Civil Government in the United States Considered with - Some Reference to Its Origins
by John Fiske
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[Greek: Aissomai pai Zaevos Heleutheroiu, Imeran eurnsthene amphipolei, Soteira Tucha tiv gar en ponto kubernontai thoai naes, en cherso te laipsaeroi polemoi kagorai boulaphoroi.]

PINDAR, Olymp. xii.

Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State! Sail on, O Union, strong and great!... Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee. Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears, Our faith triumphant o'er our fears, Are all with thee,—are all with thee!





This little book is dedicated, with the author's best wishes and sincere regard, to the many hundreds of young friends whom he has found it so pleasant to meet in years past, and also to those whom he looks forward to meeting in years to come, in studies and readings upon the rich and fruitful history of our beloved country.


Some time ago, my friends, Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., requested me to write a small book on Civil Government in the United States, which might be useful as a text-book, and at the same time serviceable and suggestive to the general reader interested in American history. In preparing the book certain points have been kept especially in view, and deserve some mention here.

It seemed desirable to adopt a historical method of exposition, not simply describing our political institutions in their present shape, but pointing out their origin, indicating some of the processes through which they have acquired that present shape, and thus keeping before the student's mind the fact that government is perpetually undergoing modifications in adapting itself to new conditions. Inasmuch as such gradual changes in government do not make themselves, but are made by men—and made either for better or for worse—it is obvious that the history of political institutions has serious lessons to teach us. The student should as soon as possible come to understand that every institution is the outgrowth of experiences. One probably gets but little benefit from abstract definitions and axioms concerning the rights of men and the nature of civil society, such as we often find at the beginning of books on government. Metaphysical generalizations are well enough in their place, but to start with such things—as the French philosophers of the eighteenth century were fond of doing—is to get the cart before the horse. It is better to have our story first, and thus find out what government in its concrete reality has been, and is. Then we may finish up with the metaphysics, or do as I have done—leave it for somebody else.

I was advised to avoid the extremely systematic, intrusively symmetrical, style of exposition, which is sometimes deemed indispensable in a book of this sort. It was thought that students would be more likely to become interested in the subject if it were treated in the same informal manner into which one naturally falls in giving lectures to young people. I have endeavoured to bear this in mind without sacrificing that lucidity in the arrangement of topics which is always the supreme consideration. For many years I have been in the habit of lecturing on history to college students in different parts of the United States, to young ladies in private schools, and occasionally to the pupils in high and normal schools, and in writing this little book I have imagined an audience of these earnest and intelligent young friends gathered before me.

I was especially advised—by my friend, Mr. James MacAlister, superintendent of schools in Philadelphia, for whose judgment I have the highest respect—to make it a little book, less than three hundred pages in length, if possible. Teachers and pupils do not have time enough to deal properly with large treatises. Brevity, therefore, is golden. A concise manual is the desideratum, touching lightly upon the various points, bringing out their relationships distinctly, and referring to more elaborate treatises, monographs, and documents, for the use of those who wish to pursue the study at greater length.

Within limits thus restricted, it will probably seem strange to some that so much space is given to the treatment of local institutions,—comprising the governments of town, county, and city. It may be observed, by the way, that some persons apparently conceive of the state also as a "local institution." In a recent review of Professor Howard's admirable "Local Constitutional History of the United States," we read, the first volume, which is all that is yet published, treats of the development of the township, hundred, and shire; the second volume, we suppose, being designed to treat of the State Constitutions. The reviewer forgets that there is such a subject as the "development of the city and local magistracies" (which is to be the subject of that second volume), and lets us see that in his apprehension the American state is an institution of the same order as the town and county. We can thus readily assent when we are told that many youth have grown to manhood with so little appreciation of the political importance of the state as to believe it nothing more than a geographical division.[1] In its historic genesis, the American state is not an institution of the same order as the town and county, nor has it as yet become depressed or "mediatized" to that degree. The state, while it does not possess such attributes of sovereignty as were by our Federal Constitution granted to the United States, does, nevertheless, possess many very important and essential characteristics of a sovereign body, as is here pointed out on pages 172-177. The study of our state governments is inextricably wrapped up with the study of our national government, in such wise that both are parts of one subject, which cannot be understood unless both parts are studied. Whether in the course of our country's future development we shall ever arrive at a stage in which this is not the case, must be left for future events to determine. But, if we ever do arrive at such a stage, "American institutions" will present a very different aspect from those with which we are now familiar, and which we have always been accustomed (even, perhaps, without always understanding them) to admire.

[Footnote 1: Young's Government Class Book, p. iv.]

The study of local government properly includes town, county, and city. To this part of the subject I have devoted about half of my limited space, quite unheedful of the warning which I find in the preface of a certain popular text-book, that "to learn the duties of town, city, and county officers, has nothing whatever to do with the grand and noble subject of Civil Government," and that "to attempt class drill on petty town and county offices, would be simply burlesque of the whole subject." But, suppose one were to say, with an air of ineffable scorn, that petty experiments on terrestrial gravitation and radiant heat, such as can be made with commonplace pendulums and tea-kettles, have nothing whatever to do with the grand and noble subject of Physical Astronomy! Science would not have got very far on that plan, I fancy. The truth is, that science, while it is perpetually dealing with questions of magnitude, and knows very well what is large and what is small, knows nothing whatever of any such distinction as that between things that are "grand" and things that are "petty." When we try to study things in a scientific spirit, to learn their modes of genesis and their present aspects, in order that we may foresee their tendencies, and make our volitions count for something in modifying them, there is nothing which we may safely disregard as trivial. This is true of whatever we can study; it is eminently true of the history of institutions. Government is not a royal mystery, to be shut off, like old Deiokes,[2] by a sevenfold wall from the ordinary business of life. Questions of civil government are practical business questions, the principles of which are as often and as forcibly illustrated in a city council or a county board of supervisors, as in the House of Representatives at Washington. It is partly because too many of our citizens fail to realize that local government is a worthy study, that we find it making so much trouble for us. The "bummers" and "boodlers" do not find the subject beneath their notice; the Master who inspires them is wide awake and—for a creature that divides the hoof—extremely intelligent.

[Footnote 2: Herodotus, i. 98.]

It is, moreover, the mental training gained through contact with local government that enables the people of a community to conduct successfully, through their representatives, the government of the state and the nation. And so it makes a great deal of difference whether the government of a town or county is of one sort or another. If the average character of our local governments for the past quarter of a century had been quite as high as that of the Boston town-meeting or the Virginia boards of county magistrates, in the days of Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry, who can doubt that many an airy demagogue, who, through session after session, has played his pranks at the national capital, would long ago have been abruptly recalled to his native heath, a sadder if not a wiser man? We cannot expect the nature of the aggregate to be much better than the average natures of its units. One may hear people gravely discussing the difference between Frenchmen and Englishmen in political efficiency, and resorting to assumed ethnological causes to explain it, when, very likely, to save their lives they could not describe the difference between a French commune and an English parish. To comprehend the interesting contrasts between Gambetta in the Chamber of Deputies, and Gladstone in the House of Commons, one should begin with a historical inquiry into the causes, operating through forty generations, which have frittered away self-government in the rural districts and small towns of France, until there is very little left. If things in America ever come to such a pass that the city council of Cambridge must ask Congress each year how much money it can be allowed to spend for municipal purposes, while the mayor of Cambridge holds his office subject to removal by the President of the United States, we may safely predict further extensive changes in the character of the American people and their government. It was not for nothing that our profoundest political thinker, Thomas Jefferson, attached so much importance to the study of the township.

