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raise money by levying taxes for the erection of school-buildings, and
to superintend their construction; to purchase furniture and apparatus;
to care for the school property; to employ teachers and fix their
salaries; to visit the school and direct its work; to take the school
census; and to make reports to the higher school officers. In some
States, as in Indiana, most of these duties belong to the office of
township trustee.

THE TEACHER. - The teacher is usually employed by the directors or
trustees, but in some States he is employed by the township trustee or
by the county superintendent. He must first pass an examination before
an examiner, or board of examiners, and obtain therefrom a certificate
or license entitling him to teach in the public schools.

POWERS. - The teacher has the same power and right to govern the school
that the parent has to govern the family. The law puts the teacher in
the parent's place and expects him to perform the parent's office,
subject to the action of the directors or trustees. It clothes him
with all power necessary to govern the school, and then holds him
responsible for its conduct, the directors having the right to dismiss
him at any time for a failure to perform his duty.

DUTIES. - The teacher is one of our most important officers. The State
has confided to him the trust of teaching, of showing boys and girls
how to be useful men and women, of training them for citizenship. This
is a great work to do. The State has clothed him with ample power for
the purpose, and it is his duty to serve the State faithfully and well.
The teacher should govern kindly and firmly. Every pupil in school, of
whatever age or size, owes him cheerful and ready obedience. It is his
duty, the duty for which he is paid, to insist upon this obedience; to
govern the school; to teach the pupils to obey while they are children,
in order that they may rule well when they become rulers; that is, when
they become citizens.


1. Why are law and order necessary to the peace and happiness of the

2. Why are public schools sometimes called free schools or common

3. About how many square miles are there in a school district in this

4. What is the official title, and what the name, of the chief school
officer of this county?

5. Why does the State want its people educated?

6. Why should children be regular and punctual in their attendance?

7. What can parents do to aid their children to acquire an education?

8. What number of directors do you think would be best for the school
district? Why?

9. Should directors receive compensation? How much?

10. Why should the teacher pass an examination?

11. Should he be examined every year?

12. Why does the law place the teacher in the parent's place?

13. Why are citizens said to be rulers?


_Resolved_, That it is right for a man without children to pay school



INTRODUCTORY. - In our study, thus far, we have had to do with special
forms of government as exercised in the family and in the school.
These are, in a sense, peculiar to themselves. The rights of
government as administered in the family, and the rights of the members
of a family, as well as their duties to each other, are natural rights
and duties; they do not depend upon society for their force. In fact,
they are stronger and more binding in proportion as the bands of
society are relaxed.

In the primitive state, before there was organized civil society,
family government was supreme; and likewise, if a family should remove
from within the limits of civil society and be entirely isolated,
family government would again resume its power and binding force.

School government, while partaking of the nature of civil government,
is still more closely allied to family government. In the natural
state, and in the isolated household, the education of the child
devolves upon the parents, and the parent delegates a part of his
natural rights and duties to the teacher when he commits the education
of his child to the common school. The teacher is said to stand _in
loco parentis_ (in the place of the parent), and from this direction,
mainly, are his rights of government derived. The school, therefore,
stands in an intermediate position between family government and civil
government proper, partaking of some features of each, and forming a
sort of stepping-stone for the child from the natural restraints of
home to the more complex demands of civil society. The school
district, also, while partaking of the nature of a civil institution,
is in many respects to be regarded as a co-operative organization of
the families of the neighborhood for the education of their children,
and its government as a co-operative family government.


In nearly every part of the United States there is a unit of civil
society in which the people exercise many of the powers of government
at first hand. This civil unit is variously named in the different
States, and its first organization may have been for some minor
purpose; but it has grown to be an important sphere of government in
many States, and throughout the entire country it is the primary school
of the citizen and the voter.

There are many different names by which this civil unit is known.

In the State of Mississippi it is called the _Beat_, and this name is
no doubt derived from the original purpose of the organization, as the
jurisdiction of a watchman or constable.

In Delaware it is called the _Hundred_, which is the old English
subdivision of a county, supposed to contain one hundred families, or
one hundred men able to bear arms in the public service.

In the New England States, in New York, and in Wisconsin it is called
the _Town_, from the old Anglo-Saxon civil unit, which antedates the
settlement of England by its Saxon invaders, and is probably older than
the Christian era.

In Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri,
Montana, New Jersey, the Carolinas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and parts of
Illinois, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, it is called the _Township_, only
a variation of name from the "town," and having the same origin.

