Technology and Society: The Influence of Machines in the United States

By S. Mckee Rosen ; Laura Rosen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
THE GROWING SERVICES OF MUNICIPAL
GOVERNMENT

Good City Government Recent

The average citizen has come to take government so much for granted that he is frequently unaware of its nature and growth. Yet, in coping with the numerous situations which have come with the rise of urbanism, government has without question expanded so as to play the leading role. Municipal government of one hundred years ago would be hardly recognizable today. Held down by state legislatures which were controlled largely by hostile agrarian interests, city government was extremely slow in getting started. The charter that gave to the city its corporate existence, that prescribed its powers and delimited its functions, was and still is granted by the state and the state alone. In addition, the early city grew up in an atmosphere of laissez-faire, largely devoid of any sense of social responsibility ; and the eighteenth-century system of checks and balances was the dominant style of statecraft. Little wonder that in its first stages city government was conditioned by a political impotence which had permeated the country as a whole.

Early functions of municipalities were confined mainly to the building of sidewalks and streets and to the provision of police and fire protection. The tax rate was low and the citizen expected and received small benefit from his municipality. Even as late as 1850 some American cities did not possess a graded street, a sidewalk, a water pipe, or a single public building. Street cleaning was done by the individual in front of his own home. Occupants of stores or of homes were obliged to place lamps at doorways during the first two hours of each dark night; this was the early lighting

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