Alexander L. Peterman.

Elements of Civil Government online

. (page 3 of 16)
Online LibraryAlexander L. PetermanElements of Civil Government → online text (page 3 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of the township for a term of one, two, or three years, varying in
different States. They are the legal guardians of the public interests
of the township, and make laws or ordinances, sometimes called by-laws,
expressly pertaining to the local wants of the community, and to a
limited extent may levy taxes.

In some States, especially those of the East, the principal duties of
the trustees or selectmen are executive. They divide the township into
road districts; open roads on petition; select jurors; build and repair
bridges and town halls, where the expenditure is small; act as judges
of elections; purchase and care for cemeteries; have charge of the poor
not in the county charge; and act for the township in its corporate
capacity. If any thing goes wrong in the public affairs of the town,
complaint is made to these officers.

EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT. - Most of the public affairs of the township, as
well as of all other governments, pertain to the executive department.
Its duties are far more extensive, and its officers are more numerous,
than those of the other departments. The executive officers of the
township are the clerk, the treasurer, the school directors, the
assessor, the supervisors, and the constables. In most States all
these officers are elected by the qualified voters; but in some the
clerk, the treasurer, and the constables are elected by the town

CLERK. - The clerk of the township is clerk of the trustees, council, or
selectmen, and in some States of the school board. He attends the
meetings of the trustees, and makes a careful record of the
proceedings. He keeps the poll-lists and other legal papers of the
township, administers oaths, and notifies officers of their election.
In the New England States, and some others, he keeps a record of the
marriages, births, and deaths, calls the town meeting to order, reads
the warrant under which it is held, presides until a moderator is
chosen, and then acts as clerk of the meeting.

TREASURER. - Taxes collected from the people for local purposes are paid
to the treasurer. He receives all fines, forfeitures, and license-fees
paid to the township. He is the keeper of the township funds, giving
bond for the faithful performance of his duties, and pays out money
upon the written order of the trustees, attested by the clerk. In some
States, as in New York, there is no separate township treasurer, the
above and other duties being performed by the supervisor, who is the
chief officer of the township.

SCHOOL DIRECTORS. - The school directors have charge of the public
schools of the township. The number of directors varies widely, being
usually three, five, or more. In a few of the States, the clerks of
the district trustees constitute the township school directors, or
township board of education. The directors levy taxes for school
purposes, visit and inspect the public schools, adopt text-books,
regulate the order of studies and length of the term, fix salaries,
purchase furniture and apparatus, and make reports to the higher school
officers. In some States they examine teachers and grant certificates
to teach. In many States a part of these duties falls to the county

ASSESSOR. - The assessor makes a list of the names of all persons
subject to taxation, estimates the value of their real and personal
property, assesses a tax thereon, and in some States delivers this list
to the auditor, and in others to the collector of taxes. In most
States there, is also a poll-tax of from one to three dollars,
sometimes more, laid upon all male inhabitants more than twenty-one
years of age. In some States there are two or more assessors to the
township, and in others real estate is valued only once in ten years.

COMMISSIONERS, or surveyors of highways, have charge of the
construction and repair of highways, summon those subject to labor on
the road, and direct their work.

SUPERVISOR. - In some States the chief executive duties of the town fall
upon the supervisor, but his principal duties are rather as a member of
the county board of supervisors.

CONSTABLES. - Constables are ministerial and police officers. There are
usually two or three in each township. They wait upon the justice's
court, and are subject to his orders. They preserve the public peace,
serve warrants and other processes, and in some States act as
collectors of taxes.

COLLECTOR, ETC. - In some States the township has a collector and three
or more auditors. They are usually elected by the trustees, or
council, but in a few of the States they are elected by the town
meeting. The collector collects the township taxes, giving bond for
the faithful performance of his duties. In order to secure honesty and
efficiency in public office, and to exhibit the financial condition of
the township, the auditors annually examine the books of the treasurer
and the collector, and publish a report showing the receipts and
expenditures of public money.

In a few States the township has a field-driver and a pound-keeper,
whose respective duties are to take stray animals to the pound, an
enclosure kept for the purpose, and to retain them with good care until
the owner is notified and pays all expenses; two or more fence-viewers,
who decide disputes about fences; surveyors of lumber, who measure and
mark lumber offered for sale; and sealers, who test and certify weights
and measures used in trade. These officers are usually appointed by
the selectmen.

JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT; JUSTICES. - The judicial power is vested in the
justices, who are elected by the qualified voters of the town. There
are usually two or three justices, but in some States there is only one
in each township. The term of office is one, two, three, four, or more
years, varying in different States. Justices preside in the justice's
court to hear and determine suits at law. "This is the humblest court
in the land, the court of greatest antiquity, and the court upon which
all other courts are founded."[1] The justice's court tries petty
offences and civil suits for small amounts. In some States the
justices preside at the town meetings, and in others they perform the
duties of coroner in the township.