In determining the order of exposition, I have placed local government first, beginning with the township as the simplest unit. It is well to try to understand what is near and simple, before dealing with what is remote and complex. In teaching geography with maps, it is wise to get the pupil interested in the streets of his own town, the country roads running out of it, and the neighbouring hills and streams, before burdening his attention with the topographical details of Borrioboola Gha. To study grand generalizations about government, before attending to such of its features as come most directly before us, is to run the risk of achieving a result like that attained by the New Hampshire school-boy, who had studied geology in a text-book, but was not aware that he had ever set eyes upon an igneous rock.

After the township, naturally comes the county. The city, as is here shown, is not simply a larger town, but is much more complex in organization. Historically, many cities have been, or still are, equivalent to counties; and the development of the county must be studied before we can understand that of the city. It has been briefly indicated how these forms of local government grew up in England, and how they have become variously modified in adapting themselves to different social conditions in different parts of the United States.

Next in order come the general governments, those which possess and exert, in one way or another, attributes of sovereignty. First, the various colonial governments have been considered, and some features of their metamorphosis into our modern state governments have been described. In the course of this study, our attention is called to the most original and striking feature of the development of civil government upon American soil,—the written constitution, with the accompanying power of the courts in certain cases to annul the acts of the legislature. This is not only the most original feature of our government, but it is in some respects the most important. Without the Supreme Court, it is not likely that the Federal Union could have been held together, since Congress has now and then passed an act which the people in some of the states have regarded as unconstitutional and tyrannical; and in the absence of a judicial method of settling such questions, the only available remedy would have been nullification. I have devoted a brief chapter to the origin and development of written constitutions, and the connection of our colonial charters therewith.

Lastly, we come to the completed structure, the Federal Union; and by this time we have examined so many points in the general theory of American government, that our Federal Constitution can be more concisely described, and (I believe) more quickly understood, than if we had made it the subject of the first chapter instead of the last. In conclusion, there have been added a few brief hints and suggestions with reference to our political history. These remarks have been intentionally limited. It is no part of the purpose of this book to give an account of the doings of political parties under the Constitution. But its study may fitly be supplemented by that of Professor Alexander Johnston's "History of American Politics."

This arrangement not only proceeds from the simpler forms of government to the more complex, but it follows the historical order of development. From time immemorial, and down into the lowest strata of savagery that have come within our ken, there have been clans and tribes; and, as is here shown, a township was originally a stationary clan, and a county was originally a stationary tribe. There were townships and counties (or equivalent forms of organization) before there were cities. In like manner there were townships, counties, and cities long before there was anything in the world that could properly be called a state. I have remarked below upon the way in which English shires coalesced into little states, and in course of time the English nation was formed by the union of such little states, which lost their statehood (i.e., their functions of sovereignty, though not their self-government within certain limits) in the process. Finally, in America, we see an enormous nationality formed by the federation of states which partially retain their statehood; and some of these states are themselves of national dimensions, as, for example, New York, which is nearly equal in area, quite equal in population, and far superior in wealth, to Shakespeare's England.

In studying the local institutions of our different states, I have been greatly helped by the "Johns Hopkins University Studies in History and Politics," of which the eighth annual series is now in course of publication. In the course of the pages below I have frequent occasion to acknowledge my indebtedness to these learned and sometimes profoundly suggestive monographs; but I cannot leave the subject without a special word of gratitude to my friend, Dr. Herbert Adams, the editor of the series, for the noble work which he is doing in promoting the study of American history. It had always seemed to me that the mere existence of printed questions in text-books proves that the publishers must have rather a poor opinion of the average intelligence of teachers; and it also seemed as if the practical effect of such questions must often be to make the exercise of recitation more mechanical for both teachers and pupils, and to encourage the besetting sin of "learning by heart." Nevertheless, there are usually two sides to a case; and, in deference to the prevailing custom, for which, no doubt, there is much to be said, full sets of questions have been appended to each chapter and section. It seemed desirable that such questions should be prepared by some one especially familiar with the use of school-books; and for these I have to thank Mr. F.A. Hill, Head Master of the Cambridge English High School. I confess that Mr. Hill's questions have considerably modified my opinion as to the merits of such apparatus. They seem to add very materially to the usefulness of the book.

It will be observed that there are two sets of these questions, entirely distinct in character and purpose. The first set—"Questions on the Text"—is appended to each section, so as to be as near the text as possible. These questions furnish an excellent topical analysis of the text.[3] In a certain sense they ask "what the book says," but the teacher is advised emphatically to discourage any such thing as committing the text to memory. The tendency to rote-learning is very strong. I had to contend with it in teaching history to seniors at Harvard twenty years ago, but much has since been done to check it through the development of the modern German seminary methods. (For an explanation of these methods, see Dr. Herbert Adams on "Seminary Libraries and University Extension," J.H.U. Studies, V., xi.) With younger students the tendency is of course stronger. It is only through much exercise that the mind learns how to let itself—as Matthew Arnold used to say—"play freely about the facts."

[Footnote 3: "This," says Mr. Hill, "will please those who prefer the topical method, while it does not forbid the easy transformation of topics to questions, which others may demand." In the table of contents I have made a pretty full topical analysis of the book, which may prove useful for comparison with Mr. Hill's.]

In order to supply the pupil with some wholesome exercise of this sort, Mr. Hill has added, at the end of each chapter, a set of "Suggestive Questions and Directions." Here he has thoroughly divined the purpose of the book and done much to further it.

Problems or cases are suggested for the student to consider, and questions are asked which cannot be disposed of by a direct appeal to the text. Sometimes the questions go quite outside of the text, and relate to topics concerning which it provides no information whatever. This has been done with a purpose. The pupil should learn how to go outside of the book and gather from scattered sources information concerning questions that the book suggests. In other words, he should begin to learn how to make researches, for that is coming to be one of the useful arts, not merely for scholars, but for men and women in many sorts of avocations. It is always useful, as well as ennobling, to be able to trace knowledge to its sources. Work of this sort involves more or less conference and discussion among classmates, and calls for active aid from the teacher; and if the teacher does not at first feel at home in these methods, practice will nevertheless bring familiarity, and will prove most wholesome training. For the aid of teachers and pupils, as well as of the general reader who wishes to pursue the subject, I have added a bibliographical note at the end of each chapter, immediately after Mr. Hill's "Suggestive Questions and Directions."

This particular purpose in my book must be carefully borne in mind. It explains the omission of many details which some text-books on the same subject would be sure to include. To make a manual complete and self-sufficing is precisely what I have not intended. The book is designed to be suggestive and stimulating, to leave the reader with scant information on some points, to make him (as Mr. Samuel Weller says) "vish there wos more," and to show him how to go on by himself. I am well aware that, in making an experiment in this somewhat new direction, nothing is easier than to fall into errors of judgment. I can hardly suppose that this book is free from such errors; but if in spite thereof it shall turn out to be in any way helpful in bringing the knowledge and use of the German seminary method into our higher schools, I shall be more than satisfied.

