Alexander L. Peterman.

Elements of Civil Government online

. (page 4 of 16)
Online LibraryAlexander L. PetermanElements of Civil Government → online text (page 4 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

number depends in a measure upon the size of the city. Each usually
elects a member of the board of education, and one or more members of
each branch of the city council. Each ward is subdivided into
precincts for convenience in establishing polling-places.

CITY INSTITUTIONS. - Cities maintain a number of institutions, peculiar
to themselves, for the public welfare. The frequency of destructive
fires causes the formation of a fire department. A police force must
be organized to protect life and property. A system of sewerage is
necessary to the public health. There must be gas-works or
electric-light works, that the streets may be lighted, and water-works
to supply water for public and private use. In many cities gas-works
and water-works are operated by private parties or by private

FINANCES. - Each city has an independent financial system, which
requires skillful management. The city borrows money, issuing
interest-bearing bonds in payment, and engages in extensive public
improvements. The large outlays for paving the streets, constructing
water-works, laying out parks, erecting public buildings, and for
maintaining police systems and fire departments, cause cities to incur
debts often amounting to many millions of dollars. As the result of
the greater expense of its government, and as its people also pay State
and county taxes, the rate of taxation in a city is far greater than in
rural districts and villages.

CITIZENS: RIGHTS AND DUTIES. - The qualifications, the rights, and the
duties of citizens of the city are the same as those of citizens of the
township and the county. The qualifications of voters are also usually
the same. The duties of voters are the same in all elections, whether
in the school district, the civil district, the city, the county, the
State, or the United States; namely, to vote for the best men and the
best measures. Under whatever division of government the people are
living, they always have the same interest in the maintenance of order,
in the enforcement of the laws, in the triumph of right, principles,
and in the election of good men to office.

GOVERNMENT. - A city often has a more complex government than that of
the State in which the city is situated. The massing of so many
people, representing so many interests, requires a government with
strong legislative, executive, and judicial functions. One of the
great questions of our time is how to secure economy and efficiency in
city government; and, as our cities are growing with great rapidity,
the problem is daily becoming more difficult to solve.

OFFICERS. - The legislative power is vested in the city council, in many
cases composed of a board of aldermen and of a common council. The
executive authority is vested in the mayor, the city attorney or
solicitor, the city clerk, the assessor, the collector, the treasurer,
the city engineer or surveyor, the board of public works, the street
commissioner, the school board or board of education, and the
superintendent of schools. The judicial power is vested in the city
court, police court, or recorder's court, as it is variously termed; in
a number of justices' courts; and in the higher courts, which are also
courts of the county in which the city is located. The officers of the
city are usually elected by the legal voters, but in some cities the
collector, the city engineer, the street commissioner, and a number of
subordinate officers are appointed by the mayor or city council. The
superintendent of schools is elected by the school board.

DUTIES. - In many small cities, and in several of the larger cities,
such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, the council consists only
of the board of aldermen. When the council is composed of two
branches, a law can not be made by one of them alone; it must be passed
by both; and if vetoed by the mayor, it must be passed again, and in
most cities by a two thirds vote, or it is void. The council makes
laws, or ordinances, regulating the police force; fixing the rate of
city taxation; ordering the issue of bonds and the construction of
public works; and making appropriations for public purposes.

The mayor is the chief executive of the city. It is his duty to see
that the laws are enforced. He appoints a number of subordinate
officers, and in most cities may veto the acts of the city council.
The duties of the city attorney, the city clerk, the assessor, the
collector, the treasurer, the school board, and the superintendent of
schools are similar to those of township and county officers of the
same name. The city engineer has charge of the construction of sewers
and the improvement of parks. The street commissioner attends to the
construction and repair of the streets, crossings, and sidewalks.
There are a number of officers appointed by the mayor or the council,
such as chief of police, chief of the fire department, and the city
physician, who have duties connected with their special departments.

The city judge, police judge, or recorder, has duties similar to those
of the same officer in an incorporated village. Cities also have
higher courts, variously named, whose judges have duties and
jurisdiction equivalent to those of county officers of the same grade.
Because offenses against the law are more frequent, officers are more
numerous in cities than in the rural districts.

COMMISSION PLAN OF CITY GOVERNMENT. - In recent times the "commission
plan" of government has been adopted for many cities, in a number of
different States. This plan gives full control of the city government
and its minor officials to a commission or council composed of a few
men (usually five) elected by the voters of the whole city. This
commission exercises both legislative and executive functions. It is
composed of a mayor, and councilmen or commissioners who act also as
heads of administrative departments.

