THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
|HOME RULE THE HOPE OF MUNICIPAL DEMOCRACY|
By OSWALD RYAN
IF the final test of democracy in America is to come in the cities, as Jefferson phophesied in his "Notes on Virginia," it would seem that the test should at least be a fair one. Yet the municipal machinery of the average American state permits anything but a fair trial of the democratic principle. For, every student of contemporaneous municipal conditions knows that, barring those progressive communities that have adopted some form of commission government, city government is still cursed with the curse of divided responsibility, is still in the hands of men who can not apply the rules of municipal efficiency because they are bound by the rules of the partisan game. In these cities men are still elected to office by national party organizations without regard to questions of local policy, and men are still appointed to municipal positions because of what they have done for their party rather than because of anything they can do for their city.
Deplorable as it is, the worst thing about this system of city government is that it is not the free choice of the cities that are the victims of it, but an imposition by an outside authority—the state legislature. For, under the ordinary state constitution, the city is not, in theory of law, a self-governing community, but a subject province exercising its limited powers by sufferance of the state legislature, and having this or that form of government as may be superimposed by the outside sovereign. The municipality does not even possess the right to its own existence; it exists only by grace of the state legislature, which, if it pleased to do so, could withdraw its lease of life at will.
Thus the city takes its right to existence, its form of government and its governmental powers from the state, and what the state can give the state can take away. The legal validity of any act by the city, such as the issuing of bonds, the contracting for a municipal waterworks or the granting of a municipal franchise, is not determined by the expressed desire of its citizens, but by the voice of the legislature as set out in some statute. The real seat of municipal authority, therefore, is not in the citizens, but in the state legislature; the city lives and moves and has its being in the will of the state. .
Under this system of constitutional law the cities exercise those powers that are enumerated in the state legislature grants, and only those powers. If the city wants to exercise a specific power of local