Just here, let me say to young people in all parts of our country:—If you have not already done so, it would be well worth while for you to organize a debating society in your town or village, for the discussion of such historical and practical questions relating to the government of the United States as are suggested in the course of this book. Once started, there need be no end of interesting and profitable subjects for discussion. As a further guide to the books you need in studying such subjects, use Mr. W.E. Foster's "References to the Constitution of the United States," the invaluable pamphlet mentioned below on page 277. If you cannot afford to buy the books, get the public library of your town or village to buy them; or, perhaps, organize a small special library for your society or club. Librarians will naturally feel interested in such a matter, and will often be able to help with advice. A few hours every week spent in such wholesome studies cannot fail to do much toward the political education of the local community, and thus toward the general improvement of the American people. For the amelioration of things will doubtless continue to be effected in the future, as it has been effected in the past, not by ambitious schemes of sudden and universal reform (which the sagacious man always suspects, just as he suspects all schemes for returning a fabulously large interest upon investments), but by the gradual and cumulative efforts of innumerable individuals, each doing something to help or instruct those to whom his influence extends. He who makes two clear ideas grow where there was only one hazy one before, is the true benefactor of his species.

In conclusion, I must express my sincere thanks to Mr. Thomas Emerson, superintendent of schools in Newton, for the very kind interest he has shown in my work, in discussing its plan with me at the outset, in reading the completed manuscript, and in offering valuable criticisms.

CAMBRIDGE, August 5, 1890.




"Too much taxes".

What is taxation?

Taxation and eminent domain.

What is government?

The "ship of state".

"The government".

Whatever else it may be, "the government" is the power which imposes taxes.

Difference between taxation and robbery.

Sometimes taxation is robbery.

The study of history is full of practical lessons, and helpful to those who would be good citizens.

Perpetual vigilance is the price of liberty.






Section 1. The New England Township.

The most ancient and simple form of government.

New England settled by church congregations.

Policy of the early Massachusetts government as to land grants.

Smallness of the farms

Township and village

Social position of the settlers

The town-meeting

Selectmen; town-clerk

Town-treasurer; constables; assessors of taxes and overseers of the poor

Act of 1647 establishing public schools

School committees

Field-drivers and pound-keepers; fence-viewers; other town officers

Calling the town-meeting

Town, county, and state taxes


Taxes on real-estate; taxes on personal property

When and where taxes are assessed


Cheating the government

The rate of taxation

Undervaluation; the burden of taxation

The "magic-fund" delusion

Educational value of the town-meeting


Power and responsibility

There is nothing especially American, democratic, or meritorious about "rotation in office"


Section 2. Origin of the Township.

Town-meetings in ancient Greece and Rome

Clans; the mark and the tun

The Old-English township, the manor, and the parish

The vestry-meeting

Parish and vestry clerks; beadles, waywardens, haywards, common-drivers, churchwardens, etc.

Transition from the English parish to the New England township

Building of states out of smaller political units

Representation; shire-motes; Earl Simon's Parliament

The township as the "unit of representation" in the shire-mote and in the General Court

Contrast with the Russian village-community which is not represented in the general government




Section 1. The County in its Beginnings.

Why do we have counties?

Clans and tribes

The English nation, like the American, grew out of the union of small states

Ealdorman and sheriff; shire-mote and county court

The coroner, or "crown officer"

Justices of the peace; the Quarter Sessions; the lord lieutenant

Decline of the English county; beginnings of counties in Massachusetts


Section 2. The Modern County in Massachusetts.

County commissioners, etc.; shire-towns and court-houses

Justices of the peace, and trial justices

The sheriff


Section 3. The Old Virginia County.

Virginia sparsely settled; extensive land grants to individuals

Navigable rivers; absence of towns; slavery

Social position of the settlers

Virginia parishes; the vestry was a close corporation

Powers of the vestry

The county was the unit of representation

The county court was virtually a close corporation

The county-seat, or Court House

Powers of the court; the sheriff

The county-lieutenant

Contrast between old Virginia and old New England, in respect of local government

Jefferson's opinion of township government

"Court-day" in old Virginia

Virginia has been prolific in great leaders






Section 1. Various Local Systems.

Parishes in South Carolina

The back country; the "regulators"

The district system

The modern South Carolina county

The counties are too large

Tendency of the school district to develop into something like a township

Local institutions in colonial Maryland; the hundred

Clans; brotherhoods, or phratries; and tribes

Origin of the hundred; the hundred court; the high constable

Decay of the hundred; hundred-meeting in Maryland

The hundred in Delaware; the levy court, or representative county assembly

The old Pennsylvania county

Town-meetings in New Tort

The county board of supervisors


Section 2. Settlement of the Public Domain.

Westward movement of population along parallels of latitude

Method of surveying the public lands

Origin of townships in the West

Formation of counties in the West

Some effects of this system

The reservation of a section for public schools

In this reservation there were the germs of township government

But at first the county system prevailed


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

The town-meeting in Michigan

Conflict between township and county systems in Illinois

Effects of the Ordinance of 1787

Intense vitality of the township system

County option and township option in Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Dakota

Grades of township government in the West

An excellent result of the absence of centralization in the United States

Effect of the self-governing school district in the South, in preparing the way for the self-governing township

Woman-suffrage in the school district






Section 1. Direct and Indirect Government.

Summary of the foregoing results; township government is direct, county government is indirect

Representative government is necessitated in a county by the extent of territory, and in a city by the multitude of people

Josiah Quincy's account of the Boston town-meeting in 1830

Distinctions between towns and cities in America and in England


Section 2. Origin of English Boroughs and Cities.

Origin of the chesters and casters in Roman camps

Coalescence of towns into fortified boroughs

The borough as a hundred; it acquires a court

The borough as a county; it acquires a sheriff

Government of London under Henry I

The guilds; the town guild, and Guild Hall

Government of London as perfected in the thirteenth century; mayor, aldermen, and common council

The city of London, and the metropolitan district

English cities were for a long time the bulwarks of liberty

Simon de Montfort and the cities

Oligarchical abuses in English cities, beginning with the Tudor period

The Municipal Reform Act of 1835

Government of the city of New York before the Revolution

Changes after the Revolution

City government in Philadelphia in the eighteenth century

The very tradition of good government was lacking in these cities


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

Several features of our municipal governments

In many cases they do not seem to work well

Rapid growth of American cities

Some consequences of this rapid growth

Wastefulness resulting from want of foresight

Growth in complexity of government in cities

Illustrated by list of municipal officers in Boston.

How city government comes to be a mystery to the citizens, in some respects harder to understand than state and national government

Dread of the "one-man power" has in many cases led to scattering and weakening of responsibility

Committees inefficient for executive purposes; the "Circumlocution Office"

Alarming increase of city debts, and various attempts to remedy the evil

Experience of New York with state interference in municipal affairs; unsatisfactory results

The Tweed Ring in New York

The present is a period of experiments

The new government of Brooklyn

Necessity of separating municipal from national politics

Notion that the suffrage ought to be restricted; evils wrought by ignorant voters

Evils wrought by wealthy speculators; testimony of the Pennsylvania Municipal Commission

Dangers of a restricted suffrage

Baneful effects of mixing city politics with national politics

The "spoils system" must be destroyed, root and branch; ballot reform also indispensable






Section 1. The Colonial Governments.

