that the official town meeting has its work pretty definitely cut out for it. It meets for a half-day or a day at a time, and its time is occupied BY THE VOTERS in passing laws, electing officials, levying taxes, making appropriations, and doing other official business. The "community meeting," on the other hand, is attended by non-voters as well as voters, the women taking an active part, and the young people being represented. Many matters are discussed that could not properly be taken up in town meeting.

A large part of the program of the community organization is carried out by the voluntary agencies of the community. But a great many of its proposals must have the approval of the official town meeting, require appropriations which can only be made by the town meeting, and are finally executed by the public officials of the town. The organization naturally stimulates interest in the official government, and brings to its support all the organized agencies of the community working together.


The township is found as a unit of local government in many states outside of New England, but in most of these cases its government is entirely representative in form. While the town meeting is found in a few of these states, [Footnote: As in New York and New Jersey; and farther west in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Illinois, and Nebraska.] it nowhere holds the important place that it does in New England. One reason for this is the larger size and more scattered population of the township. In the public land states the congressional township, six miles square, is also the political township. At the head of the township government in its representative form are TRUSTEES (sometimes three, sometimes only one) who, with the town clerk, the constables, the tax assessor, the treasurer, the justices of the peace, and such other officers as may be required, are elected by the people. The powers of the township government outside of New England vary in different states, but are always quite limited, relating most commonly to the maintenance of roads, school administration, and the care of the poor. In these circumstances there is at least as great need for community organization to support and supplement the work of government as in the New England towns.

Investigate and report on the following:

The services performed by your township government.

A complete list of your township officers, and the duties of each. (Committees of pupils may interview some of the more important officers to get a description of their daily routine, kinds of service performed, etc. Also discuss with parents.)

Officers of the colonial New England town that do not exist now, and their duties.

What is parliamentary law? (Valuable training may be secured by conducting school meetings, club meetings, or occasional regular class exercises, in accordance with parliamentary procedure.)

Why public discussion is a check upon the conduct of persons holding responsible positions.

The popular interest in public questions in your township.

If there is a finance committee in your township (p. 399), how does it serve the community? Does it hold hearings? (Attend and report upon some such hearing.)

Town planning in your community (what has been, or what might be, done).

The value of having a plan.

Is your community more like that represented by the chart on page 402, or by that on page 403?

The extent to which voluntary organizations in your community co operate with and through the local government.

The extent to which your state agricultural college promotes community organization.

The feasibility of organizing your town (or community) by some such plan as that outlined on page 402.

The value of a community "forum" as a means to good government.

Why the official town meeting should (or should not) be encouraged in your state.

Procure and examine recently published official reports of your township government. What do these reports tell you? What is the value of such reports? Are the reports of your township generally read by the people of the township? Why? Discuss ways in which your township reports could be made more useful.


The other unit of local government with which the colonists were familiar was the county, which in England embraced a number of townships. In the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania the county and the town ship were developed together as in England; in the southern colonies the county was organized without the township. Today the county exists in every state of the Union, including the New England states. In Louisiana it is called the PARISH.


There are two main types of county government. According to one plan, as in New York, each township elects a representative to a county BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, which is sometimes quite large. According to the other plan, as in Pennsylvania, the people of the county as a whole elect a small BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, the townships not being represented as such even when they exist. The board of supervisors or commissioners levies taxes and makes appropriations for various county purposes, such as constructing and maintaining roads, bridges, and county buildings, paying the salaries of county officers, caring for the county poor, and conducting the county schools. It is sometimes spoken of as the county legislative body, but it is rather an administrative body, its lawmaking powers being very slight.


Among the important county officers are the sheriff, who is chief guardian of the peace in the county, has charge of the jail, is the chief executive officer of the county court (see p. 439), and sometimes acts as tax collector; the county prosecutor (also called the prosecuting attorney, the district attorney, or the state's attorney), who prosecutes all criminal cases in the county and represents the public authorities in civil suits; the county clerk, who keeps the county records; the register of deeds, who records all transfers of property; the coroner, who investigates the cause of violent and mysterious deaths; the tax assessor; the treasurer; the auditor, who examines the accounts of county officers; the surveyor; the school superintendent; the health officer. Some times there are others.


