The Corporate City: The American City as a Political Entity, 1800-1850 - Vol. 1

The Corporate City: The American City as a Political Entity, 1800-1850 - Vol. 1

The Corporate City: The American City as a Political Entity, 1800-1850 - Vol. 1

The Corporate City: The American City as a Political Entity, 1800-1850 - Vol. 1


The first of a four-volume series on the "Emergence of American Urbanism," this book begins the comparative study of U.S. urban development during the first half of the 19th century. Breathtaking in its comprehensiveness, its survey and comparisons of early urban politics is without parallel. The study is based on a thorough examination of fifteen cities--Albany, Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Charleston, Cincinnati, Louisville, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Providence, St. Louis, and Washington. This group of cities--the fifteen largest in 1850--provides a good mix of northern and southern, eastern and western, old and new, and fast- and slow-growing urban centers. This first volume deals with the city as a corporate entity and contains chapters on urban governmental structures, government finance, politics and elections, urban political leadership, the city plan and city planning, intergovernmental relations, and urban mercantilism.


The important thing about the political entity called a city (or town, or village, or borough, for that matter) is, of course, that it is a legal person and can do things that its residents could do individually, but not jointly (when not so incorporated) without great risk. It can buy, sell, and hold property; it can sue and be sued; it can borrow money. Moreover, the incorporation of the city enables it to do things that its residents could not do at all, individually or jointly, without incorporation. It can tax its residents and nonresident property holders and entrepreneurs; it can require residents and visitors to take (or not to take) prescribed action; and it can punish by fines and imprisonment failure to conform to these requirements.

Influencing all of these actions, during the period under consideration in this volume were a number of variables. Among them were the structure of this political entity, the ways in which its powers were distributed, and specific authorizations and restrictions concerning its actions. Particularly important were the ways in which it employed its most important tool--money. And an exploration of the way it raised its revenues and apportioned its expenditures tells us much about each of these political entities.

But the decisions on these matters, though reached corporately, were the aggregation of individual wills and wisdom, beliefs and biases, achievements and aspirations of the elected municipal officials. In turn, these attitudes and circumstances were shaped and modified by the life experiences (both in and out of office) of these people and the political process that brought them to office and shaped their conscious political environment.

The ability of both the corporate entity called the city and the officials that directed that entity to make choices and to put those choices into action was profoundly and continually influenced by other political entities--both coordi-

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