Claims of Spain to the possession of North America

Claims of France and England

The London and Plymouth Companies

Their common charter

Dissolution of the two companies

States formed in the three zones

Formation of representative governments; House of Burgesses in Virginia

Company of Massachusetts Bay

Transfer of the charter from England to Massachusetts

The General Court; assistants and deputies

Virtual independence of Massachusetts, and quarrels with the Crown

New charter of Massachusetts in 1692; its liberties curtailed

Republican governments in Connecticut and Rhode Island

Counties palatine in England; proprietary charter of Maryland

Proprietary charter of Pennsylvania

Quarrels between Penns and Calverts; Mason and Dixon's line

Other proprietary governments

They generally became unpopular

At the time of the Revolution there were three forms of colonial government: 1. Republican; 2. Proprietary; 3. Royal

(After 1692 the government of Massachusetts might be described as Semi-royal)

In all three forms there was a representative assembly, which alone could impose taxes

The governor's council was a kind of upper house

The colonial government was much like the English system in miniature

The Americans never admitted the supremacy of parliament

Except in the regulation of maritime commerce

In England there grew up the theory of the imperial supremacy of parliament

And the conflict between the British and American theories was precipitated by becoming involved in the political schemes of George III.


Section 2. The Transition from Colonial to State Governments.

Dissolution of assemblies and parliaments

Committees of correspondence; provincial congresses

Provisional governments; "governors" and "presidents"

Origin of the senates

Likenesses and differences between British and American systems


Section 3. The State Governments.

Later modifications

Universal suffrage

Separation between legislative and executive departments; its advantages and disadvantages as compared with the European plan

In our system the independence of the executive is of vital importance

The state executive

The governor's functions: 1. Adviser of legislature; 2. Commander of state militia; 3. Royal prerogative of pardon; 4. Veto power

Importance of the veto power as a safeguard against corruption In building the state, the local self-government was left unimpaired

Instructive contrast with France

Some causes of French political incapacity

Vastness of the functions retained by the states in the American Union

Illustration from recent English history

Independence of the state courts

Constitution of the state courts

Elective and appointive judges






In the American state there is a power above the legislature

Germs of the idea of a written constitution

Development of the idea of contract in Roman law; mediaeval charters

The "Great Charter" (1215)

The Bill of Rights (1689)

Foreshadowing of the American idea by Sir Harry Vane (1666)

The Mayflower compact (1620)

The "Fundamental Orders" of Connecticut (1639)

Germinal development of the colonial charter toward the modern state constitution

Abnormal development of some recent state constitutions, encroaching upon the legislature

The process of amending constitutions

The Swiss "Referendum"






Section 1. Origin of the Federal Union.

Circumstances favourable to the union of the colonies. The New England Confederacy (1643-84). Albany Congress (1754); Stamp Act Congress (1765); Committees of Correspondence (1772-75). The Continental Congress (1774-89). The several states were never at any time sovereign states. The Articles of Confederation. Nature and powers of the Continental Congress. It could not impose taxes, and therefore was not fully endowed with sovereignty. Decline of the Continental Congress. Weakness of the sentiment of union; anarchical tendencies. The Federal Convention (1787).


Section 2. The Federal Congress.

The House of Representatives. The three fifths compromise. The Connecticut compromise. The Senate. Electoral districts; the "Gerrymander". The election at large. Time of assembling. Privileges of members. The Speaker. Impeachment in England; in the United States. The president's veto power.


Section 3. The Federal Executive.

The title of "President". The electoral college. The twelfth amendment. The electoral commission (1877). Provisions against a lapse of the presidency.

Original purpose of the electoral college not fulfilled

Electors formerly chosen in many states by districts; now always on a general ticket

"Minority presidents"

Advantages of the electoral system

Nomination of candidates by congressional caucus (1800-24)

Nominating conventions; the "primary"; the district convention; the national convention

Qualifications for the presidency; the term of office

Powers and duties of the president

The president's message

Executive departments; the cabinet

The secretary of state

Diplomatic and consular service

The secretary of the treasury

The other departments


Section 4. The Nation and the States.

Difference between confederation and federal union

Powers granted to Congress

The "Elastic Clause"

Powers denied to the states

Evils of an inconvertible paper currency

Powers denied to Congress

Bills of attainder

Intercitizenship; mode of mating amendments


Section 5. The Federal Judiciary.

Need for a federal judiciary

Federal courts and judges

District attorneys and marshals

The federal jurisdiction


Section 6. Territorial Government.

The Northwest Territory and the Ordinance of 1787

Other territories and their government


Section 7. Ratification and Amendments.

Provisions for ratification

Concessions to slavery

Demand for a bill of rights

The first ten amendments


Section 8. A Few Words about Politics.

Federal taxation

Hamilton's policy; excise; tariff

Origin of American political parties; strict and loose construction of the Elastic Clause

Tariff, Internal Improvements, and National Bank.

Civil Service reform

Origin of the "spoils system" in the state polities of New Tort and Pennsylvania

"Rotation in office;" the Crawford Act

How the "spoils system" was made national

The Civil Service Act of 1883

The Australian ballot

The English system of accounting for election expenses





A. The Articles of Confederation

B. The Constitution of the United States

C. Magna Charta

D. Part of the Bill of Rights, 1689

E. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

F. The States classified according to origin

G. Table of states and territories

H. Population of the United States 1790-1880, with percentages of urban population

I. An Examination Paper for Customs Clerks

J. The New York Corrupt Practices Act of 1890

K. Specimen of an Australian ballot





In that strangely beautiful story, "The Cloister and the Hearth," in which Charles Reade has drawn such a vivid picture of human life at the close of the Middle Ages, there is a good description of the siege of a revolted town by the army of the Duke of Burgundy. Arrows whiz, catapults hurl their ponderous stones, wooden towers are built, secret mines are exploded. The sturdy citizens, led by a tall knight who seems to bear a charmed life, baffle every device of the besiegers. At length the citizens capture the brother of the duke's general, and the besiegers capture the tall knight, who turns out to be no knight after all, but just a plebeian hosier. The duke's general is on the point of ordering the tradesman who has made so much trouble to be shot, but the latter still remains master of the situation; for, as he dryly observes, if any harm comes to him, the enraged citizens will hang the general's brother. Some parley ensues, in which the shrewd hosier promises for the townsfolk to set free their prisoner and pay a round sum of money if the besieging army will depart and leave them in peace. The offer is accepted, and so the matter is amicably settled. As the worthy citizen is about to take his leave, the general ventures a word of inquiry as to the cause of the town's revolt. "What, then, is your grievance, my good friend?" Our hosier knight, though deft with needle and keen with lance, has a stammering tongue. He answers: "Tuta—tuta—tuta—tuta—too much taxes!"

[Sidenote: "Too much taxes."] "Too much taxes:" those three little words furnish us with a clue wherewith to understand and explain a great deal of history. A great many sieges of towns, so horrid to have endured though so picturesque to read about, hundreds of weary marches and deadly battles, thousands of romantic plots that have led their inventors to the scaffold, have owed their origin to questions of taxation. The issue between the ducal commander and the warlike tradesman has been tried over and over again in every country and in every age, and not always has the oppressor been so speedily thwarted and got rid of. The questions as to how much the taxes shall be, and who is to decide how much they shall be, are always and in every stage of society questions of most fundamental importance. And ever since men began to make history, a very large part of what they have done, in the way of making history, has been the attempt to settle these questions, whether by discussion or by blows, whether in council chambers or on the battlefield. The French Revolution of 1789, the most terrible political convulsion of modern times, was caused chiefly by "too much taxes," and by the fact that the people who paid the taxes were not the people who decided what the taxes were to be. Our own Revolution, which made the United States a nation independent of Great Britain, was brought on by the disputed question as to who was to decide what taxes American citizens must pay.