RECALL. - In a few States a mayor or councilman (or other local or State
officer elected by the people) may be displaced before the expiration
of his term of office. If a sufficient number of voters petition to
have this done, a new election is held to decide whether he or some one
else shall have the office for the rest of the term.


1. What is meant by incorporating a village?

2. What is a breach of the peace?

3. What are polling-places?

4. To what State officer does the mayor of a city or town correspond?

5. Why are offenses against the laws more frequent in the cities than
in the rural districts?

6. What is the largest city of this State? Is its council composed of
one body or of two?


_Resolved_, That the legislative department of a city government should
consist of only one deliberative body.



INTRODUCTORY. - After the county, the government nearest us is that of
the State. The political divisions which we have considered are
subject to the State, holding their powers as grants from its
government. The State can make and unmake them, and we owe them
obedience because the State has commanded it. As we sometimes express
it, the sovereignty or supreme sway of these local divisions resides in
the State.

DEFINITION. - A State is a community of free citizens living within a
territory with fixed limits, governed by laws based upon a constitution
of their own adoption, and possessing all governmental powers not
granted to the United States. Each State is a republic and maintains a
republican form of government, which is guaranteed by the United
States. The State is supreme within its own sphere, but its authority
must not conflict with that of the national government. A State is
sometimes called a commonwealth because it binds the whole people
together for their common weal or common good.

FORMATION OF ORIGINAL STATES. - The thirteen original colonies were
principally settled by people from Europe. The colonial rights were
set forth and boundaries fixed by charters granted by the crown of
England. In the Declaration of Independence these colonies declared
themselves "free and independent States." After the treaty of peace
which acknowledged their independence, they framed and adopted the
national constitution, and thereby became the United States of America.

ADMISSION OF NEW STATES. - New States are admitted into the Union by
special acts of the Congress of the United States. An organized
Territory having the necessary population sends a memorial to Congress
asking to be admitted as a State. Congress then passes a law called an
"enabling act," authorizing the people of the Territory to form a State
constitution. When the people have framed and adopted a State
constitution not in conflict with the Constitution of the United
States, Congress passes another act admitting the new State into the
Union "upon an equal footing with the original States in all respects
whatever." Sometimes the enabling act provides for admission on
proclamation of the President of the United States. Several of the
Territories adopted State constitutions and were admitted as States
without enabling acts.

PURPOSES. - The State keeps power near the people, and thus makes them
more secure in their liberty. "The powers not granted to the United
States, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States
respectively or to the people." If the whole country were a single
republic without State divisions, power would be withdrawn from the
people and become centralized in the national government.

Our political system leaves the various functions of government to the
smallest political communities that can perform them efficiently. The
county has charge of all public interests that can be managed by it as
well as by the State. Many public affairs, such as popular
education,[1] private corporations, and the organization of the smaller
political divisions, can be better managed by the State than by the
National Government, and are therefore properly left to the State's

Parts of the country widely separated differ in climate and soil,
giving rise to different industries and occupations, which require
different laws, made and administered by different States. The State
serves as a convenient basis for the apportionment of members of both
houses of Congress, and State institutions preserve and develop the
local individuality and self-reliance of the people.

FUNCTIONS. - The functions of the State are very extensive, including
the greater part of those acts of government which preserve society by
affording security to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of

The State government touches the citizens at most points; that is, all
those laws that concern the body of the people in their ordinary daily
life are made and enforced by the State, or by the smaller political
divisions of the State, acting under the State's directions. Officers
discharge their duties, arrests are made, courts are held, offenders
are punished, justice is meted out, and taxes are collected, by the
authority of the State.

The National Government has similar functions to perform in every part
of the country, but they are far less frequent than those of the State.

INSTITUTIONS. - The State maintains a number of charitable and other
institutions for the public welfare. It makes appropriations of land
or money for the support of asylums, prisons, reformatories, scientific
institutions, schools, colleges, and universities. The support of
these institutions, the payment of salaries, the administration of
justice, and the conduct of other public interests, involve large
annual expenditures, often amounting to several millions of dollars.


The citizens of a State are the people who live in it, whether natives
of the United States, or foreigners who have been adopted. Persons who
are citizens of the United States are thereby citizens of the State in
which they reside. They have all the rights that freemen can possess,
and enjoy a larger freedom than do the people of any other country.