[1]Thorpe's _Civil Government_.


1. Has this State the township system? If so, give the name and number
of your township.

2. How does the township system provide a convenient means of
ascertaining and of executing the people's will?

3. Why is the people's power greater when the government is near?

4. Why can the community manage its own affairs better than any other
agency can manage them?

5. How do people secure their rights?

6. What is meant by falling under the censure of the law?

7. What is a naturalized person?

8. Is it right for subjects of foreign governments to vote? Why?

9. Is it right for women to vote?

10. Why is suffrage the basis of all free government?

11. What is a more severe penalty than imprisonment?

12. How can people serve the country?

13. What is a good citizen?

14. Why is a bad vote an attack on the rights of the people?

15. What other laws than those made by the legislative department of
the township does the executive department enforce?

16. How do you like the New England town meeting? Why?

17. Name some duties that belong to the executive department.

18. What is a poll-list?

19. What are the duties of judges of election?

20. Of what use is a record of marriages, births, and deaths?

21. What is meant by license-fees?

22. What persons are subject to taxation?

23. What is a poll-tax, and is it right? Why?

24. Who are subject to road duty in this State?

25. Give the names of the officers of this township.


_Resolved_, That the town meeting is the best system of local
government yet devised.



INTRUDUCTORY. - The county is a political division of the State, and is
composed of civil districts or of townships. It bears the name of
county in all parts of the country except in Louisiana, where a similar
organization is known as a parish. In New England the county has less
power than the town; in the Western States it has more than the
township; and in the Southern States it has far more than the civil
district, being there the unit of political influence.

PURPOSES. - The county organization brings justice near the people,
enables them to attend to local affairs too extensive for a smaller
community, and affords a medium by which they may transact business
with the State. It serves as a convenient basis of apportioning
members of the legislature among the people. It maintains local
officers, such as sheriff and prosecuting attorney, whose duties would
be too narrow if confined to a township. It secures a competent and
higher tribunal than the justice's court for the trial of suits at law.
This was the original purpose, and is still the controlling reason for
the division of the States into counties.

FORMATION, AREA. - Counties are formed, their rights are conferred, and
their duties imposed, by act of the State legislature. In most States
counties vary greatly in shape and size, but in some of the Western
States they have a regular form. The average area of counties in the
United States is eight hundred and thirty square miles; the average
area of those east of the Mississippi River is only three hundred and
eighty square miles.

COUNTY SEAT. - The county government resides at the county seat, county
town, or shire town, as it is variously called. The court-house, the
jail, the public offices, and sometimes other county buildings are
located at the county seat. Here are kept the records of the courts;
also, usually copies of the deeds, wills, mortgages, and other
important papers of the people.


The county, like the United States, the State, and the township, has a
republican form of government; that is, it is governed by
representatives elected by the people. In nearly all States the county
government has three departments, legislative, executive, and judicial;
but the functions of making, of executing, and of explaining the laws,
are not always kept separate and distinct. In a few States the county
does not have a judicial department.

OFFICERS. - County officers and township officers have duties similar in
kind, but the former have charge of the larger interests. The usual
officers of the county are the commissioners or supervisors, the county
attorney or prosecuting attorney, the county superintendent of schools
or school commissioner, the sheriff, the treasurer, the auditor, the
county clerk or common pleas clerk, the surveyor, the coroner, and the
county judge and surrogate, or probate judge. In the counties of many
States one or more of these officers are lacking, and others have
different names from those here given. In the Western and the Southern
States county officers are elected by the direct vote of the people; in
most of the New England States some of them are chosen in other ways.
The terms of county officers vary in different parts of the Union,
being usually two, three, or four years; but in some States certain
officers are elected for a longer term.

SUPERVISORS. - In most States the public interests of the county are
intrusted to a board of officers, three or five in number, called
county commissioners. In some States the board consists of one or more
supervisors from each township, and is called the board of supervisors.
In a few States the board consists of all the justices of the county,
with the county judge as presiding officer.

The county commissioners, or board of supervisors, have charge of the
county property, such as the court-house, the jail, and the county
infirmary; make orders and raise funds for the erection of county
buildings, and for the construction and improvement of highways and
bridges; provide polling-places; make appropriations of money for
public purposes; and act as the chief agents of the county in its
corporate capacity. In some States they fix the salaries of county
officers; in others they have power to form new townships and to change
the township boundaries. In several States the functions of the board
are almost wholly executive.

county attorney, or prosecuting attorney, is the county's counsellor at
law, and when requested gives legal advice to all the county officers.
It is his duty to prosecute the accused in the trial of crimes and
offences, in the justice's court, the county court, and in some States
in the circuit court or district court; to represent the county in all
civil suits to which it is a party; and to act for it in all cases in
which its legal interests are involved.