[Sidenote: What is taxation?] What, then, are taxes? The question is one which is apt to come up, sooner or later, to puzzle children. They find no difficulty in understanding the butcher's bill for so many pounds of meat, or the tailor's bill for so many suits of clothes, where the value received is something that can be seen and handled. But the tax bill, though it comes as inevitably as the autumnal frosts, bears no such obvious relation to the incidents of domestic life; it is not quite so clear what the money goes for; and hence it is apt to be paid by the head of the household with more or less grumbling, while for the younger members of the family it requires some explanation.

It only needs to be pointed out, however, that in every town some things are done for the benefit of all the inhabitants of the town, things which concern one person just as much as another. Thus roads are made and kept in repair, school-houses are built and salaries paid to school-teachers, there are constables who take criminals to jail, there are engines for putting out fires, there are public libraries, town cemeteries, and poor-houses. Money raised for these purposes, which are supposed to concern all the inhabitants, is supposed to be paid by all the inhabitants, each one furnishing his share; and the share which each one pays is his town tax.

[Sidenote: Taxation and eminent domain.] From this illustration it would appear that taxes are private property taken for public purposes; and in making this statement we come very near the truth. Taxes are portions of private property which a government takes for its public purposes. Before going farther, let us pause to observe that there is one other way, besides taxation, in which government sometimes takes private property for public purposes. Roads and streets are of great importance to the general public; and the government of the town or city in which you live may see fit, in opening a new street, to run it across your garden, or to make you move your house or shop out of the way for it. In so doing, the government either takes away or damages some of your property. It exercises rights over your property without asking your permission. This power of government over private property is called "the right of eminent domain." It means that a man's private interests must not be allowed to obstruct the interests of the whole community in which he lives. But in two ways the exercise of eminent domain is unlike taxation. In the first place, it is only occasional, and affects only certain persons here or there, whereas taxation goes on perpetually and affects all persons who own property. In the second place, when the government takes away a piece of your land to make a road, it pays you money in return for it; perhaps not quite so much as you believe the piece of land was worth in the market; the average human nature is doubtless such that men seldom give fair measure for measure unless they feel compelled to, and it is not easy to put a government under compulsion. Still it gives you something; it does not ask you to part with your property for nothing. Now in the case of taxation, the government takes your money and seems to make no return to you individually; but it is supposed to return to you the value of it in the shape of well-paved streets, good schools, efficient protection against criminals, and so forth.

[Sidenote: What is government?] In giving this brief preliminary definition of taxes and taxation, we have already begun to speak of "the government" of the town or city in which you live. We shall presently have to speak of other "governments,"—as the government of your state and the government of the United States; and we shall now and then have occasion to allude to the governments of other countries in which the people are free, as, for example, England; and of some countries in which the people are not free, as, for example, Russia. It is desirable, therefore, that we should here at the start make sure what we mean by "government," in order that we may have a clear idea of what we are talking about.

[Sidenote: The "ship of state."] Our verb "to govern" is an Old French word, one of the great host of French words which became a part of the English language between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, when so much French was spoken in England. The French word was gouverner, and its oldest form was the Latin gubernare, a word which the Romans borrowed from the Greek, and meant originally "to steer the ship." Hence it very naturally came to mean "to guide," "to direct," "to command." The comparison between governing and steering was a happy one. To govern is not to command as a master commands a slave, but it is to issue orders and give directions for the common good; for the interests of the man at the helm are the same as those of the people in the ship. All must float or sink together. Hence we sometimes speak of the "ship of state," and we often call the state a "commonwealth," or something in the weal or welfare of which all the people are alike interested.

Government, then, is the directing or managing of such affairs as concern all the people alike,—as, for example, the punishment of criminals, the enforcement of contracts, the defence against foreign enemies, the maintenance of roads and bridges, and so on. To the directing or managing of such affairs all the people are expected to contribute, each according to his ability, in the shape of taxes. Government is something which is supported by the people and kept alive by taxation. There is no other way of keeping it alive.

[Sidenote: "The government."] The business of carrying on government—of steering the ship of state—either requires some special training, or absorbs all the time and attention of those who carry it on; and accordingly, in all countries, certain persons or groups of persons are selected or in some way set apart, for longer or shorter periods of time, to perform the work of government. Such persons may be a king with his council, as in the England of the twelfth century; or a parliament led by a responsible ministry, as in the England of to-day; or a president and two houses of congress, as in the United States; or a board of selectmen, as in a New England town. When we speak of "a government" or "the government," we often mean the group of persons thus set apart for carrying on the work of government. Thus, by "the Gladstone government" we mean Mr. Gladstone, with his colleagues in the cabinet and his Liberal majority in the House of Commons; and by "the Lincoln government," properly speaking, was meant President Lincoln, with the Republican majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.

[Sidenote: Whatever else it may be, "the government" is the power which taxes] "The government" has always many things to do, and there are many different lights in which we might regard it. But for the present there is one thing which we need especially to keep in mind. "The government" is the power which can rightfully take away a part of your property, in the shape of taxes, to be used for public purposes. A government is not worthy of the name, and cannot long be kept in existence, unless it can raise money by taxation, and use force, if necessary, in collecting its taxes. The only general government of the United States during the Revolutionary War, and for six years after its close, was the Continental Congress, which had no authority to raise money by taxation. In order to feed and clothe the army and pay its officers and soldiers, it was obliged to ask for money from the several states, and hardly ever got as much as was needed. It was obliged to borrow millions of dollars from France and Holland, and to issue promissory notes which soon became worthless. After the war was over it became clear that this so-called government could neither preserve order nor pay its debts, and accordingly it ceased to be respected either at home or abroad, and it became necessary for the American people to adopt a new form of government. Between the old Continental Congress and the government under which we have lived since 1789, the differences were many; but by far the most essential difference was that the new government could raise money by taxation, and was thus enabled properly to carry on the work of governing.

If we are in any doubt as to what is really the government of some particular country, we cannot do better than observe what person or persons in that country are clothed with authority to tax the people. Mere names, as customarily applied to governments, are apt to be deceptive. Thus in the middle of the eighteenth century France and England were both called "kingdoms;" but so far as kingly power was concerned, Louis XV. was a very different sort of a king from George II. The French king could impose taxes on his people, and it might therefore be truly said that the government of France was in the king. Indeed, it was Louis XV's immediate predecessor who made the famous remark, "The state is myself." But the English king could not impose taxes; the only power in England that could do that was the House of Commons, and accordingly it is correct to say that in England, at the time of which we are speaking, the government was (as it still is) in the House of Commons.

[Sidenote: Difference between taxation and robbery.] I say, then, the most essential feature of a government—or at any rate the feature with which it is most important for us to become familiar at the start—is its power of taxation. The government is that which taxes. If individuals take away some of your property for purposes of their own, it is robbery; you lose your money and get nothing in return. But if the government takes away some of your property in the shape of taxes, it is supposed to render to you an equivalent in the shape of good government, something without which our lives and property would not be safe. Herein seems to lie the difference between taxation and robbery. When the highwayman points his pistol at me and I hand him my purse and watch, I am robbed. But when I pay the tax-collector, who can seize my watch or sell my house over my head if I refuse, I am simply paying what is fairly due from me toward supporting the government.

