James Wilford Garner.

Government in the United States, national, state and local online

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[Illustration: CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.]


National, State, and Local



Professor of Political Science in the University of Illinois

New York Cincinnati Chicago
American Book Company
Copyright, 1911, 1913, 1919, 1920, by
James W. Garner

Copyright, 1922, by
American Book Company

Entered at Stationers' Hall, London

Govt. U. S.
W. P. 29

Made in U. S. A.


My aim in the preparation of this book has been to present in an
elementary way the leading facts concerning the organization and
activities of national, state, and local government in the United
States. I have given rather greater emphasis than is customarily done in
textbooks of this character to what may be called the dynamics of
government, that is, its actual workings, as contradistinguished from
organization. Likewise, I have laid especial stress upon the activities
and methods of political parties, party conventions, primaries, the
conduct of political campaigns, the regulation of campaign methods, and
the like. The increasing importance of citizenship has led me to devote
a chapter to that subject. To encourage wider reading among students, I
have added to each chapter a brief list of references to books which
should be in every high school library. The great value of illustrative
material as a means of acquainting students with the spirit and actual
methods of government is now recognized. For the convenience of
teachers, I have therefore added at the end of each chapter a list of
documentary and other illustrative material, most of which can be
procured without cost and all of which may be used to advantage in
supplementing the descriptive matter in the textbook. To stimulate the
spirit of research and to encourage independent thinking among students,
I have also added at the end of each chapter a list of search questions
bearing upon the various subjects treated in the chapter.

I am under obligations to a number of teachers for reading the proof
sheets of this book and for giving me the benefit of their advice. Among
those to whom I am especially indebted are Mr. Clarence O. Gardner,
formerly assistant in political science in the University of Illinois,
Mr. W. A. Beyer, of the Illinois State Normal University, Mr. C. H.
Elliott, of the Southern Illinois State Normal University, Mr. E. T.
Austin, of the Sterling Township (Ill.) High School, and Mr. William
Wallis, Principal of the Bloomington (Ill.) High School.































=Kinds of Local Government.= - Most of us live under at least four
different governmental organizations: the government of the United
States, the government of a state, the government of a county, and the
government of a minor division, usually called a town or township. In
addition to (or sometimes instead of) the county or township government,
many of us live under a special form of government provided for urban
communities, - cities, villages, or boroughs, - where the population is
comparatively dense and where, therefore, the somewhat simple form of
government provided for rural communities is insufficient. If the people
of the smaller communities are allowed to choose their own public
officials and, within certain limits, to determine their own policies in
public matters of a local character, they have a system of _local
self-government_. If, on the contrary, they are governed by some distant
central authority which determines their local policies and by which
their local officials are appointed, they live under a system of
_centralized government_.

=Merits of Local Self-Government.= - In the United States, the privilege
of local self-government is regarded as one of the chief merits of our
political system, and it is often declared to be one of the inalienable
rights of the people. One great advantage of local self-government is
that it brings government near the door of every citizen, and permits
the people of each locality, who are most familiar with their own local
conditions and who know best what are their local needs, to regulate
their own affairs as they see fit. Also, such a system is well
calculated to secure responsibility. So long as the local authorities
are chosen by the community from its own inhabitants and are constantly
under the eyes of the people, to whom they are responsible, they can be
more effectively controlled by local public opinion than is possible
where they are chosen by authorities distantly removed. Another
important advantage of local self-government is that it serves as a
training school for the political education of the citizens. Allow them
the privilege of choosing their own local officials and of regulating
their own local concerns, and their interest in public affairs will be
stimulated and their political intelligence increased and broadened.
This not only will tend to secure more responsible government (local,
state, and national), but will produce a more active type of

=Importance of Local Government.= - With the growth and congestion of
population in centers, and the increasing complexity of our industrial
and social life, the importance of local self-government has enormously
increased. The local governments touch us at many more points to-day
than does either the state or the national government; they regulate a
far larger proportion of the concerns of our everyday life; and hence we
feel the effects of corrupt or inefficient local government more keenly
than we feel the effects of inefficient state or national government.
We depend largely upon our local governments for the maintenance of the
peace, order, and security of the community; for the protection of the
public health; for the support of our schools; for the construction and
maintenance of roads and bridges; for the care of the poor; and if we
live in a city, for protection against fire, for our water supply,
usually, and for many other services essential to our comfort and
happiness. Finally, the larger proportion of the taxes we pay goes
toward the support of local government - a fact which makes it very
important that our local governments should be efficiently, honestly,
and economically conducted.