Although practically every citizen of the United States is also a citizen of a county, the people have as a rule shown surprisingly little interest in county government. As generally found it affords a striking example of poor service resulting from a lack of teamwork. County government has the reputation of being one of the weakest spots in our whole system of government.


We seem to have gotten into the habit of not expecting much service from the county government. Where the township government is strong, as in New England, it takes the place of county government. Where people live in cities, they look to the city government to serve them rather than to the county government. In rural districts the people have come more and more to look to the state and national governments for such service as they expect government to give. These facts might suggest the question whether or not we really need county government.

One recent writer says,

There are some parts of the country where I can see that the county will pass out of existence entirely in a very short time, unless it does adjust itself to the new conditions. [Footnote: H.S. Gilbertson, in the University of North Carolina RECORD, No. 159, October, 1918, p. 37.]

The same writer says,

Unless the county does measure up in this way, the powers of government and the services which it renders will have to drift away from local control and be placed in the hands of some government more fit and which will probably be further away from home.


Students of county government attribute many of its defects to the "long ballot." In one county in North Carolina, at a recent election, there were twenty-five different candidates for county offices on each of three party tickets, making seventy-five candidates among whom each voter had to choose. Township and state officers were also elected at the same election, bringing the number of persons to be voted for up to about fifty out of 150 candidates. It is apparent that the average voter would have difficulty in voting intelligently.


The long ballot has other results than the mere difficulty of intelligent voting. One of these is a GOVERNMENT WITHOUT A HEAD. While the board of supervisors or commissioners is nominally at the head of the county government, it has to work through the various administrative officers. These are also elected by the people, and may be of the opposite political party. At all events, they are independent of the board, not responsible to it, and may or may not work in harmony with it. A former member of a county board in North Carolina says,

Most persons are under the impression that the board of commissioners, with its chairman, is at the head of the county government. ... The board does have authority to say how about 19 cents of the entire tax levy may be spent, but its authority over the balance of the levy, over any county official, such as the sheriff, clerk of the court, coroner, constable, county judge, or recorder, is nil. The chairman of the board does have the honor ... of smiling and trying to look pleasant when complaints are made about bad roads, excessive tax assessments, or the delinquency of some county subordinate, over whom neither he nor the board has any control.[Footnote: M. S. Willard, North Carolina Club Year Book, 1918, p. 87.]


Another result of the long ballot is the opportunity it gives the political "boss" to control the selection of officers. It is not uncommon to hear rural citizens ask such questions as, "What's the use of farmers taking off time for politics when the whole thing is run by political bosses anyway?"[Footnote: Graham Taylor, in Rural Manhood, October, 1914, p. 328.] "In such counties office- seeking has become not the means to the end of performing service, but exists for the immediate reward, and whatever service is rendered to the people is incidental to that other object. "[Footnote: H. S. Gilbertson, Forms of County Government, in the University of North Carolina Record, No. 159, October, 1918, p. 37.]


Along with these defects, and largely because of them, bad business methods have characterized county government, resulting in poor service and wastefulness of the people's money. A faulty system of keeping accounts is as unbusinesslike and disastrous in public business as in private business.


When I was first connected with the government of my own county, I became very much interested to know whether we were doing better or worse in the management of our road finances; in the cost of maintaining our county prisoners; in the maintenance of our county home and numerous other county institutions, than were other counties. I was anxious to find out what was being done in other counties in the way of appropriations for hospitals and I selected twelve or fifteen counties and wrote letters to the county officials asking for information. In answer to probably two of my letters I received intelligent and satisfactory replies. Probably half a dozen more gave me some figures which were of very little use for purposes of comparison, and to my other letters I received no replies, although the first request was followed up by a second and a third letter. I then began an effort to secure copies of the newspapers in which had been printed the financial statements of the counties. I succeeded in securing probably ten statements and, after a fruitless attempt to coordinate these statements so that I might secure information which would enable me to know whether we were doing better or worse than our neighbors, I became hopelessly lost in a jungle of statistics and reluctantly gave it up as useless, and turned my attention to doing what I could to place our own county affairs in such condition that they could be understood by those of our taxpayers who might be inquisitive enough to want to know how the money was handled which they paid for taxes. [Footnote: M. S. Willard, County Finances in North Carolina, in the University of North Carolina RECORD, No. 159, October, 1918, p. 80.]