The legal voters, often called electors, are the male citizens who have
resided in the State, the county, and the township, or voting precinct,
the time required by law to entitle them to vote. The length of
residence required in the State varies, being two years in some, six
months in others, and one year in most States. Several States permit
citizens of foreign countries to vote, and a few permit women to vote.

RIGHTS. - Every citizen has the right to be secure in his person; to be
free from attack and annoyance; to go when and where he may choose; to
keep, enjoy, and dispose of his property; and to provide in his own way
for the welfare of himself and of those dependent upon him.

The rights of the people are set forth at length and with great
precision in a portion of the State constitution called the Bill of
Rights. These rights must be exercised under the restrictions of the
law, and with due regard for the same rights held by others.

The legal voters have the right to vote in all local, State, and
national elections. They are voters in national elections by virtue of
being voters in State elections. The right to vote implies the right
to be voted for, and the right to hold office; but for many officers
the State requires a longer residence and other qualifications than
those prescribed for voters.

DUTIES. - For every right, the people have a corresponding duty; and for
every privilege they enjoy, there is a trust for them to discharge.
The large personal freedom possessed by the American citizens imposes
equally as large public responsibilities. It is the duty of every
citizen to obey the law, to aid in securing justice, to respect
authority, to love his country, and to labor for the public good. No
one can be a useful member of society unless he respects the laws and
institutions of the land. The people themselves have established this
government, both State and national; it exists for them, and therefore
they owe it honor and obedience.

It is the duty of every voter to study the interests of the country,
and to vote for persons and measures that, in his opinion, will best
"promote the general welfare." In this country, government is
intrusted to the whole people, and they can govern only by expressing
their will in elections. Therefore the majority must rule. The
majority will sometimes make mistakes, but these will be corrected
after a time. In order that good government may ensue, good citizens
must take part in elections. The privilege of suffrage is conferred
upon an implied contract that it will be used for the public good. He
who fails to vote when he can, fails to perform his part of the
contract, fails to fulfill his promise, and fails to respect the
government that protects him.


The constitution is often called the supreme law of the State. In
other words, it is the supreme act of the people, for the purpose of
organizing themselves as a body politic, of formulating their
government, and of fixing the limits of its power. It is a contract
between the whole society as a political body, and each of its members.
Each binds himself to the whole body, and the whole body binds itself
to each, in order that all may be governed by the same laws for the
common good. The constitution of each State is a written instrument,
modeled after the Constitution of the United States, with which it must
not conflict.

The constitutions of England and most other countries of Europe are
unwritten. They consist of the common usages and maxims that have
become fixed by long experience. In those countries, when a new
political custom grows into common practice it thereby becomes a part
of the national constitution.

FORMATION AND ADOPTION. - As the whole people can not assemble in one
place to frame and adopt a constitution, they elect delegates to a
constitutional convention. The convention usually meets at the
capital, deliberates, frames articles for a proposed constitution, and
in nearly all cases submits them to the people. The people make known
their will in a general election, and if a majority vote in favor of
adopting the proposed constitution, it becomes the constitution of the
State. If the proposed constitution is rejected, another convention
must be called to propose other articles to be voted upon by the people.

PURPOSES. - The purposes of the constitution are to guard the rights of
the people, to protect the liberties of the minority, to grant
authority to the government, to separate the functions of the three
departments, to prescribe the limits of each, and to fix in the public
policy those maxims of political wisdom that have been sanctioned by

The special tendency in recent amendments of State constitutions has
been to limit the power of the legislature. Constitutions, like other
political institutions, are largely matters of growth, and from time to
time must be revised to meet the changing wants of society. For this
purpose the constitution of almost every State contains a provision,
called the open clause, which authorizes the legislature, under certain
restrictions, to propose amendments to the constitution to be adopted
or rejected by a vote of the people.

VALUE. - The people of any State may, at their pleasure, frame and adopt
a new constitution, which must be in harmony with the Constitution of
the United States. The right to make their own constitution is one of
the highest and most important rights that freemen can possess. It is
in this and in the right of suffrage that their freedom principally

The constitution protects the people by prescribing the limits of
official authority. The legislature can not legally pass a law which
the constitution of the State forbids, and when such a law is passed it
is declared unconstitutional by the State courts. A provision of a
State constitution becomes void when declared by the supreme court of
the United States to be in conflict with the national Constitution.

CONTENTS. - The constitutions of the several States are based upon the
Constitution of the United States as a model, and are therefore much
alike in their general provisions. Each contains:

A preamble setting forth the purposes of the constitution;

A lengthy declaration called the bill of rights;

Provisions for distributing the powers of government into three
departments; and

Articles relating to suffrage, debt, taxation, corporations, public
schools, militia, amendments, and other public affairs.