In California it is called the _Judicial Township_, and in parts of the
Dakotas it is called the _School Township_.

In Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and
parts of Illinois and Nebraska, it is called the _Election Precinct_,
from the fact that it was the subdivision made for the convenience of

In Georgia it is called the _Militia District_, from the fact that each
subdivision furnished a certain proportionate number of men for the
militia service of the State.

In Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, it is called the _Magisterial
District_, from the fact that it was constituted as the limit of the
jurisdiction of a local magistrate.

In Louisiana it is called the _Police Jury Ward_, perhaps for the
reason that from each one of these subdivisions a warden was elected to
administer the parish government.

In Maryland and Wyoming it is called the _Election District_, from the
fact that it was the subdivision made for the convenience of voters.

In Tennessee it is called the _Civil District_ - probably, next to
"town" or "township," the most fitting name for the smallest
subdivision of civil government.

In Texas it is called the _Justice's Precinct_, as being the limit of a
justice's jurisdiction.

In some of the New England States, also, districts which have not the
entire town organization are provisionally called _Plantations_ or
_Grants_, being subject to the administration, in some local affairs,
of other towns.

But under whatever name the civil unit may exist, it is the primary
seat of government. In many cases the original reason for the name has
disappeared, while the character of the government has greatly changed,
and been modified and developed from the first crude forms.

THREE GENERAL CLASSES. - As a result, there are at present but three
general classes into which we need subdivide the civil unit in the
various States: these are the _Civil District_, which would include the
"Beat," "Hundred," "Election Precinct," "Militia District," and
numerous other classes, embracing about one half the States of the
Union; the _Town_, which has its fullest development in the New England
States; and the _Township_, which in some States has nearly the full
development of a New England town, while in other States it has a
looser organisation, approximating the civil district of the Southern
and Southwestern States.


We shall treat of the various forms of the civil unit which we have
classed under the general name of civil district before we speak of the
town and the township, because they are simpler and much less
developed, and therefore naturally constitute the simplest form of the
civil unit.

NUMBER, SIZE. - In number and size, civil districts vary widely in
different States and in different counties of the same State. There
are rarely less than five or more than twelve districts to the county.

PURPOSES. - The division of the county into districts, each with its own
court of law, brings justice to the people's doors. It secures
officers to every part of the county, thus affording better means for
the punishment of crimes. It provides a speedy trial for minor
offences and minor suits. It aids the higher courts by relieving them
of a multitude of small cases. As each district has one or more
polling-places, it secures convenience to the electors in casting their

GOVERNMENT. - The functions of the civil district arc judicial and
executive, and lie within a narrow range. Its government possesses no
legislative or corporate power whatever; it can not make a single law,
however unimportant. Within a narrow jurisdiction or sphere, it
applies the law to particular cases, and this is the chief purpose for
its existence. Whenever the civil unit possesses more powers than are
herein set forth, it is more properly described under the township in
the next chapter, no matter what name it may go by locally.


The citizens of the civil district are the people residing within it.
It exists for their benefit, that they may be secure in life, liberty,
and property. In a certain sense they constitute the district, since
its government concerns them directly, and others only remotely.

RIGHTS. - All citizens have a right to the full and equal protection of
the laws. Each has a right to be secure in his person and property; to
demand that the peace be preserved; to do all things according to his
own will, provided he does not trespass upon the rights of others. No
one in the family, in the school, in the civil district, in the county,
in the State, or in the nation, has the right to do or say any thing
which interferes with the life, liberty, property, or happiness of
another. Any act which interferes with the rights of others is an
offence against the common good and against the law. It is chiefly for
the prevention and punishment of these unlawful acts that the civil
district exists, with its court and its officers.

All legal voters of the district have the right to participate in its
government by exercising a free choice in the selection of its
officers, except in States where these officers are appointed. They
have the right to cast their votes without fear or favor. This is one
of the most important and sacred rights that freemen possess. Free
government can not exist without it. The law guarantees it, and all
the power of the State may be employed to maintain it. Therefore,
whoever prevents a voter from exercising the right of suffrage does it
at his own peril.

DUTIES. - As the citizens of the civil district have rights, they also
have corresponding duties. As they may demand protection and the
preservation of the peace, so it is their duty to obey the law and
assist the officers in its enforcement, in order that the same
protection may be extended to the whole people. Each should abstain
from acts that injure others, and render cheerful aid to all in
securing their rights through the law.