The practice of compensating county officers from FEES received for special services and of allowing them to retain the interest on public money is one illustration of extravagant business methods.

For many of the services performed by county officers fees are charged, on the principle that the person served should pay for the service. It did not occur to the people to inquire how much their officers were getting in this way. In one county, in which there was a large city, investigation showed that the sheriff had a net income from fees and commissions of $15,000, the county treasurer $23,000, and the county auditor over $50,000.

From the point of view of economy and efficiency it is better to pay all officers an adequate salary and to require that all fees, commissions, and interest on public money be returned to the county treasury. It keeps the tax rate down and makes possible an increase of service.

The county office fees and commissions in North Carolina amount to something like one and a quarter million dollars a year, if they are collected according to law. The total is large enough to pay all salaries in at least 58 counties of the state, and leave large balances to apply to schools, roads, jail expenses, interest, and sinking funds. These large surpluses are being wasted in most of the salary counties. [Footnote: E.C. Branson, The Fee System in North Carolina, in the University of North Carolina Record, No. 159, October, 1918, p. 69.]

Such faulty business methods are gradually being corrected by the introduction of the short ballot, as in California and elsewhere, by businesslike methods of keeping accounts, by the appointment of county and state auditors, and by giving full publicity to reports of county business.


"But after all," says the county official quoted above, "a great part of the shortcomings of county officials and a great deal of the looseness which prevails in the management of county affairs can be charged to the citizen people themselves." Another student of the situation says,

Among the country people themselves there is no demand for better local government or almost none; they are satisfied or content themselves with grumbling about taxes and in fierce partisan politics. ... The country people of America lack an adequate sense of civic and social responsibility, and the deficiency is rising into critical, national importance. [Footnote 2: E.C. Branson, Report of subcommittee on local government, National Country Life Conference, Baltimore Proceedings, 1919, pp. 68, 69.]

Another says,

The first thing to be reformed in county government is not the officers down at the courthouse, but our own attitude toward the county, and particularly toward public office. For, after all, public officers in this country are just what the people make them ... [Footnote 3: H.S. Gilbertson, Forms of County Government, in the University of North Carolina Record, No. 159, October, 1918, p. 38.]

There are those who advocate breaking up the county into smaller units for purposes of local self-government, as in New England. Thomas Jefferson, living in Virginia where the county was the sole unit of local government, was a great admirer of the New England town meeting, and said that "public education and the subdivision of the counties into wards," or townships, were the "two hooks" upon which republican government must hang. On the other hand, we have observed an opposite tendency to concentrate the administration of schools, roads, health, and other matters, in the county government (see pp. 294,325). The fact is that both the organization for centralized, county-wide government, and that for the government of local communities within the county, have their uses. Neither can do its best work without the other. The problem is to deter mine what the business of each should be and to establish a proper balance between them. One thing is sure, namely, that the government of the county cannot be effective unless the people of the various communities within the county are organized to cooperate both for their local interests and for the interests of the county as a whole. This may be provided for in part through township governments, where they exist, and in part through such unofficial organization as that described for the New England town (p. 402), or as that furnished by the farm bureau with its local community committees (p. 30).

One of the most progressive states in the matter of county government is North Carolina. One of the chief instruments by which this progress has been made is the NORTH CAROLINA CLUB, organized by the University of North Carolina for the study and promotion of the interests of the state. The North Carolina Club has affiliated with it COUNTY CLUBS, each of which studies its own county and promotes its interests. In North Carolina they are working in both directions suggested above: in the direction of an effective central county government, and in the direction of organization of all local communities for the study of needs and for teamwork in providing for them. See references.