[Sidenote: Sometimes taxation is robbery.] In what we have been saying it has thus far been assumed that the government is in the hands of upright and competent men and is properly administered. It is now time to observe that robbery may be committed by governments as well as by individuals. If the business of governing is placed in the hands of men who have an imperfect sense of their duty toward the public, if such men raise money by taxation and then spend it on their own pleasures, or to increase their political influence, or for other illegitimate purposes, it is really robbery, just as much as if these men were to stand with pistols by the roadside and empty the wallets of people passing by. They make a dishonest use of their high position as members of government, and extort money for which they make no return in the shape of services to the public. History is full of such lamentable instances of misgovernment, and one of the most important uses of the study of history is to teach us how they have occurred, in order that we may learn how to avoid them, as far as possible, in the future.

[Sidenote: The study of history.] When we begin in childhood the study of history we are attracted chiefly by anecdotes of heroes and their battles, kings and their courts, how the Spartans fought at Thermopylae, how Alfred let the cakes burn, how Henry VIII. beheaded his wives, how Louis XIV. used to live at Versailles. It is quite right that we should be interested in such personal details, the more so the better; for history has been made by individual men and women, and until we have understood the character of a great many of those who have gone before us, and how they thought and felt in their time, we have hardly made a fair beginning in the study of history. The greatest historians, such as Freeman and Mommsen, show as lively an interest in persons as in principles; and I would not give much for the historical theories of a man who should declare himself indifferent to little personal details.

[Sidenote: It is full of practical lessons;] Some people, however, never outgrow the child's notion of history as merely a mass of pretty anecdotes or stupid annals, without any practical bearing upon our own every-day life. There could not be a greater mistake. Very little has happened in the past which has not some immediate practical lessons for us; and when we study history in order to profit by the experience of our ancestors, to find out wherein they succeeded and wherein they failed, in order that we may emulate their success and avoid their errors, then history becomes the noblest and most valuable of studies. It then becomes, moreover, an arduous pursuit, at once oppressive and fascinating from its endless wealth of material, and abounding in problems which the most diligent student can never hope completely to solve.

[Sidenote: and helpful to those who would be good citizens.] [Sidenote: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.] Few people have the leisure to undertake a systematic and thorough study of history, but every one ought to find time to learn the principal features of the governments under which we live, and to get some inkling of the way in which these governments have come into existence and of the causes which have made them what they are. Some such knowledge is necessary to the proper discharge of the duties of citizenship. Political questions, great and small, are perpetually arising, to be discussed in the newspapers and voted on at the polls; and it is the duty of every man and woman, young or old, to try to understand them. That is a duty which we owe, each and all of us, to ourselves and to our fellow-countrymen. For if such questions are not settled in accordance with knowledge, they will be settled in accordance with ignorance; and that is a kind of settlement likely to be fraught with results disastrous to everybody. It cannot be too often repeated that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. People sometimes argue as if they supposed that because our national government is called a republic and not a monarchy, and because we have free schools and universal suffrage, therefore our liberties are forever secure. Our government is, indeed, in most respects, a marvel of political skill; and in ordinary times it runs so smoothly that now and then, absorbed as most of us are in domestic cares, we are apt to forget that it will not run of itself. To insure that the government of the nation or the state, of the city or the township, shall be properly administered, requires from every citizen the utmost watchfulness and intelligence of which he is capable.


To the teacher. Encourage full answers. Do not permit anything like committing the text to memory. In the long run the pupil who relies upon his own language, however inferior it may be to that of the text, is better off. Naturally, with thoughtful study, the pupil's language will feel the influence of that of the text, and so improve. The important thing in any answer is the fundamental thought. This idea once grasped, the expression of it may receive some attention. The expression will often be broken and faulty, partly because of the immaturity of the pupil, and partly because of the newness and difficulty of the theme. Do not let the endeavour to secure excellent expression check a certain freedom and spontaneity that should be encouraged in the pupil. When the teacher desires to place special stress on excellent presentation, it is wise to assign topics beforehand, so that each pupil may know definitely what is expected of him, and prepare himself accordingly.

1. Tell the story that introduces the chapter.

2. What lesson is it designed to teach?

3. What caused the French Revolution?

4. What caused the American Revolution?

5. Compare the tax bill with that of the butcher or tailor.

6. What are taxes raised for in a town? For whose benefit?

7. Define taxes.

8. Define the right of eminent domain.

9. Distinguish between taxes and the right of eminent domain.

10. What is the origin of the word "govern"?

11. Define government.

12. By whom is it supported, how is it kept alive, and by whom is it carried on?

13. Give illustrations of governments.

14. What one power must government have to be worthy of the name?

15. What was the principal weakness of the government during the American Revolution?

16. Compare this government with that of the United States since 1789.

17. If it is doubtful what the real government of a country is, how may the doubt be settled?

18. Illustrate by reference to France and England in the eighteenth century.

19. What is the difference between taxation and robbery?

20. Under what conditions may taxation become robbery?

21. To what are we easily attracted in our first study of history?

22. What ought to be learned from history?

23. What sort of knowledge is helpful in discharging the duties of citizenship?

24. Show how "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."


To the teacher. The object of this series of questions and suggestions is to stimulate reading, investigating, and thinking. It is not expected, indeed it is hardly possible, that each pupil shall respond to them all. A single question may cost prolonged study. Assign the numbers, therefore, to individuals to report upon at a subsequent recitation,—one or more to each pupil, according to the difficulty of the numbers. Reserve some for class consideration or discussion. Now and then let the teacher answer a question himself, partly to furnish the pupils with good examples of answers, and partly to insure attention to matters that might otherwise escape notice.

1. Are there people who receive no benefit from their payment of taxes?

2. Are the benefits received by people in proportion to the amounts paid by them?

3. Show somewhat fully what taxes had to do with the French Revolution.

4. Show somewhat fully what taxes had to do with the American Revolution.

5. Give illustrations of the exercise of the right of eminent domain in your own town or county or state.

6. Do railroad corporations exercise such a right? How do they succeed in getting land for their tracks?

7. In case of disagreement, how is a fair price determined for property taken by eminent domain?

8. What persons are prominent to-day in the government of your own town or city? Of your own county? Of your own state? Of the United States?

9. Who constitute the government of the school to which you belong? Does this question admit of more than one answer? Has the government of your school any power to tax the people to support the school?

10. What is the difference between a state and the government of a state?

11. Which is the more powerful branch of the English Parliament? Why?

12. Is it a misuse of the funds of a city to provide entertainments for the people July 4? To expend money in entertaining distinguished guests? To provide flowers, carriages, cigars, wines, etc., for such guests?

13. What is meant by subordinating public office to private ends? Cite instances from history.

14. What histories have you read? What one of them, if any, would you call a "child's history," or a "drum and trumpet" history? What one of them, if any, has impressed any lessons upon you?

15. Mention some principles that history has taught you.

16. Mention a few offices, and tell the sort of intelligence that is needed by the persons who hold them. What results might follow if such intelligence were lacking?


It is designed in the bibliographical notes to indicate some authorities to which reference may be made for greater detail than is possible in an elementary work like the present. It is believed that the notes will prove a help to teacher and pupil in special investigations, and to the reader who may wish to make selections from excellent sources for purposes of self-culture. It is hardly necessary to add that it is sometimes worth much to the student to know where valuable information may be obtained, even when it is not practicable to make immediate use of it.

