American Institutions And Their Influence (1851) by Alexis De Tocqueville, John C. Spencer

By Alexis De Tocqueville, John C. Spencer

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539. ] The general laws of the state impose a certain number of obligations on the selectmen, which may they fulfil without the authorization of the body they govern, 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 the townships; and if they omit this part of their functions, they are guilty of a misdemeanor. 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.

Municipal institutions are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people's reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions it cannot have the spirit of liberty. The transient passions, and the interests of an hour, or the chance of circumstances, may have created the external forms of independence; but the despotic tendency which has been repelled will, sooner or later, inevitably reappear on the surface.

86. ] clerks were directed to keep these registers;[Footnote: See Hutchinson's History, vol. , p. [Footnote: Ibid, p. 40. ] The law enters into a thousand useful provisions for a number of social wants which are at present very inadequately felt in France. But it is by the attention it pays to public education that the original character of American civilisation is at once placed in the clearest light. "[Footnote: Code of 1650, p. 90. ] Here follow clauses establishing schools in every township, and obliging the inhabitants, under pain of heavy fines, to support them.

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