Another important factor in county government is the control exercised over it by the state. The county is not only a local self-governing unit, but it is also a division of the state for the administration of state laws. Its powers of self-government are given to it by the state, and along with these powers it has imposed upon it certain duties for the state. First of all, the county is a STATE JUDICIAL DISTRICT. The most important building at the county seat is the courthouse. The COUNTY COURT is one of the state courts described in the next chapter. The county judge is sometimes chosen by the people of the county, but he is really a state officer. In New England the county is almost solely a judicial district, and in all states its judicial purposes are of supreme importance.

But more than this, the county schools are a part of the state school system and must be administered in accordance with state laws, though by county and township officers. County officers must enforce the health laws of the state. County authorities not only levy and collect county taxes, but also collect state taxes from residents of the county.


Here again we have an illustration of the necessity for a careful balance between matters properly subject to local self-government and those properly subject to state control. Counties have suffered both from too much state control in some respects, and from too little in others.

The whole state is injured ... if one township lets its citizenship deteriorate through ignorance or drunkenness, and so the state has a right to say that at least six months school term must be given in every township and that no whiskey-selling shall be permitted. Or if one township is infested with cattle ticks, other townships are injured, and so the state may set a minimum standard here ...

It often happens that the citizens of one county pay more than their share of the state taxes because it has better methods of assessing and collecting taxes and of keeping accounts than other counties in the state. One of the greatest needs of counties, and one least provided for, is uniformity among the counties of a state in methods of keeping accounts (see example on page 410). Some states have established state systems of auditing county finances.


On the other hand, state governments often interfere in matters that might better be left to local determination. Usually all the counties of a state have exactly the same form of government, with exactly the same officers who exercise exactly the same duties. Yet some counties within a state are almost wholly rural, some are almost wholly urban, others are mixed in character. A form of government adapted to one may not be suited to another. So there has arisen a demand for a larger degree of "home rule" in counties. In Illinois, counties have had the right to determine for themselves whether the township should or should not be given prominence in local government, and whether the "supervisor" or the "commissioner" plan of government should be used. California now has a law which provides that counties may apply for "charters" in the same way that cities do in all states. The "charter," like a constitution, determines the form and powers of the government, and is framed by the people of the county themselves, though it must then have the approval of the state legislature.


We have noted how the growth of cities with their elaborate organization for service tends to divert attention from the less conspicuous county government. While probably half the counties of the United States contain no city, or "town," or village of 2500 people, there is in almost every township at least one compact settlement that has grown up around the trading center. Sometimes there are several of them in a township and many in a county. In such compact communities cooperation becomes necessary to provide for needs that are not felt in more rural districts, such as paved streets, sewers, public water supply, fire and police protection, and so on. A separate government becomes necessary. The people of such communities may appeal to the authorities of township, county, or state, for incorporation as a village, borough, town, or city. "Village" and "borough" are simply two names used in different localities for the same thing. The difference between them and an incorporated town or city is principally one of size and corresponding complexity of organization.


The chief governing body of a village, or borough, or incorporated town, is a small council, or board, elected by the people. It has legislative powers in a small way, enacting ORDINANCES for the regulation of local officers and in the public interest.

In Michigan ... they may prescribe the terms and conditions for licensing taverns, peddlers, and public vehicles. They have control of streets, bridges and public grounds; and have authority to construct bridges and pavements, and to regulate the use and prevent the obstruction of the highways. They may establish and maintain sewers and drains. They may construct and control public wharves, and regulate and license ferries. They may establish and regulate markets. They may provide a police force and a fire department. They may construct or purchase and operate water works and lighting plants. They may own cemeteries, public pounds, public buildings and parks.[Footnote: John A. Fairlie, Local Government in Counties, Towns, and Villages, pp. 207, 208.]

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