COUNTY SUPERINDENTENT OF SCHOOLS. - In some States there is no county
superintendent of schools. In most States there is such an officer
elected by the township school directors or by the people of the
county, or appointed by the State superintendent of public instruction.
In a few States the county is divided into two or more districts, each
having a commissioner of schools.

The county superintendent, or school commissioner, is the chief school
officer of the county. He administers the public school system,
condemns unfit school-houses and orders others built, examines teachers
and grants certificates, holds teachers' institutes, visits and directs
the schools, instructs teachers in their duties, interests the people
in education, and reports the condition of the schools to the State
superintendent of public instruction. He is one of the most important
officers of the county, a capable administration of his duties being of
the greatest benefit to the whole people.

SHERIFF. - "The sheriff is the guardian of the peace of the county and
the executive officer of its courts."[1] He preserves the peace,
arrests persons charged with crime, serves writs and other processes in
both civil and criminal cases, makes proclamation of all elections,
summons jurors, and ministers to the courts of his county. In States
having no county jailer, the sheriff has charge of the prisons and
prisoners, and is responsible for their safe-keeping. When persons
refuse to pay their taxes, he seizes and sells enough property to pay
the sum assessed; and in some States he is the collector of all State
and county revenue.

COUNTY TREASURER. - The duties of the treasurer are indicated by the
title of his office. He receives all county taxes, licenses, and other
money paid into the county treasury. In most States he is custodian of
the county's financial records, and of the tax-collector's books, and
in others he collects all the taxes assessed in the county. He gives
bond for the faithful performance of his duties, and pays out funds
upon the warrant of the county commissioners. In most States having no
county treasurer, the sheriff is keeper of the public money.

AUDITOR. - The auditor is the guardian of the county's financial
interests. He examines the books and papers of officers who receive or
disburse county funds; keeps a record of receipts and expenditures;
draws all warrants for the payment of public money; and publishes a
report of the county's financial transactions. In some States he
receives the assessor's returns, apportions taxes among the people, and
prepares the tax-collector's duplicate list. In States having no
county auditor, these duties are performed by other officers.

COUNTY CLERK, OR COMMON PLEAS CLERK. - The county clerk, or common pleas
clerk, is the recording officer of the county court, or probate court,
and in some States of the circuit court. He issues writs, preserves
papers, and records judgments. In many States he issues licenses,
preserves election returns, and records wills, deeds, mortgages, and
other important papers.

RECORDER, OR REGISTER. - In many States the county has a recorder, or
register, instead of the county clerk, and in some States it has both.
The recorder, or register, makes a record in books kept for that
purpose, of wills, deeds, mortgages, village plats, and powers of
attorney. Some of these instruments must be recorded in order to make
them valid in law. In some States having no recorder, these duties are
performed by the township clerk, and in others by the county clerk.

SURVEYOR. - The county surveyor, or engineer, surveys tracts of land to
locate lines, determine areas, and to settle conflicting claims. In
some States his services are frequently needed in the transfer of real
estate. In most States he makes plots of surveys, issues maps of the
county, and has charge of the construction of roads and bridges.

CORONER. - The coroner investigates the death of persons who have died
by violence, or in prison, or from causes unknown. He receives notice
of the death; a jury is summoned; witnesses testify; and the jury
renders a verdict in writing, stating the cause and the manner of the
death. This inquiry is known as the coroner's inquest. In some States
when the office of sheriff is vacant, the coroner performs the duties.

OTHER OFFICERS. - In some States there are superintendents of the poor,
or infirmary directors, who have charge of the county infirmary in
which the dependent poor are maintained; in others the township
overseers of the poor support these unfortunates with funds furnished
for that purpose by the county. In some States there is a collector
who collects all the taxes of the county; a county jailer who holds
prisoners in custody and has charge of the county buildings, under the
commissioners' directions; and also a circuit clerk, or district clerk,
who is the recording officer of the circuit court, or district court as
it is often called.

of the county is vested in the county judge, or probate judge, who in
many States is its most prominent and important officer. He has
jurisdiction of wills and estates, appoints administrators and
guardians, and settles their accounts. In many states he grants
licenses; presides over the legislative body of the county; makes
orders opening roads and appointing overseers of the public highway:
appoints officers of elections; holds examining trials; sits in the
county court to try minor offences and civil suits for small amounts;
and in a few States acts as county superintendent of schools.

