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History is past Politics and Politics present History.-Freeman




Reprinted from the Fortnightly Review



BY E. R. L. GOULD, A. B.

Read before the Pennsylvania Historical Society, May 1, 1882



JANUARY, 1883.






Ir is difficult to approach the study of the political systems to-day in operation in the new Western States without a feeling that they are wholly artificial and superimposed inventions rather than growths. Such preconceptions must in good measure yield before a study of the simple facts. Artificial and mathematical as is that checker-board system of local geography which a township map of Illinois depicts, it nevertheless furnishes metes and bounds for local governments which are neither novel nor experimental, but are transplanted scions from older growths of Anglo-Saxon communal life, which have already taken firm root in prairie soil and have easily adapted themselves to the modifying influences of the new environment. It must be remembered that the prairie farmer is descended from people who for centuries have had the habit of attending to their own local affairs; and that with all his fondness for paper constitutions and minute written laws, he is but re-enacting, under modified forms, the social arrangements under which the AngloSaxon usually insists upon living, wherever you transplant him. The safeguards and maxims of the common law are as truly the heritage of the young Anglo-Saxon in the Mississippi Valley as of his cousin on the Severn or the Thames.

The precise forms under which the people of Illinois are to-day governing themselves have been largely shaped by certain facts in the history of the State, and will be best understood in the light of a preliminary historical sketch.

Migration from the Atlantic States to the interior and Western States has always followed the parallels of latitude.


Illinois is a remarkable illustration of this tendency. A glance at the map will show that the State's greatest length (nearly four hundred miles) is from north to south; and that the parallels which mark its northern and southern limits include the sea-board States from New Hampshire to North Carolina. Naturally, then, Southern Illinois derived its population from Virginia and other Southern States, while Northern Illinois was chiefly settled from Massachusetts and other New England States. The inquiry into the habits and opinions of government which these people brought with them to their new homes must carry us a step further back.

M. de Tocqueville, who made his survey of American institutions at a time when the migratory tide was setting strongly toward Illinois, and when her institutions were in a formative stage, says that "two branches may be distinguished in the Anglo-American family, which have grown up without entirely commingling-the one in the north, the other in the south." New England had been colonized by men who were, in the language of the same writer, "neither lords nor common people, neither rich nor poor." A people so similar in education, so agreed in religious beliefs, and so equal in property and in social rank, formed the best material for a pure democracy that the world had ever seen. Gradually they covered New England with a congeries of small self-governing agricultural communities, each with a strongly individual character, and bearing some striking resemblances to the ancient Teutonie "mark." Qualifications for the exercise of political privileges were not onerous, and the whole body of qualified citizens were accustomed to assemble in "town meetings," where they elected officers, discussed neighborhood interests, made laws, and voted taxes. Even when, after the separation from England, the State governments had become firmly established, the towns were still permitted to make and administer most of those laws which were of immediate concern to them. The legislature of the State was composed of representatives from the towns, and made laws which affected the towns only in matters of common interest. Such State laws, furthermore, were executed

by the town officers. within their respective jurisdictions. The New England county was an aggregation of towns to constitute a judicial district, wherein might be maintained a judiciary establishment midway between the justices' courts of the towns and the superior court of the State. The county had no very distinct political character. As a whole, the New England system was one highly localized both in administration and in authority.

In Virginia the structure of society, was radically dif ferent. Opposed to the small freeholds of New England, we find from the beginning a tendency to mass the land in large estates. The institution of slavery, which always dishonors and degrades free labor, forbade the growth of a strong middle class. The wealthy planter had no interest in common with his tenants and servants. The communal life of village or neighborhood could not develop under such an industrial system. The planter was a sort of feudal lord on his own domain, and local self-rule by majorities found no place. We find territorial divisions, but chiefly for convenience in limiting the jurisdiction of courts, collecting State taxes, and holding State elections. The State Government was the centre both of authority and administration. The Governor appointed all justices of the peace throughout the State. The justices residing in any county constituted a county court, which, in addition to judicial functions, was intrusted with the management of all the county business. This court co-operated with the Governor in appointing sheriff and coroner. It appointed constables and road commissioners, levied taxes, and when the State had made some provision for schools, the county court appointed the board of school commissioners. A landed aristocracy thus became the State's fiscal agents, the local magistrates, and the sole managers of county affairs. The subdivisions of the county for elections, schools, and care of paupers, were mere partitions of territory, without political significance.

These two diverse systems of New England and Virginia were destined to meet and to strive for supremacy in Illinois. Though Illinois forms a part of the vast territory claimed

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