All qualified voters have the right, and it is also their duty, to
vote. The voters elect the officers of the district, and are therefore
its rulers. When they fail to vote, they fail to rule - fail in their
duty to the people and to themselves. The duty to vote implies the
duty to vote right, to vote for good men and for good measures.
Therefore, citizens should study their duty as voters, that they may
elect honest, capable, faithful officers, and support the parties and
principles that will best promote the good of the country? Every one
should study his political duty with the best light that he can obtain,
decide what is right, and then vote his sentiments honestly and
fearlessly. If the district has good government, the voters deserve
the credit; if it has bad government, the voters deserve the blame.


The officers of the district are the justices of the peace and the
constable. In some States there is only one justice to each district,
in other States there are two, and in others there are three.

JUSTICE OF THE PEACE. - The office of justice of the peace is one of
dignity and importance. Justices can render great service to society
by the proper discharge of their duties. They may have much to do with
enforcing the law, and therefore the best men should be elected to this

ELECTION, TERM OF OFFICE. - Justices of the peace are usually elected by
the qualified voters of the district. In some States the governor
appoints them. The term of office is two, three, four, or even seven
years, varying in different States.

DUTIES. - The duties of justices of the peace are principally judicial,
and their jurisdiction extends throughout the county. Upon the sworn
statement of the person making complaint, they issue warrants for the
arrest of offenders. With the aid of juries, they hold court for the
trial of minor offences - such as the breach of the peace - punishable by
fine or brief imprisonment. They sometimes try those charged with
higher crimes, and acquit; or, if the proof is sufficient, remand the
accused to trial by a higher court. This is called an examining trial.
They try civil suits where the amount involved does not exceed a fixed
amount - fifty dollars in some States, and one hundred dollars in
others - and prevent crime by requiring reckless persons to give
security to keep the peace. Justices sometimes preside, instead of the
coroner, at inquests, and in some States they have important duties as
officers of the county.

constable - in some States more - in each civil district. Constables,
like the justices, are elected in most States; but in some they are
appointed. The term of office is usually the same as that of the
justice in the same State.

DUTIES. - The constable is termed a ministerial officer because it is
his duty to minister to, or wait upon, the justice's court. He serves
warrants, writs, and other processes of the justice, and sometimes
those of higher courts. He preserves the public peace, makes arrests
for its violation, and in some States collects the taxes apportioned to
his civil district.


1. In what respect does civil government differ from family or school

2. Why does the government of the civil district concern its people
directly and others remotely?

3. What is meant by the civil unit? By what names is it known in the
various States?

4. What are the three general classes under which the civil unit may be

5. Why can not free government exist without the right to vote?

6. Why should the people try to secure their rights through the law?

7. What is the purpose of the subdivision of a county into districts?

8. Define in general terms the rights and duties of the citizens of
civil districts.

9. By what other names are justices of the peace sometimes called?

10. Why is the jurisdiction of a justice's court limited?

11. Who are the justices of this civil district?

12. When elected, and what is their term of office?

13. Who is constable of this district?


_Resolved_, That the government of the civil district should have a
legislative department.



INTRODUCTION. - We have learned that in the Southern States the civil
unit under various names may be described under the common name of the
civil district; that in the New England States it is called the town,
and in many of the Western States it is known as the township. As the
powers and functions of the town and the township are the same in kind,
differing only in extent, and as the two names are so often used, the
one for the other, we shall consider both under the head of the

As a rule, the township possesses more extensive governmental functions
in the Eastern than in the Western States, and in the West it possesses
functions much more extensive than those of the civil district in the
South. Many of the most important powers that belong to the county in
the Southern States belong to the township in the Eastern and the
Western States.

FORMATION. - In the Eastern States the townships were formed in the
first settlement of the country, and afterward a number of townships
were combined to form the county. In the Western States the townships
were surveyed, and their boundaries marked, by agents of the general
government, before the Territories became States of the Union. As a
natural result, the townships of the Eastern States are irregular in
shape and size, while those of the Western States have a regular form,
each being about six miles square. In the Western States the township
is usually composed of thirty-six sections, each section being one mile
square, and containing six hundred and forty acres of land.

PURPOSES. - It is an old and true maxim that government should be
brought as near the people as possible. This the township system does.
In our country all power resides in the people, and the township
provides a convenient means of ascertaining their wishes and of
executing their will. The farther away the government, the less will
be the people's power; the nearer the government, the greater will be
the people's power. The township system enables each community to
attend to its own local affairs - a work which no other agency can do so
well - to remove readily and speedily its local public grievances, and
to obtain readily and speedily its local public needs.


