Page:Democracy in America (Reeve, v. 1).djvu/124

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This state of things is so contrary to our ideas, and so different from our customs, that it is necessary for me to adduce some examples to explain it thoroughly.

The public duties in the township are extremely numerous, and minutely divided, as we shall see further on; but the larger proportion of administrative power is vested in the hands of a small number of individuals, called “the Selectmen[1].”

The general laws of the State impose a certain number of obligations on the selectmen, which they may fulfil without the authorization of the body they represent, but which they can only neglect on their own responsibility. The law of the State obliges them, for instance, to draw up the list of electors in their townships; and if they omit this part of their functions, they are guilty of a misdemeanour. In all the affairs, however, which are determined by the town-meeting, the selectmen are the organs of the popular mandate, as in France the Maire executes the decree of the municipal council. They usually act upon their own responsibility, and merely put in practice principles which have been previ-

  1. Three selectmen are appointed in the small townships, and nine in the large ones.—See ‘The Town Officer,’ p. 186. See also the principal laws of the State of Massachusetts relative to the selectmen:

    Act of the 20th February, 1786, vol. i. p. 219; 24th February, 1796, vol. i. p. 488; 7th March, 1801, vol, ii. p. 45; 16th June, 1795, vol. i. p. 475; 12th March, 1808, vol. ii. p. 186; 28th February, 1787, vol. i. p. 302; 22nd June, 1797, vol. i. p. 539.