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to land titles. The funds of the town are guarded by a treasurer, and sometimes there is an auditor to supervise all accounts. The peace of the town is in the keeping of the constables, who often have other duties, such as the serving of writs and the collection of taxes. Except in Massachusetts and Maine, where they are appointed, justices of the peace are elected at the town meeting. There are in addition numerous other minor officers, such as poor guardians, pound-keepers, library trustees, and fence-viewers, sometimes elected, and sometimes appointed by the selectmen.
In a great group of northern and central states the town, or township as it is often called, has a position of importance in the county; but there is scarcely anything of the feeling of intense localism which has made the town such a vital part of the New England system. In New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, for example, the town-meeting with considerable variations has been adopted, but its functions are by no means so numerous, and with few exceptions the voters do not take the same lively interest in its proceedings. In Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri there is no township assembly at all, the local business being transacted by elective officers.
This decline or disappearance of the town-meeting is principally due to the fact that in most cases the township is an artificial unit laid out by the surveyor, not a settlement of neighbors and friends such as we find in New England. In the middle western states, the county organization came first, when the regions were only sparsely settled, and it has retained most of the functions assigned to it in the beginning. The western states, furthermore, were settled by immigrants from all parts of the East and from Europe, and the conditions were wanting for that spontaneous coöperation which naturally arises among men closely associated in long historical traditions. It must be remembered also that in this group of states the more populous urban centres are cut off from the rural regions by special village or city organization, thus leaving only the scattered farmers to conduct their rural affairs by themselves.
In most of the states which have established the town-meeting the authority of that body is by no means so great as in New England, although in New York it theoretically enjoys substantial local powers. In that state the meetings are held biennially,' usually on the general election day in November and at other times on special call for particular purposes. The town assembly elects at its biennial meeting one supervisor, one clerk, the justices of the peace, the 'assessors, one collector, one or two overseers of the poor, two or three commissioners of the highways, and not more than five constables. The meeting may also make provision for abating nuisances, destroying noxious weeds, establishing “pounds,” and caring for town property, and it may vote money for town purposes; but an elector of a town cannot vote upon any proposition for the raising or appropriation of money or incurring any town liability unless he or his wife is the owner of property in the town assessed upon the tax roll.
As a matter of practice, however, the town-meeting of New York in a large number of cases is merely an election, the government of the town being conducted by the town board, consisting of the supervisor, town clerk, and the justices of the peace. The board audits accounts and allows claims and demands against the town. The general statutes of the state relating to town government cover about one hundred and fifty closely printed pages and go into such detail that they leave no deliberative functions of any importance. Financial functions connected with the establishment of sewers, waterworks, and lighting plants are exercised by the town board, acting in some instances on petition of the taxpayers and in others on a referendum to the voters. The direction of the raising of money to meet town charges, however, is vested in the county board of supervisors.
This decline of the town-meeting is to be found among all those states which have adopted the system. As the townships grow more populous, the local duties to be performed become more complex and the state legislation controlling the details of local government increases in bulk. It is inevitable, therefore, that the voters should come to rely more and more on boards and officers devoting their time to particular duties.
In those states which do not have township meetings the local functions are vested in elective officers, such as trustees, clerks, assessors, treasurers, justices of the peace, and constables. These
1 In a number of towns the general meeting is abandoned altogether and the voters assemble in election districts to choose town officers,
officers are charged with certain definite duties by statute, and there is no occasion for by-laws and debate. In Indiana, for example, the most important officer is the trustee, who prepares the township budget, supervises the common schools in rural districts, and, generally speaking, occupies the place of the town board in New York or the selectmen in New England. However, an attempt has been recently made in that state to establish a larger popular control over the trustee by the creation of an elective board of freeholders to supervise his financial activities.
The subdivisions of the county in the South and Far West need not detain us long, for they are generally of slight importance historically or practically, and attempts to introduce the township system of the North and East have not been at all successful. In some of the southern states the county subdivisions are known as magisterial districts, in others as election districts or precincts. These divisions are quite frequently used as the units for electing justices of the peace, constables, and members of the county board or for school administration. The voting of appropriations and general functions of administration vested in the New England town-meeting are in the South and West vested in the county board. The Virginia county, for example, is divided into magisterial districts, in each of which are elected a supervisor who serves on the county board, three justices of the peace, a constable, and a poor-law officer.
Towns and Villages In all of the states outside of New England, it is the common practice to separate the more thickly settled districts from the towns and townships and to give them a special legal position and form of government of their own. This is done in a few cases even in New England. These small centres of population are generally known as villages, boroughs, or incorporated towns. Most of the states have a general law providing the conditions
a under which the more populous settlements may become independent and self-governing units, and in some instances they are incorporated by special act. In New York, for example, any territory not exceeding one square mile or an entire town containing a population of at least two hundred may be incorporated, on petition of twenty-five adult freeholders filed with the town supervisor and approved by the vote of the qualified electors. The New York village has a president, not less than two trustees, a treasurer, a clerk, and a street commissioner, a board of health, and in some cases a police justice and other officers. The president and trustees are always elected by the voters of the village. The board of trustees is the legislative body and has general powers over the finances, public buildings, pavements, streets, fire protection, drains, water supply, as well as considerable ordinance power relating to peace and good order, amusements, parades, fast driving, improper noises, vulgar language and conduct, malicious mischief, railroad crossings, and miscellaneous matters. This process of incorporation and this form of government, with minor modifications, are quite generally followed in the other states.
1 See Readings, p. 560.
2 See Fairlie, op. cit., p. 49.
Centralization of Administration Local autonomy, or exemption of communities from interference on the part of central authorities was one of the shibboleths of a certain school of publicists in the nineteenth century. It originated in France and England, where the rising bourgeoisie found the centralized monarchical institutions, principally in the hands of the landed classes, particularly irksome and undemocratic. It was heartily approved in the United States, where economic conditions, especially before the industrial revolution, favored a highly developed localism, and it hardened into a dogma to the effect that interference with local institutions was a species of original sin to be fought on principle and on all occasions. Under the circumstances, undoubtedly, this dogma had its justification, but circumstances have changed since 1850. Affairs that were once of purely local concern have become of state-wide and even national importance. It does not matter much to neighboring counties whether any particular county keeps the weeds cut along the roadside ? or allows the pound fences to fall into decay, but in these days of swift and constant intercommuni
1 There are, in New York, some rather large villages of more than 5000 inhabitants.
* Even this is scarcely true, for the spread of weeds is not limited to county lines.
cation it does matter whether the county safeguards its inhabitants against contagious diseases, assesses its property for state taxation fairly, keeps its highways in order, allows the children to grow up in ignorance, or permits manufactories to pollute the streams.
As a result of increasing state-wide interests, there has come inevitably a demand for more state supervision over local institutions. We now have state boards of health with large powers over local sanitary arrangements, food and dairy products, water supplies, and other matters affecting the health of the state generally. We have state factory and mining inspectors, railway commissions, highway boards, charity and correctional boards and officers, tax supervisors, excise commissioners, and educational officials. Only recently Ohio has sought to standardize the whole system of local finances and to secure efficiency and honesty in local financial administration by instituting a state bureau of inspection. State legislatures are more and more subjecting local authorities to uniform standards in the matter of education, sanitation, highways, and finance. Consequently, through both legislative and executive centralization, local authorities are coming to assume almost purely administrative positions, as the subordinate authorities, carrying out a state-wide will on all matters of fundamental importance. The result has been good -- a steady and persistent elevation of the standards of civilization throughout our states.
1 See above, p. 501.
2 See Readings, p. 565; below, p. 713.