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appeals to the highest colonial court was universally recognized, and the practice of carrying important cases to a tribunal above all colonial courts was steadily maintained. Consequently, when the colonists were later called upon to organize their own judicial system, they had to make but slight changes in the existing arrangements.
Municipal and Local Institutions1
Although there were in the colonies no cities of importance, measured by modern standards, the foundations of American municipal government must be sought in colonial times. It appears that there were about twenty municipal corporations during that period, each of which received its charter from the colonial governor - New York and Albany in 1686, Philadelphia in 1691, and Trenton, New Jersey, the last, in 1746. The form of organization in general followed old English examples; the governing body was a common council composed of the mayor, recorder, aldermen, and councillors. In most of the cities the councilmen and aldermen were "elected by popular vote under a franchise which everywhere included all of the well-to-do classes and generally a large proportion of the residents, though in no case was manhood suffrage established." In Philadelphia, Annapolis, and Norfolk the common council was a closed corporation; that is, the aldermen and councillors enjoyed life terms and the power of filling vacancies as they occurred. In accordance with English precedent, the mayor was not elected by popular vote. In a few instances he was selected by the common council, but in the majority of cities, including New York and Albany, he was appointed by the provincial governor. Somewhat restricted powers were at first conferred upon the municipality by its charter, and in the later period, before the Revolution, it was a common practice to secure from the colonial assemblies special acts granting additional powers. The striking feature of the colonial municipal system was the fusion of executive, legislative, and judicial functions in the hands of the same body; and it is interesting to note that the commission form of municipal government now being widely adopted throughout the United States is the return to the original principle in so
Reference: Fairlie, Municipal Administration, pp. 72 ff.
far as it vests administrative and legislative powers in one authority.1
In the sphere of rural local government we have departed even less from colonial models than in other branches of administration. The Revolution did not disturb, in any fundamental manner, the institutions of local government which had come down from early colonial times; for, as Professor Fairlie says, "the main features of the old systems continued in the different states. Towns in New England and the middle states and parishes in the southern states remained unaltered; and are in fact not mentioned in most of the constitutions of the revolutionary period." " In New England the unit of local administration was the town, which was governed by a meeting of the electors, who chose the town officers, levied taxes, appropriated money, passed by-laws, and reviewed the activities of the various local officers.3 Counties existed, of course, in New England, but only in a rudimentary form, and principally for judicial purposes. In the middle colonies, notably New York and Pennsylvania, there was a combination of town and county local government. Town meetings were held in New York as in New England. As early as 1691, however, a county board of supervisors, representing the various towns, was created and began to absorb at once the most important local administrative functions. In Pennsylvania, strong county administrative organization overshadowed the town and furnished the model for local government in a large number of western states. In the South, the plantation system led to the formation of scattered settlements, so that local government had to be based upon the county rather than the parish. Thus, for example, in Virginia, "the county became the unit of representation in the colonial assembly and the unit of military, judicial, highway, and fiscal administration. The officers were the county lieutenant, the sheriff (who acted as collector and treasurer), justices of the peace, and coroners. All were appointed
1 Goodnow, Municipal Government, p. 176; Readings, p. 529. It should be noted that in New England the government of the urban centres was based upon the rural town-meeting system.
Local Government, p. 33.
'For the minutes of a Boston town meeting in 1758, see Readings, p. 11, and compare with the documents on a modern New England town meeting, Readings, pp. 556 ff.
by the governor of the colony on the recommendation of the justices, and the latter thus became a self-perpetuating body of aristocratic planters controlling the whole county administration.” 1
Social Classes in Colonial Times 2
In every colony there was a somewhat sharp differentiation of society into economic classes. In all of the colonies there was a distinct upper class: the clergy, professional men, merchants, and landed proprietors in New England; the landed proprietors and merchants in the middle colonies; and the great slave-holding planters in the South. At the bottom of the social scale there were the slaves and poor whites in the South, the mechanics, indented servants, and a few slaves in the middle colonies and New England. Between these social groups was a substantial middle class of small farmers, traders, and storekeepers.