=Types of Local Government.= - The form of local government existing in
each state is such as the state itself provides, the national government
having no authority whatever over the matter. Such differences as exist
are more largely the result of historical conditions growing out of the
early settlement of the states, than of any pronounced differences of
opinion among the people in regard to forms of government. Since
colonial times there have been three general types of local rural
government in America: the _town system_, in New England; the _county
system_, which originated in Virginia and spread to other colonies and
states; and the _county-township type_ - a combination of the first two
forms - which developed in the middle colonies of New York and
Pennsylvania and was carried to many Western states by settlers from the
middle states, and is now the most common form to be found.


=Town and County in New England.= - The characteristic feature of the
town system of government is that the management of local affairs
devolves mainly upon the town (or township, as it is usually called
outside of New England), while the county is little more than an
administrative district for judicial and election purposes. In some of
the New England states, where the town system originated and where it
exists in its purest form, the county is almost ignored as an area for
local government. In Rhode Island it performs practically no duties of
local government and is merely a judicial district; there no county
officers are to be found except the sheriff and clerks of the courts. In
the other New England states the county plays a more important part than
it does in Rhode Island, but in none of them does it share with the
towns in anything like an equal measure the burden of local government.

=The New England Town.= - The towns of New England are the oldest
political communities in America, some of them being older in fact than
the counties and states of which they are a part. Generally they vary
from twenty to forty square miles in area, and are irregular in shape,
being in this respect unlike the townships of many Western states, which
were laid out in squares, each with an area of thirty-six square miles.
In population they vary from a few hundred persons to more than 130,000
as is the case with New Haven, which, though an incorporated city,
maintains a separate town organization.

=Powers of Town Government.= - The functions performed by the town
governments are varied and numerous. The most important, however, are
the support and management of public schools, the laying out and
maintenance of roads, the construction of bridges, the care of the poor,
and in the more populous towns, fire protection, health protection, the
maintenance of police, lighting, paving of streets, establishment of
parks, public libraries, etc. The towns also have power to enact
ordinances of a police character, relating to such matters as bicycle
riding on sidewalks, the running of animals at large, etc.

In addition to the management of the purely local affairs of the
community, the town acts as the agent of the state government for
carrying out certain state laws and policies. Thus it assesses and
collects the state taxes, keeps records of vital statistics, enforces
the health laws of the state, and acts for the state in various other
matters. Finally, except in Massachusetts, the town is a district for
choosing members of at least one branch of the legislature, and
everywhere in New England it is a district for state and national

[1] Fairlie, "Local Government," p. 147.

=The Town Meeting.= - The central fact in the system of town government
in New England is the town meeting, or assembly of the qualified voters
of the town. The annual meeting is usually held in the early Spring
(except in Connecticut, where it is generally held in October) and
special meetings are called from time to time as necessity may require.
All persons qualified as voters under the state laws are entitled to
attend and take part in the proceedings of the meeting. Formerly
non-attendance was punishable by a fine, but that is no longer resorted
to; it being supposed that each voter's interest will be sufficient
inducement to secure his presence. The attendance is larger in the towns
of New England than in the states of the West where the town meeting
exists, and it is larger in urban towns than in those of a rural
character. Formal notice must be given of the time and place of the
meeting, and this is done by a warrant issued by the selectmen, which
specifies also the matters of business to be considered. This notice
must be posted in conspicuous places a certain number of days before the
meeting. No other matters than those mentioned in the warrant can be
introduced or considered. The meetings are usually held in the town
hall, though in the early history of New England they were frequently
held in the church, which was thus a "meeting house" for civil as well
as for church purposes.

