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CHAPTER IV

RURAL LOCAL GOVERNMENT

25. Introductory. — We have learned that our state governments depend upon local public corporations, not only to look after local affairs, but also to enforce general state laws. The three most important of these public corporations are cities, counties, and towns or townships. City government is pretty much the same in all parts of the United States, and will be considered in later chapters of this book. This chapter has to do with rural local government; that is, government outside of cities. We shall first give some attention to rural local government in different sections of the United States, and then study the subject as applied to California.

SECTION 1.

RURAL LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN THE UNITED

STATES

26. The New England Plan. — In New England local government outside of cities is carried on by towns. Towns keep the roads and bridges in repair, give relief to the helpless poor, support schools, keep order, and do many other things that are looked after by counties in California. But it must be remembered that the word town as used in New England has a very different meaning from the same word as used in California. The territory of a New England state, outside of its cities, is all divided into towns, so that one cannot get out of a town in New England, except

by going into a city. The word as used in New England, in so far as it is applied to definitely bounded areas of territory, means the same thing as the word township as used in other parts of the United States. A town may have one or more villages within its borders, but most of its area is open country.

Every town has its town meeting, which is simply a mass meeting of voters. The town meeting is to a town what a city council is to a city; that is, it levies taxes, appropriates money, and passes local ordinances on matters of public interest. In addition to this it elects the town officers.

When a New England town becomes so thickly populated that the simple town government will not serve its purposes, it incorporates and becomes a city. A New England town is a quasi corporation; that is, it is governed by general state laws. Every city is of course governed by its charter. When a town incorporates, it gives up its town meeting and has a city council - a representative body — instead.

Towns are grouped together into counties, but New England counties have very little to do in comparison with California counties. They exist for scarcely any other purpose than to maintain superior courts. Each town has its local court to try petty cases, but cases of greater importance are tried in the county or superior courts.

27. The Southern Plan. — South of Mason and Dixon's line local government outside of cities is carried on by counties. The broad, level lands of the South Atlantic coast invited the first settlers of the country to a farming life. In New England the first immigrants from Europe settled in small villages and towns; in the South they spread out along the fertile river banks and settled on large planta

tions. Where people are widely scattered the county type of local government is the one best suited to their needs, and counties were established in these southern colonies at the outset. Everywhere in the South to-day counties are relied upon to look after rural local affairs.

A southern county is divided into judicial districts, sometimes called townships, for the purpose of electing justices of the peace and constables. These districts are not public corporations, as they do not possess the taxing power. They exist simply as areas in which inferior courts are located. The expenses of such courts are paid by the counties, or by fees which they collect.

28. Rural Local Government in the Middle Atlantic States. — In New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, both counties and towns, or townships, have a part in rural local government. Each state is divided into counties and each county into townships; and the work of keeping order, protecting life and property, caring for the roads, maintaining schools, etc., is divided by state law about equally between counties and townships, both of which are public corporations. This is called the compromise type of local government.

29. Rural Local Government in the Middle South and West. — People from the old southern states moved west with their slaves and built up new states on the broad plains north of the Gulf of Mexico. Land was abundant and fertile, and they settled on large plantations such as they had known in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. They naturally adopted the county type of local government, not only because it was the type best suited to their needs, but also because it was the type to which they had been accustomed.

To-day the work of local government outside of cities in all of our southern states is done by counties. Townships exist only for judicial purposes and do not have the powers of public corporations. The same is true of all of our western states where the population is widely scattered. To be exact, the county type prevails south and west of a line drawn along the southern boundary of Pennsylvania to the Ohio River; then down the Ohio to the Mississippi, and on to the southern boundary of Missouri; then west along the southern boundaries of Missouri and Kansas; and then north along the western boundaries of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

30. Rural Local Government in the Middle North. New Englanders moving into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and other states in the northern half of the Mississippi Valley found that the New England town, with its town meeting, could not easily be planted on the broad, level prairies of the West. They became farmers and lived farther apart than they had in New England; but, because of greater danger from the Indians, because of the difference in crops, and because of the absence of slaves, they did not settle on large plantations as had the cotton growers of the South. The county form of local government could have been made to answer their purposes, but they were not willing to give up the New England plan entirely. They therefore adopted the compromise plan of the Middle Atlantic states. Thus in each of these north-central states both counties and townships exist as public corporations, and the work of rural local government is divided between them by state law. The townships, unlike those in most other sections of the country, are six miles square. This is because the lines established by United States surveyors when they were

MERIDIAN

blocking the land off into “congressional townships," sections, and quarter sections, were later taken as boundary lines for these governmental townships.

NOTE. -A “congressional township "1 is six miles square and is divided into thirty-six sections. Each section contains six hundred and forty acres and is divided into quarter sections. These land divisions are found wherever the United States government has owned the public land; that is, in all the states except Vermont, Maine, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Texas, and the thirteen original states. They were intended only for the purpose of locating land, and are seldom used for any other purpose except in the northern part of the Mississippi Valley, where they have been adopted as territorial units in forming governmental townships. The student should observe that three kinds of townships have been

NORTH

A mentioned in this chapter: governmental town

B ships, found in New England and in the states

CORRECTION where the compromise type of local government prevails; judicial townships, found in the south and far west; and congressional townships. When

the

United States acquired Califor

D nia, the land not held in private ownership be

SOUTH came government land. Government surveyors

A, Township 7 North, Range 3 West.

B, Township 6 North, Range 1 East. were sent out to mark

C, Township i South, Range 4 West. off this land into con

D, Township 2 South, Range 4 East. gressional townships, sections, and quarter sections. They adopted Mt. Diablo as a starting point for central and northern California, and Mt. San Bernardino

1 “Surveyors' township" would be a more suggestive name.

LINE

WEST

PRINCIPAL

EAST

BASE

LINE

CIVIL GOV. IN CAL, - 5

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