The situation in New York can best be described in the language of Mr. Theodore Roosevelt: "The colony was in government an aristocratic republic, its constitution modelled on that of England and similar to it; the power lay in the hands of certain old and wealthy families, Dutch and English, and there was a limited freehold suffrage. The great landed families, the Livingstons, Van Rennselaers, Schuylers, Van Cortlandts, Phillipses, Morrises, with their huge manorial estates, their riches, their absolute social preeminence and their unquestioned political headship, formed a proud, polished, and powerful aristocracy, deep rooted in the soil. . . They owned numerous black slaves, and lived in state and comfort on their broad acres, tenant-farmed, in the great roomy manor-houses, with wainscotted walls and huge fireplaces, and round about, the quaint old gardens, prim and formal with their box hedges and precise flower beds. . . .
"Next in importance to the great manorial lords came the rich merchants of New York; many families like the Livingstons, the most prominent of all, had representatives in both classes. They were shrewd, daring, and prosperous; they were often their own ship-masters, and during the incessant
1 Fairlie, Local Government, p. 19; for an illustrative document, see Readings, p. 13.
* Reference, Lodge: English Colonies in America.
wars against the French and Spaniards went into privateering ventures with even more zest and spirit than into peaceful trading. Next came the smaller landed proprietors, who also possessed considerable local influence; such was the family of the Clintons. The law, too, was beginning to take high rank as an honorable and influential profession . . . The bulk of the people were small farmers in the country, tradesmen and mechanics in the towns. . . . The farmers were thrifty, set in their ways, and obstinate; the townsmen thrifty also, but restless and turbulent. Both farmers and townsmen were thoroughly independent and self-respecting, and were gradually getting more and more political power. . . . The habit of constantly importing indentured Irish servants, as well as German laborers, under contract, prevailed throughout the colonies and the number of men thus imported was quite sufficient to form a considerable element in the population, and to add a new, although perhaps not very valuable, strain to our already mixed blood. In taking up at random the file of the New York Gazette for 1766, we find among the advertisements many offering rewards for runaway servants; such as 'three pounds for the runaway servant Conner O'Rourke,' 'ten pounds for the runaway Irish servant, Philip Maginnis,' 'five pounds apiece for certain runaway German miners, Bruderlein, Baum, Ostmann, etc.— imported under contract'; all this mixed in with advertisements of rewards of about the same money value for 'the mulatto man named Tom,' or the 'negroes Nero and Pompey." "1
There is no reason to suppose that the educated and well-to-do colonists were in any way discontented with the fundamental institutions of government under which they lived. At all events, we find no such literature of political criticism in the American colonies on the eve of the Revolution as we find in France previous to the meeting of the Estates General. It is true that in Pennsylvania some of the mechanics were discontented with the way in which the propertied classes conducted
1 Theodore Roosevelt, Gouverneur Morris (American Statesmen Series), Pp. 14 ff.
Reference: Merriam, American Political Theories; Readings, p. 15.
the government of the city.' It is true, also, that there was some vague unrest among the disfranchised of New York City; but generally speaking there was no organized protest and no literature of protest.
Even the Puritan philosophy of New England got the name of being democratic because the Puritans had resisted royal prerogative rather than because they entertained any equalitarian notions of democracy. As early as 1631 the people of Massachusetts provided that no one should be admitted as a freeman unless he was a member of one of the churches, and to the very end a clear distinction was made between the inhabitants and the freemen enjoying political privileges. They regarded the Bible, interpreted by themselves, as the foundation of the state. "There is undoubtedly," said John Eliot, “a form of civil government instituted by God himself in the holy Scriptures, whereby any nation may enjoy all the ends and effects of government in the best manner, were they but persuaded to make a trial of it." There was in New England, especially in the rural districts, a considerable democratic equality, but nowhere in the literature of New England do we find any real enthusiasm for democracy in the abstract. In fact John Cotton in 1644 declared that democracy was "the meanest and worst of all forms of government."
In a treatise by John Wise, entitled, A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches, published in 1717, we find the following enumeration of the forms of government, with a commentary upon each of them: "(1) a democracy, which is when the sovereign power is lodged in a council consisting of all the members, and where every member has the privilege of a vote. This form of government appears in the greatest part of the world, to have been the most ancient. For that reason seems to shew it to be most probable, that when men had thoughts of joyning in a civil body, would without question be inclined to administer their common affaires by their common judgement, and so must necessarily establish a democracy. A democracy is then erected, when a number of free persons, do assemble together, in order to enter into a covenant for uniting
1 C. H. Lincoln, The Revolutionary Movement in Pennsylvania, 176076, University of Pennsylvania Publications.
2 Extract slightly condensed.