Certain books should always be at the teacher's desk during the instruction in civil government, and as easily accessible as the large dictionary; as, for instance, the following: The General Statutes of the state, the manual or blue-book of the state legislature, and, if the school is in a city, the city charter and ordinances. It is also desirable to add to this list the statutes of the United States and a manual of Congress or of the general government. Manuals may be obtained through representatives in the state legislature and in Congress. They will answer nearly every purpose if they are not of the latest issue. The Statesman's Year Book, published by Macmillan & Co., New York, every year, is exceedingly valuable for reference. Certain almanacs, particularly the comprehensive ones issued by the New York Tribune and the New York World, are rich in state and national statistics, and so inexpensive as to be within everybody's means.

TAXATION AND GOVERNMENT.—As to the causes of the American revolution, see my War of Independence, Boston, 1889; and as to the weakness of the government of the United States before 1789, see my Critical Period of American History, Boston, 1888. As to the causes of the French revolution, see Paul Lacombe, The Growth of a People, N.Y., 1883, and the third volume of Kitchin's History of France, London, 1887; also Morse Stephens, The French Revolution, vol. i., N.Y., 1887; Taine, The Ancient Regime,—N.Y., 1876, and The Revolution, 2 vols., N.Y., 1880. The student may read with pleasure and profit Dickens's Tale of Two Cities. For the student familiar with French, an excellent book is Albert Babeau, Le Village sous l'ancien Regime, Paris, 1879; see also Tocqueville, L'ancien Regime et la Revolution, 7th ed., Paris, 1866. There is a good sketch of the causes of the French revolution in the fifth volume of Leeky's History of England in the Eighteenth Century, N.Y., 1887; see also Buckle's History of Civilization, chaps, xii.-xiv. There is no better commentary on my first chapter than the lurid history of France in the eighteenth century. The strong contrast to English and American history shows us most instructively what we have thus far escaped.



Section 1. The New England Township.

Of the various kinds of government to be found in the United States, we may begin by considering that of the New England township. As we shall presently see, it is in principle of all known forms of government the oldest as well as the simplest. Let us observe how the New England township grew up.

[Sidenote: New England was settled by church congregations.] When people from England first came to dwell in the wilderness of Massachusetts Bay, they settled in groups upon small irregular-shaped patches of land, which soon came to be known as townships. There were several reasons why they settled thus in small groups, instead of scattering about over the country and carving out broad estates for themselves. In the first place, their principal reason for coming to New England was their dissatisfaction with the way in which church affairs were managed in the old country. They wished to bring about a reform in the church, in such wise that the members of a congregation should have more voice than formerly in the church-government, and that the minister of each congregation should be more independent than formerly of the bishop and of the civil government. They also wished to abolish sundry rites and customs of the church of which they had come to disapprove. Finding the resistance to their reforms quite formidable in England, and having some reason to fear that they might be themselves crushed in the struggle, they crossed the ocean in order to carry out their ideas in a new and remote country where they might be comparatively secure from interference. Hence it was quite natural that they should come in congregations, led by their favourite ministers,—such men, for example, as Higginson and Cotton, Hooker and Davenport. When such men, famous in England for their bold preaching and imperiled thereby, decided to move to America, a considerable number of their parishioners would decide to accompany them, and similarly minded members of neighbouring churches would leave their own pastor and join in the migration. Such a group of people, arriving on the coast of Massachusetts, would naturally select some convenient locality, where they might build their houses near together and all go to the same church.

[Sidenote: Land grants.] This migration, therefore, was a movement, not of individuals or of separate families, but of church-congregations, and it continued to be so as the settlers made their way inland and westward. The first river towns of Connecticut were founded by congregations coming from Dorchester, Cambridge, and Watertown. This kind of settlement was favoured by the government of Massachusetts, which made grants of land, not to individuals but to companies of people who wished to live together and attend the same church.

In the second place, the soil of New England was not favourable to the cultivation of great quantities of staple articles, such as rice or tobacco, so that there was nothing to tempt people to undertake extensive plantations.

[Sidenote: Small farms.] Most of the people lived on small farms, each family raising but little more than enough food for its own support; and the small size of the farms made it possible to have a good many in a compact neighbourhood. It appeared also that towns could be more easily defended against the Indians than scattered plantations; and this doubtless helped to keep people together, although if there had been any strong inducement for solitary pioneers to plunge into the great woods, as in later years so often happened at the West, it is not likely that any dread of the savages would have hindered them.

[Sidenote: Township and village.] [Sidenote: Social positions of settlers.] Thus the early settlers of New England came to live in townships. A township would consist of about as many farms as could be disposed within convenient distance from the meeting-house, where all the inhabitants, young and old, gathered every Sunday, coming on horseback or afoot. The meeting-house was thus centrally situated, and near it was the town pasture or "common," with the school-house and the block-house, or rude fortress for defence against the Indians. For the latter building some commanding position was apt to be selected, and hence we so often find the old village streets of New England running along elevated ridges or climbing over beetling hilltops. Around the meeting-house and common the dwellings gradually clustered into a village, and after a while the tavern, store, and town-house made their appearance.

Among the people who thus tilled the farms and built up the villages of New England, the differences in what we should call social position, though noticeable, were not extreme. While in England some had been esquires or country magistrates, or "lords of the manor,"—a phrase which does not mean a member of the peerage, but a landed proprietor with dependent tenants[1]; some had been yeomen, or persons holding farms by some free kind of tenure; some had been artisans or tradesmen in cities. All had for many generations been more or less accustomed to self-government and to public meetings for discussing local affairs. That self-government, especially as far as church matters were concerned, they were stoutly bent upon maintaining and extending. Indeed, that was what they had crossed the ocean for. Under these circumstances they developed a kind of government which we may describe in the present tense, for its methods are pretty much the same to-day that they were two centuries ago.

[Footnote 1: Compare the Scottish "laird."]

[Sidenote: The town-meeting.] In a New England township the people directly govern themselves; the government is the people, or, to speak with entire precision, it is all the male inhabitants of one-and-twenty years of age and upwards. The people tax themselves. Once each year, usually in March but sometimes as early as February or as late as April, a "town-meeting" is held, at which all the grown men of the township are expected to be present and to vote, while any one may introduce motions or take part in the discussion. In early times there was a fine for non-attendance, but at is no longer the case; it is supposed that a due regard to his own interests will induce every man to come.

The town-meeting is held in the town-house, but at first it used to be held in the church, which was thus a "meeting-house" for civil as well as ecclesiastical purposes. At the town-meeting measures relating to the administration of town affairs are discussed and adopted or rejected; appropriations are made for the public expenses of the town, or in other words the amount of the town taxes for the year is determined; and town officers are elected for the year. Let us first enumerate these officers.

[Sidenote: Selectmen.] The principal executive magistrates of the town are the selectmen. They are three, five, seven, or nine in number, according to the size of the town and the amount of public business to be transacted. The odd number insures a majority decision in case of any difference of opinion among them. They have the general management of the public business. They issue warrants for the holding of town-meetings, and they can call such a meeting at any time during the year when there seems to be need for it, but the warrant must always specify the subjects which are to be discussed and acted on at the meeting. The selectmen also lay out highways, grant licenses, and impanel jurors; they may act as health officers and issue orders regarding sewerage, the abatement of nuisances, or the isolation of contagious diseases; in many cases they act as assessors of taxes, and as overseers of the poor. They are the proper persons to listen to complaints if anything goes wrong in the town. In county matters and state matters they speak for the town, and if it is a party to a law-suit they represent it in court; for the New England town is a legal corporation, and as such can hold property, and sue and be sued. In a certain sense the selectmen may be said to be "the government" of the town during the intervals between the town-meetings.