In some States there is a probate judge, or judge of the orphan's
court, in addition to the county judge.

[1]Thorpe's _Civil Government_.


1. What is meant by unit of political influence?

2. What affairs are too extensive for a smaller community than the

3. Why is the county seat so called?

4. State the terms and the names of the officers of this county.

5. Why do the officers of the county need legal advice?

6. What is meant by the sheriff administering to the courts?

7. What are licenses?

8. Of what use is the treasurer's bond?

9. What is the collector's duplicate list?

10. What is a writ?

11. What is the plot of a survey?

12. What is a will? an administrator?

13. What is an examining trial?

14. Do you think the county judge or probate judge should act as
superintendent of schools? Why?


_Resolved_, That a poll-tax is unjust.



VILLAGES, BOROUGHS, AND CITIES. - The county usually has within its
limits villages or cities, organized under separate and distinct
governments. When the people become so thickly settled that the
township and county government do not meet their local public wants,
the community is incorporated as a village. Villages are often called
towns, and incorporated as such, especially in the Southern States; but
the word taken in this sense must not be confounded with the same word,
denoting a political division of the county in New England, New York,
and Wisconsin.


INCORPORATION. - In most States, villages, boroughs, and towns are
incorporated under general laws made by the State legislature. A
majority of the legal voters living within the proposed limits must
first vote in favor of the proposition to incorporate. In some States,
villages are incorporated by special act of the legislature.

GOVERNMENT PURPOSES. - The purposes of the village or borough government
are few in number, and lie within a narrow limit. It is a corporate
body, having the usual corporate powers. Under the village
organization, local public works, such as streets, sidewalks, and
bridges, are maintained more readily and in better condition than under
the government, of the township and county. The presence of the
village officers tends to preserve the peace and make crime less

OFFICERS. - The usual officers of the village or borough are the
trustees or councilmen, whose duties are mostly legislative; the
marshal, and sometimes a president or mayor; a collector and a
treasurer, whose duties are executive; and the recorder, or police
judge, or justices of the peace, whose duties are judicial. The
officers are usually elected by the legal voters, and serve for a term
of one or two years. In many villages the president and the collector
are elected by the trustees, the former from among their own number.

DUTIES. - The trustees or council pass laws, called _ordinances_,
relating to streets, fast driving, lamps, water-works, the police
system, public parks, public health, and the public buildings. They
appoint minor officers, such as clerk, regular and special policemen,
keeper of the cemetery, and fire-wardens; prescribe the duties, and fix
the compensation of these officers.

The president or mayor is the chief executive officer, and is charged
with seeing that the laws are enforced. In villages having no
president or mayor, this duty devolves upon the trustees. The marshal
is a ministerial officer, with the same duties and often the same
jurisdiction as the constable, and is sometimes known by that name. He
preserves the peace, makes arrests, serves processes, and waits upon
the recorder's court. The collector collects the village taxes. The
treasurer receives all village funds, and pays out money upon the order
of the trustees.

The recorder or police judge tries minor offences, such as breach of
the peace, and holds examining trials of higher crimes. His
jurisdiction is usually equal to that of justices of the peace in the
same State. In some States the village has two justices of the peace
instead of the recorder, these being also officers of the county.


When the village, borough, or town becomes so large that its government
does not meet the people's local public needs, it is incorporated as a
city. Where the country is sparsely settled the peace is seldom
broken, private interests do not conflict, the people's public needs
are small, and therefore the functions of government are few and light.
As the population grows dense, the public peace is oftener disturbed,
crime increases, disputes about property arise, the public needs become
numerous and important, and the officers of the law must interfere to
preserve order and protect the people. The fewer the people to the
square mile, the fewer and lighter are the functions of government; the
more people to the square mile, the more and stronger must be the
functions of government.

INCORPORATION. - Cities and villages or boroughs differ principally in
size and in the scope of their corporate authority. A city is larger
in area and population, and the powers and privileges of its government
are more extensive. In most States cities may be incorporated under
general laws, but some cities are incorporated by special acts of the
State legislature. The act or deed of incorporation is called the city
charter. The charter names the city, fixes its limits, erects it as a
distinct political corporation, sets forth its powers and privileges,
names its officers, prescribes their duties, and authorizes the city to
act as an independent government. The legislature may amend the
charter at any time, and the acts and laws of the city must not
conflict with the constitution of the State or of the United States.

WARDS. - The city is usually divided into wards for convenience in
executing the laws, and especially in electing representatives in the
city government. Wards vary greatly in area and population, and their

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryAlexander L. PetermanElements of Civil Government → online text (page 3 of 16)