The citizens of the township are the people living in it, whether
native or foreigners who have become citizens. It exists for their
benefit, to afford them a means of securing their rights and of
redressing their wrongs. It is these persons that the law has in view
when setting forth the privileges and immunities of citizenship.

RIGHTS. - All citizens of the township arc entitled to enjoy the rights
of "life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness." The
township government exists for the purpose of securing these rights to
the people. All have equal claims to the fullest protection of the
law. They may use their own property as they choose, and do whatever
pleases them, so long as they do not interfere with the rights of
others. Whenever one's act, speech, or property interferes with the
rights of others, he falls under the censure of the law and becomes
subject to its penalty.

All male inhabitants born in the United States, and foreigners who have
become citizens, who have resided within the State, county, and
township the time required by law, are entitled to vote at all
township, county, state, and national elections. Several States
require ability to read, or the payment of poll-tax, as a qualification
to vote; a few permit the subjects of foreign countries to vote; and in
some States women are permitted to vote in school elections or in all
elections. Lunatics, idiots, paupers, and persons convicted of certain
high crimes are disfranchised; that is, are not permitted to vote. The
right of suffrage is one of great power and value, being the basis of
all free government, and is jealously guarded by the laws of the land.

DUTIES. - The people have extensive rights and they have equally
extensive duties. Each citizen has rights that others must respect.
It is the duty of each to observe and regard the rights of all other
persons; and when he does not, the law interferes by its officers and
deprives him of his own rights by fine or imprisonment, and in some
instances by a still more severe penalty. It is the duty of the people
to love and serve the country; to be good citizens; to labor for the
public good; to obey the law, and to assist the officers in its

It is the duty of the qualified voters to give the township good
government by electing good officers. A vote cast for a bad man or a
bad measure is an attack upon the rights of every person in the
community. The power of suffrage is held for the public good; but it
is used for the public injury when incompetent or unfaithful men are
elected to office. Good government and the happiness and prosperity of
the country depend upon an honest and intelligent vote.


The township government possesses legislative, judicial, and executive
functions. It has a legislative department to make local laws, a
judicial department to apply the laws to particular cases, and an
executive department to enforce these and other laws. The three
functions are of nearly equal prominence in the Eastern States, but in
the West the executive function is more prominent than the legislative
and the judicial.

CORPORATE POWER. - Each township is a corporation; that is, in any
business affair it may act as a single person. In its corporate
capacity it can sue and be sued; borrow money; buy, rent, and sell
property for public purposes. When it is said that the township
possesses these powers, it is meant that the people of the township,
acting as a single political body, possess them.

OFFICERS. - The officers of the township are more numerous, and their
functions are more extensive than those of the civil district. Many
officers are the same in name, and others have the same duties as those
of the county in the Southern States.

legislative department of the township government has more extensive
functions than in the West. In the New England States most local
affairs belong to the township government, and the county is of minor
importance. In these and a few other States the people make their own
local laws instead of delegating this power to representatives. The
electors of the township meet annually at a fixed place, upon a day
appointed by law, discuss questions of public concern, elect the
township officers, levy township taxes, make appropriations of money
for public purposes, fix the salaries and hear the reports of officers,
and decide upon a course of action for the coming year. Thus the
people themselves, or more strictly speaking, the qualified voters, are
the government. In some States special town meetings may be called for
special purposes. The town meeting places local public affairs under
the direct control of the people, and thus gives them a personal
interest in the government, and makes them feel a personal
responsibility for its acts. Another benefit of the system is that it
trains the people to deal with political matters, and so prepares them
to act intelligently in all the affairs of the State and the nation.

In the Western States the county government is more important, and
township legislation is confined to a narrow range. In power and
importance the township of most Western States is intermediate between
the town of the East and the civil district of the South.

SELECTMEN OR TRUSTEES. - The legislative power of the township is vested
in the trustees, town council, or selectmen, as they are variously
termed. The number of trustees or selectmen is not the same in all
parts of the Union, being fixed at three in most States of the West,
and varying in New England with the wishes of the electors. The
trustees, councilmen, or selectmen are elected by the qualified voters

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Online LibraryAlexander L. PetermanElements of Civil Government → online text (page 2 of 16)