The bill of rights usually declares various rights of the citizen which
may be classified under the heads of republican principles, personal
security, private property, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech
and of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom from military

REPUBLICAN PRINCIPLES. - Under this head the bill declares:

That all power is inherent in the people;

That governments exist for their good, and by their consent;

That all freemen are equal;

That no title of nobility shall be conferred;

That exclusive privileges shall not be granted except in consideration
of public services;

That all elections shall be free and equal.

PERSONAL SECURITY. - In the interests of the personal security of the
citizen it is provided:

That the people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
possessions, from unreasonable seizures and searches;

That warrants to seize and to search persons and things must describe
them by oath or affirmation;

That there shall be no imprisonment for debt, except in cases of fraud.

PRIVATE PROPERTY. - To secure the rights of private property, the bill

That private property shall not be taken for public use without just

And, in some States, that long leases of agricultural lands shall not
be made.

FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE. - To induce the entire freedom of conscience of
the citizen it is declared:

That there shall be perfect religious freedom, but not covering immoral

That there shall be no State church;

That no religious test shall be required for performing any public

That the rights of conscience are free from human control.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OF THE PRESS. - To maintain the rightful freedom
of the press, the bill guarantees:

That printing-presses may be used by all;

That every citizen may freely speak, write, and print upon any
subject - being responsible for the abuse of the right.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY. - The right of assembly is secured by the provision:

That the people may peaceably assemble for the public good, to discuss
questions of public interest; and

That they may petition the government for redress of grievances.

FREEDOM FROM MILITARY TYRANNY. - To guard against abuses by the
military, it is declared:

That the military shall be in strict subordination to the civil power;

That no standing army shall be maintained in time of peace;

That in time of peace no soldier shall be quartered in any house
without the owner's consent;

That the right of people to bear arms shall not be questioned. This
does not authorize the carrying of concealed weapons.

FORBIDDEN LAWS. - To insure the people against improper legislation, the
bill of rights provides:

That no _ex post facto_ law or law impairing the validity of contracts,
shall be made;

That no bill of attainder shall be passed;

That no power of suspending laws shall be exercised except by the

RIGHTS OF THE ACCUSED. - Among the worst abuses of tyranny in all ages
have been the corruption of the courts and the denial of the rights of
common justice. To guard against these it is expressly provided:

That the writ of _habeas corpus_ shall not be suspended except when, in
cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it;

That, except in capital cases, persons charged with crime may give bail;

That no excessive bail shall be required;

That all courts shall be open;

That the accused shall have a speedy trial in the district in which the
offense was committed;

That the ancient mode of trial by jury shall be maintained; but civil
suits, by consent of the parties, may be tried without a jury;

That all persons injured in lands, goods, person, or reputation shall
have remedy by course of law;

That the accused shall be informed of the nature of the charges against

That he shall be confronted by the witnesses against him;

That he shall be heard in his own defense, and may have the benefit of

That he shall not be required to testify against himself;

That he shall not be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by
due process of law;

That no cruel or unusual punishment shall be inflicted;

That no one shall be twice placed in jeopardy for the same offense.

No citizen of the United States would deny the justice of these
declarations. They are so reasonable it seems strange that they should
ever have been questioned. "But in enumerating them we are treading on
sacred ground. Their establishment cost our ancestors hundreds of
years of struggle against arbitrary power, in which they gave their
blood and treasure."[2]

It was to secure and maintain a part of these rights that the American
colonies went to war with Great Britain, and made good their
Declaration of Independence by an appeal to arms.

Most of these rights are preserved in the Constitution of the United
States, to prevent encroachments upon the liberties of the people by
the General Government. They are repeated in the State constitution in
order that they may not be invaded by the State Government. There is
also a provision in the constitution of the State which declares that
"the enumeration of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or
disparage others retained by the people."

[1]Popular education must command the sympathy and respect of the
people in each locality in order to remain "popular." While the State,
therefore, enforces a general system of public schools, it leaves all
the details of local management with the people most closely related to
the particular school. The people esteem that which they create and

[2]McCleary's _Studies in Civics_.


1. Why are the smaller political communities subject to the State?

2. Give the names of the thirteen original States.

3. What is meant by States having different industries and occupations?

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryAlexander L. PetermanElements of Civil Government → online text (page 4 of 16)