The meeting is called to order by the town clerk, who reads the warrant,
after which an organization is effected by the election of a presiding
officer called a moderator, and business then proceeds in accordance
with the customary rules of parliamentary law. The next order of
business is the election of the town officers for the ensuing year. This
done, appropriations are made for the payment of the public expenses of
the town, and the other measures necessary for the government of the
town are then discussed and adopted. The most interesting fact about the
New England town meeting is the lively discussion which characterizes
its proceedings. Any voter may introduce resolutions and express his
opinion on any proposition before the assembly. One great advantage of
this system of local government is its educative effect upon the
citizens. It affords a means of keeping alive interest in public affairs
and thus tends to develop a more intelligent citizenship. Important
measures may be carefully discussed and criticized before the final vote
is taken, and it is difficult to "railroad" or smuggle an objectionable
measure through, as is sometimes done in the legislatures and city
councils. Everything the officials and committees of the town have done
is subject to be criticized, everything they are to do is subject to be
regulated by the meeting. The final action of the meeting, therefore, is
pretty apt to represent the real wishes of the people.

=Conditions Unfavorable to Government by Town Meeting.= - Various causes,
however, are at work in some parts of New England to weaken the system
of government by town meeting and to render it less suited to the modern
conditions under which it must be operated. The growth of manufacturing
industries in many of the towns has introduced a conflict of interests
between factory owners and operators on the one hand, and farmers on the
other. The result is occasional squabbles and controversies which are
not favorable to government by mass meeting. The influx of foreigners
who are unaccustomed to local self-government and who are therefore
unfamiliar with the duties of citizens in self-governing communities has
in recent years also introduced an unfavorable element. Finally, the
caucus has gained a foothold in many towns so that the election of
officers and the determination of important policies are often
controlled by a small group of persons who get together prior to the
town meeting and prepare a "slate" which is put through without adequate
discussion. It is also to be noted that with the growth of population,
many of the towns have become too populous to be governed effectively by
mass meeting. Frequently the town hall is too small to accommodate all
the voters who attend, and satisfactory debate under such conditions is
impossible. Often when a town reaches this size it organizes itself into
a municipal corporation, and a city council takes the place of the
popular assembly, but there are many places of considerable size which
still retain the town organization.

=Town Officers.= - _Selectmen._ - From the beginning of town government it
was necessary to choose agents to look after the affairs of the
community during the interval between town meetings. These persons were
called _selectmen_, and they have retained the name until the present

Every town now has a body of selectmen chosen at the annual meeting,
usually for one year (in Massachusetts for three years) to act as a
general managing board for the community. The number for each town
varies from three to nine according to the size of the town, three being
the most usual number. Reëlections are frequent; one selectman in
Brookline, Massachusetts, served nearly forty years. Their duties vary
in the different towns. Generally they issue warrants for holding town
meetings, lay out roads, impanel jurors, grant licenses, abate
nuisances, arrange for elections, control the town property, hear
complaints, sometimes assess taxes (especially in the small towns), and
may appoint police officials, boards of health, overseers of the poor,
and other local officers if they are not chosen by the voters assembled
in the town meeting.

_The Town Clerk._ - Besides the selectmen, there are various other
officers of the town, the number varying according to its size and
importance. One of the most important of these is the _clerk_, who
performs some duties discharged by the county clerk in states outside of
New England. The town clerk is elected at the annual town meeting, and
is frequently reëlected from year to year. His principal duties are to
keep the records of the town meetings, and of the meetings of the
selectmen, issue marriage licenses, and keep registers of births,
marriages, and deaths.

_Assessors and Treasurer._ - In the large towns there are assessors of
taxes, who prepare tax lists; in the smaller ones, as stated above, the
selectmen act as assessors. In all of the towns there is a town
treasurer who receives and takes care of all taxes collected from the
citizens, turning over to the proper officers the portion which goes to
the state and to the county. He also keeps an account of all receipts
and disbursements and makes an annual report to the town meeting.

_Overseers of the Poor._ - To care for the pauper and dependent class
there are usually one or more overseers of the poor elected by the town
meeting, though in the smaller towns the selectmen perform this duty.
Their principal function is to determine who shall receive public aid.