[Sidenote: Town-clerk.] An officer no less important than the selectmen is the town-clerk. He keeps the record of all votes passed in the town-meetings. He also records the names of candidates and the number of votes for each in the election of state and county officers. He records the births, marriages, and deaths in the township, and issues certificates to persons who declare an intention of marriage. He likewise keeps on record accurate descriptions of the position and bounds of public roads; and, in short, has general charge of all matters of town-record.

[Sidenote: Town-treasurer.] Every town has also its treasurer, who receives and takes care of the money coming in from the taxpayers, or whatever money belongs to the town. Out of this money he pays the public expenses. He must keep a strict account of his receipts and payments, and make a report of them each year.

[Sidenote: Constables.] Every town has one or more constables, who serve warrants from the selectmen and writs from the law courts. They pursue criminals and take them to jail. They summon jurors. In many towns they serve as collectors of taxes, but in many other towns a special officer is chosen for that purpose. When a person, fails to pay his taxes, after a specified time the collector has authority to seize upon his property and sell it at auction, paying the tax and costs out of the proceeds of the sale, and handing over the balance to the owner. In some cases, where no property can be found and there is reason to believe that the delinquent is not acting in good faith, he can be arrested and kept in prison until the tax and costs are paid, or until he is released by the proper legal methods.

[Sidenote: Assessors of taxes and overseers of the poor.] Where the duties of the selectmen are likely to be too numerous, the town may choose three or more assessors of taxes to prepare the tax lists; and three or more overseers of the poor, to regulate the management of the village almshouse and confer with other towns upon such questions as often arise concerning the settlement and maintenance of homeless paupers.

[Sidenote: Public schools.] Every town has its school committee. In 1647 the legislature of Massachusetts enacted a law with the following preamble: "It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with false glosses of deceivers; to the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavours;" it was therefore ordered that every township containing fifty families or householders should forthwith set up a school in which children might be taught to read and write, and that every township containing one hundred families or householders should set up a school in which boys might be fitted for entering Harvard College. Even before this statute, several towns, as for instance Roxbury and Dedham, had begun to appropriate money for free schools; and these were the beginnings of a system of public education which has come to be adopted throughout the United States.

[Sidenote: School committees.] The school committee exercises powers of such a character as to make it a body of great importance. The term of service of the members is three years, one third being chosen annually. The number of members must therefore be some multiple of three. The slow change in the membership of the board insures that a large proportion of the members shall always be familiar with the duties of the place. The school committee must visit all the public schools at least once a month, and make a report to the town every year. It is for them to decide what text-books are to be used. They examine candidates for the position of teacher and issue certificates to those whom they select. The certificate is issued in duplicate, and one copy is handed to the selectmen as a warrant that the teacher is entitled to receive a salary. Teachers are appointed for a term of one year, but where their work is satisfactory the appointments are usually renewed year after year. A recent act in Massachusetts permits the appointment of teachers to serve during good behaviour, but few boards have as yet availed themselves of this law. If the amount of work to be done seems to require it, the committee appoints a superintendent of schools. He is a sort of lieutenant of the school committee, and under its general direction carries on the detailed work of supervision.

Other town officers are the surveyors of highways, who are responsible for keeping the roads and bridges in repair; field-drivers and pound-keepers; fence-viewers; surveyors of lumber, measurers of wood, and sealers of weights and measures.

[Sidenote: Field-drivers and pound keepers.] The field-driver takes stray animals to the pound, and then notifies their owner; or if he does not know who is the owner he posts a description of the animals in some such place as the village store or tavern, or has it published in the nearest country newspaper. Meanwhile the strays are duly fed by the pound-keeper, who does not let them out of his custody until all expenses have been paid.

[Sidenote: Fence-viewers.] If the owners of contiguous farms, gardens, or fields get into a dispute about their partition fences or walls, they may apply to one of the fence-viewers, of whom each town has at least two. The fence-viewer decides the matter, and charges a small fee for his services. Where it is necessary he may order suitable walls or fences to be built.

[Sidenote: Other officers.] The surveyors of lumber measure and mark lumber offered for sale. The measurers of wood do the same for firewood. The sealers test the correctness of weights and measures used in trade, and tradesmen are not allowed to use weights and measures that have not been thus officially examined and sealed. Measurers and sealers may be appointed by the selectmen.

Such are the officers always to be found in the Massachusetts town, except where the duties of some of them are discharged by the selectmen. Of these officers, the selectmen, town-clerk, treasurer, constable, school committee, and assessors must be elected by ballot at the annual town-meeting.

[Sidenote: Calling the town-meeting.] When this meeting is to be called the selectmen issue a warrant for the purpose, specifying the time and place of meeting and the nature of the business to be transacted. The constable posts copies of the warrant in divers conspicuous places not less than a week before the time appointed. Then, after making a note upon the warrant that he has duly served it, he hands it over to the town-clerk. On the appointed day, when the people have assembled, the town-clerk calls the meeting to order and reads the warrant. The meeting then proceeds to choose by ballot its presiding officer, or "moderator," and business goes on in accordance with parliamentary customs pretty generally recognized among all people who speak English.

[Sidenote: Town, country, and state taxes.] At this meeting the amount of money to be raised by taxation for town purposes is determined. But, as we shall see, every inhabitant of a town lives not only under a town government, but also under a county government and a state government, and all these governments have to be supported by taxation. In Massachusetts the state and the county make use of the machinery of the town government in order to assess and collect their taxes. The total amounts to be raised are equitably divided among the several towns and cities, so that each town pays its proportionate share. Each year, therefore, the town assessors know that a certain amount of money must be raised from the taxpayers of their town,—partly for the town, partly for the county, partly for the state,—and for the general convenience they usually assess it upon the taxpayers all at once. The amounts raised for the state and county are usually very much smaller than the amount raised for the town. As these amounts are all raised in the town and by town officers, we shall find it convenient to sum up in this place what we have to say about the way in which taxes are raised. Bear in mind that we are still considering the New England system, and our illustration is taken from the practice in Massachusetts. But the general principles of taxation are so similar in the different states that, although we may now and then have to point to differences of detail, we shall not need to go over the whole subject again. We have now to observe how and upon whom the taxes are assessed.

[Sidenote: Poll-tax.] They are assessed partly upon persons, but chiefly upon property, and property is divisible into real estate and personal estate. The tax assessed upon persons is called the poll-tax, and cannot exceed the sum of two dollars upon every male citizen over twenty years old. In cases of extreme poverty the assessors may remit the poll-tax.

[Sidenote: Real-estate taxes.] As to real estate, there are in every town some lands and buildings which, for reasons of public policy, are exempted from paying taxes; as, for example, churches, graveyards, and tombs; many charitable institutions, including universities and colleges; and public buildings which belong to the state or to the United States. All lands and buildings, except such as are exempt by law, must pay taxes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 3: The phrase is Professor Hosmer's: see his Samuel Adams, the Man of the Town Meeting, in "Johns Hopkins Univ. Studies," vol. II. no. iv.; also his Samuel Adams, in "American Statesmen" series; Boston, 1885.]

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

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

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

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