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of incorporation for municipalities, similar to that provided for banks and other commercial or industrial corporations. The corruption and demoralization wrought by the practice of special acts of incorporation for such institutions, was so great that a peremptory stop had to be put to it. But all efforts to procure the provision of a framework of city government in the Constitution of 1846 were fruitless. It made the suffrage universal, strengthened the provisions for the protection of private property against schemes of city improvement; but here it stopped It left every city in the State at the mercy of the legislature, as regarded the creation or alteration of its charter-a tremendous oversight, as the result has proved.
But it was the legitimate result of the then state of opinion touching the relation of cities to the State. The country had had no experience of large cities. The assemblage of large masses of men in one spot, with peculiar needs in the way of police and sanitation, was a somewhat novel idea to the American mind. Boston was governed as a town down to 1825, and the pigs ran loose in the streets of New York down to 1840. It is very doubtful whether at that time, even if there had been any disposition to provide a general constitutional framework of city government, men could have been found competent to draft it, particularly as there was a strong disinclination in the Conventions of 1821 and 1846, to follow European models, even if there had been good European models to follow. But the work of municipal reform had only begun in Europe about 1830, and in fact there was more or less darkness through the whole world touching city government. The idea that the city was a stronghold, had not wholly given place to the idea of the city as a centre of great social and intellectual activity, and of commerce and industry. But it must also be said that there was not at that period any disposition on the part of the legislature to impose on cities any special form of its own devising. The principle of local self-government was
on the whole respected. Down to 1822, the mayor, as well as some other city officers, was appointed by the Executive at Albany, as he had been from Colonial days. But in that year the power of appointing him was made over to the Common Council, composed of the aldermen and assistant aldermen. In 1834, he was made elective by the people, but the legal people in the city at that period consisted, first of freemen or freeholders, and after 1834 of persons who had resided for six months within the city limits, and occupied a tenement worth $25.00 annually. In 1842 all restrictions in the suffrage were swept away. These were concessions made by the legislature to the growing democratic feeling. With the exact form the charter was to take it did not interfere. Changes in the city charter were made by conventions elected by the city voters, who submitted their work to the popular vote, before asking the legislature to convert it into a law. One such convention was held in 1829, another was held in 1849. They were composed of the leading men in the city, and their debates were long and serious, and their work treated with a reverence which we now find it difficult to understand. The Common Council of New York in 1835, solemnly requested Chancellor Kent to prepare a treatise on "the powers and duties of the mayor, aldermen and assistant aldermen, under the charter of 1829," and he composed a good sized volume on the subject. He reminds the aldermen and the assistant aldermen, that "their trust is one of the gravest responsibility," that "they are bound to give a regular and punctual attendance at the board, and to discharge the duties which devolve on each member, diligently, intelligently and impartially." The assistant aldermen differed in the main from the aldermen in having no judicial or magisterial powers; they were simply the lower house of the municipal legislature, but one who knows Common Councils in our day reads with a smile the Chancellor's observation that, "the office would be pleasant and desirable to persons of leisure, of intelligence and of disinterested zeal
for the wise and just regulation of the public concerns of the city."
This failure to provide for the incorporation of cities under a general law, which has been so disastrous for the city and State of New York, is not general throughout the Union. It is only the following States which have still special powers of incorporation: New York, Michigan, California, Minnesota, Oregon, Louisiana, Nevada, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas and Alabama. The result of the absence of such a law in New York is that every legislature nowadays does something to tinker the charter, and in fact the tinkering of the charter is one of the principal moves in the game of politics as played in Albany. Since 1836, alterations in the charter have been made by legislation, without consulting the voters of the city, and without any official application of the corporation, in 1840, 1842, 1845, 1846, 1849, 1850, 1852, 1853, 1857, till we get down to the Tweed charter in 1870, which was in some respects an improvement on it predecessors, but was passed, without difficulty, for knavish purposes. In 1873, after his overthrow, the present or "reform charter" as it is called, has undergone many changes, but it is difficult without much research to separate them from the mass of general legislation. The two most important ones are the release of the mayor from the obligation to get his appointments to office confirmed by the Board of Aldermen, and the introduction of the competitive system into the selection of candidates for a large number of the minor offices. The reform charter, too, has made a change of which few people outside know anything, but which is, I think, a very ingenious device for the satisfaction both of popular suffrage and property. The assistant aldermen who were once the lower house of the city legislature have wholly disappeared. The aldermen, however, have been preserved. But their powers of legislation have been taken away from them. They have now only two powers— the bestowal of franchises on corporations which have to use
the streets in pursuing their business, and the granting of licenses to itinerant and sidewalk venders. Over the taxes they have no control whatever. They do not originate the city budget, and their approval of it is not necessary.
The law obliges the mayor to submit it to them, and allows them to make any observations on it they please, but they never make any, and nobody would pay attention to them if they did. Their power to grant franchises, is, I believe, a matter of some dispute among lawyers, but as the consent of the residents along the line of the proposed improvements, and of the Supreme Court, is necessary to its effectiveness, the aldermen's share in the matter is, as a rule, insignificant. The most important application ever made to them for a franchise was that of the promoters of the Broadway Railroad in 1887. The occasion proved so tempting, and their virtue so weak, that after they had granted it three of them were tried and sent to the State Prison, and several others fled the country. The city estimates of receipts and disbursements are all made by what is called the Board of Apportionment, composed of the heads of different city departments sitting with the mayor, as a sort of financial council. Their resolutions are in all cases final. Every one must be struck by the skill of this arrangement. The aldermen are still elected by their districts, and receive-for the work they do, and the class from which they come, an enormous salary-$2000 per annum. The ambition of the local politicians is thus gratified, or satisfied, and they are furnished with a prize which makes ward politics interesting, and the voters are appeased by electing a branch of the old city legislature, at one time composed of the principal local notables. The device must certainly be considered a new departure in city government, but I think no one who has watched its work can help considering it a happy mode of saving the masses of property in a great city from the greed of a small body of needy, obscure and unscrupulous men. The Board of Apportionment is composed, as a rule, of men of a certain conspicuousness,
who are already performing important administrative functions, and through whose hands the great body of the taxes passes.
For the State legislature, the power of special legislation for the city must be considered extremely corrupting. The city of New York contains a very large body of what, to the legislature and to the class who fill them, are very highly paid officers. Consider what $8000 a year for ten years as a police justice, must be to a "tough," or loafer whose highest ambition in life has been the keeping of a good groggery, or a small court clerkship; or $12,000 a year as a health officer to a physician whose practice was confined to the treatment of a few servant girls. Over these offices and scores of others like them the legislature has complete control. It can create or abolish them, raise or reduce the salaries, lengthen or shorten the terms, and something of this sort it does at every session. Besides this power it has the still more moneymaking power, which it also exercises at every session, of "striking" the city corporations by proposals for the increase of their taxes, or interference of some kind with their business. Consider for a moment the effect of finding themselves in possession of such powers, on a body composed, as the legislature is in the main, of small traders, or farmers, or village lawyers, who are generally needy, or they would not go into politics, and who look on their term of service as a chance of fortune which may never, and rarely does, come to them again.
There is one thing connected with modern democracy, which attracts comparatively little attention, but has a very important bearing on the problem of municipal government, as well as of State government, which it seems proper to mention here. That is, that our modern experiment in democratic government is really an experiment in the government of rich communities by poor men. This experiment has never been tried before. In the medieval and ancient world, as a rule, the rich were the governors; the men of