_Constables._ - In every town one or more constables are elected.
Formerly this office, like that of sheriff, was one of dignity and
influence, but it has lost much of its early importance. As the sheriff
is the peace officer of the county, the constables are the peace
officers of the town. They pursue and arrest criminals and execute
warrants issued by the selectmen and by the justices of the peace. In
addition they sometimes summon jurors and act as collectors of the

_School Committee._ - Generally there is also a school committee elected
at the town meeting. It is charged with establishing and visiting
schools, selecting teachers, prescribing the courses of instruction, and
appointing truant officers.

_Other Town Officials_ are justices of the peace; road surveyors or
similar officers with other titles, charged with keeping public roads
and bridges in repair; field drivers and poundkeepers, who take up and
keep stray animals until claimed by their owners; fence viewers, who
settle disputes among farmers in regard to partition fences and walls;
sealers of weights and measures, who test the accuracy of scales and
measures; surveyors of lumber; keepers of almshouses; park
commissioners; fish wardens; inspectors of various kinds; and a host of
other minor officials, some of whom bear queer titles, and many of whom
serve without pay or receive only trifling fees for their services. In
some of the small towns, officials are so numerous as to constitute a
goodly proportion of the population. The town of Middlefield (Mass.),
for example, with only eighty-two voters recently had a total of
eighteen officials.[2]

[2] Hart, "Actual Government," p. 172.

=Town Government in the West.= - Town government is not confined to New
England; it has been carried to many Western states where immigrants
from New England have settled, though in none of them does it possess
the vitality or play the important part in the management of public
affairs that it does in the older communities where it originated. In
the states of the South and the far West, there is no general system of
town government. Counties, however, are usually divided into districts
for a few unimportant purposes.


=The County.= - The county[3] is a civil division created by the state
partly for purposes of state administration and partly for local
government. New York city embraces within its boundaries five counties;
other cities, like Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Cincinnati, contain
within their limits the larger part of the population of the counties in
which they are situated. The population of a large majority of the
counties, however, is predominantly rural rather than urban in
character, and where there is a large city within a county, most of the
affairs of that portion of the county lying within the city limits are
managed by the city government.

[3] The corresponding division in Louisiana is called a parish.

_Population and Area._ - The population of the counties, and their areas,
vary widely. Several counties in Texas in 1910 had less than 400
inhabitants each, New York county, on the other hand, had more than
2,750,000. The most populous counties are in the Eastern states, and
the least populous in the South and West. There are now about 3,000
counties in all the states, the number in each state ranging from three
in Delaware and five in Rhode Island to 244 in Texas. In proportion to
population Massachusetts has a smaller number (fourteen) than any other
state in the Union. In many states the minimum size of counties is fixed
by the constitution. The minimum limit where it is fixed by the
constitution is usually 400 square miles, though in some states it is
600 or 700 and in Texas it is 900 square miles. Where no such
restrictions have been prescribed, however, as in some of the old
states, the area is sometimes very small. In Rhode Island, for example,
there is one county with an area of only 25 square miles. New York has
one county (New York) with an area of 21 square miles, and another (St.
Lawrence) with an area of 2,880 square miles. On the other hand, Choteau
county in Montana has an area of over 16,000 square miles, being
considerably larger than the combined area of several of the smaller

To prevent the legislature from creating new counties or altering the
boundaries of existing counties against the wishes of the inhabitants,
and to secure to the people home rule in such matters, the constitutions
of a number of states provide that new counties may be formed, or the
area of existing counties altered, only with the consent of the
inhabitants concerned, given by a direct popular vote on the question.

_Functions of the County._ - The county is a judicial and elective
district, and the jails and courthouses and sometimes the almshouses are
county rather than town institutions. Outside of New England the county
is also often the unit of representation in the legislature; and it acts
as an agent of the state in collecting taxes and executing many laws.

=County Officers.= - _The County Board._ - The principal county authority
is usually a board of commissioners or supervisors (in Louisiana it is

Online LibraryJames Wilford GarnerGovernment in the United States, national, state and local → online text (page 1 of 33)