Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/November 1900/Municipal Government Now and a Hundred Years Ago

Popular Science Monthly Volume 58 November 1900  (1900) 
Municipal Government Now and a Hundred Years Ago by Clinton Rogers Woodruff



A HUNDRED years has wrought marvelous changes. The maps of Asia, Europe and America, of the world, have been changed. The United States of America has fought four wars and demonstrated her prowess on sea and land, at home and abroad. The country has grown from a handful of States strung along the Atlantic seaboard to a great and powerful nation, extending from sea to sea, conquering and subduing in its growth a mighty continent—the mightiest in its latent possibilities on the face of the globe. Commerce and industry and transportation have grown with equal, if not greater, strides, and the time is not far distant, if it has not already arrived, when America will dominate the world along these lines.

Our development thus far has been extensive; during the coming century it will be intensive. A few more decades and the partition of the globe among the world powers will be practically completed; then we shall be compelled to cultivate with closer attention and greater zeal and more care our resources. Intensive culture will succeed extensive cultivation. The great mechanical inventions of the nineteenth century have directly aided the extensive movement—the steam railway, the steamship, the telegraph, the cable, the telephone; the inventions of the next century will as directly aid the intensive movement—they will be designed to make the most of what we have.

Our political problems have also been problems of extension. First, the government and division of the Northwest Territory; then the acquisition and organization of the Louisiana Territory; of Florida; of Texas; of the Southwest Territory; of the Oregon country and California; then the settlement of the great question as to whether the country should be divided, and its reconstruction on the principle that it was one and indivisible; and latterly, Hawaii, Porto Rico and the Philippines. The political problems of the twentieth century will deal with questions of internal development and improvement. The government control, ownership and operation of the great natural monopolies, civil service and constitutional reforms will occupy the time and attention of our statesmen.

Our municipal growth and development during the past hundred years has likewise been along the lines of extension. Our cities have grown in numbers, population and territory. The figures are so familiar and have been so frequently exploited as to obviate the necessity of repetition. The papers are and have been full of Metropolitan Boston, Greater New York, Greater Chicago, Greater Jersey City, Greater Newark—Philadelphia has been Greater Philadelphia since 1854, when the Consolidation Act made the City and County of Philadelphia co-terminous. Indeed, municipal expansion seems to be quite as much the vogue, quite as much the logical sequence of events, quite as much the outgrowth of an inherent Anglo-Saxon instinct, as national expansion.

This development has not been confined to population and territory, but has extended to municipal functions as well. In 1800, if an American city provided for paving the streets and cleansing them of the grosser and fouler impurities; for a few night watchmen and a handful of constables; for cleaning and repairing the sewers and docks; and for lighting the streets with miserable oil-lamps, its 'Fathers' thought that they were performing their whole duty to the inhabitants.

According to a recent authority (Parsons, in 'Municipal Monopolies', 1898), the various courts of this country have decided that the following are now proper public purposes and proper objects of municipal control and ownership: "Roads, bridges, sidewalks, sewers, ferries, markets, scales, wharves, canals, parks, baths, schools, libraries, museums, hospitals, lodging houses, poorhouses, jails, cemeteries, prevention of fire, supply of water, gas, electricity, heat, power, transportation, telegraph and telephone service, clocks, skating-rinks, musical entertainments, exhibitions of fireworks, tobacco warehouses, employment offices."

We have made but a beginning, however, according to the testimony of another recent writer (Dr. Milo E. Maltbie, in 'Municipal Functions', page 784), who says:

"Whither is all this tending? Whatever a few years since may have been the answer suggested by conservatism, there is to-day but one, and that so obvious as scarcely to be questioned. The extension of municipal functions in the direction in which the city is to act as the servant of the individual has barely begun; and its scope, certain to be indefinitely increased in a comparatively near future, is to be measured only by the resources of developing invention and enterprise, so rapidly developing of late that their early realization will be such as to be unthinkable now. The individual will have cheap facilities for transport and communication. The product of his labor will be multiplied in advantage to him by the cooperation for which cities alone give a chance. He will not be left to the hard paths which chance may afford for education of his mind and his senses, but have this facilitated by every device of civilization. It is, therefore, natural, inevitable, indeed, that there should be provided for him first, water, the prime essential of life and health; next, the first of its conveniences—artificial light; later, those universal incidents of its growth—highway facilities (including power supply, as well as a clear path); and, finally, education and recreation."

The tremendous advances of municipal government during the present century can be best and most graphically demonstrated by a comparison of the respective budgets of a single city for the years 1800 and 1899. Let us take Philadelphia as an example. According to Allinson & Penrose, in their work on the 'Government of Philadelphia' (pages 115-116), the budget for the former year as contained in the ordinance of February 20, 1800, was as follows

To meet the deficiency of the tax of 1799 $1,315.44
Interest on water loan 4,200.00
Interest on debts due the banks 1,200.00
Purchase of paving stones and repair of old pavements 1,600.00
Repairs to unpaved streets, &c., paving intersections 2,400.00
For cleansing city 11,250.00
Cleansing and repairing sewers and docks 1,850.00
Lighting and watching the city 18,000.00
Repairs of pumps and wells 2,500.00
Regulating streets 400.00
Center Square improvements 1,650.00
Salaries of City Commissioners and clerk 2,800.00
Expenses of City Commissioners and clerk 100.00
Salaries to Mayor, Recorder, High Constable, clerks and messengers of Councils 3,000.00
Pay of constables for patrolling streets on the Sabbath day 156.00
Incidental expenses of Councils 600.00
Residuary fund for preventing and removing nuisances 4,478.56
Reimbursement from tax fund to corporate fund, 1799 165.92
Other advances by citizens 360.00
Salaries of clerks of markets 1,200.00
Menial service in markets 560.00
Repairs, &c. 700.00
Meeting contract engagements for maintenance of two steam engines 8,000.00
Total $68,485.92

The expenditures for 1899 (exclusive of the amounts appropriated for the maintenance of the county offices) were:

Mayor's Office $587,770.00
Bureau of Charities 500,308.00
Bureau of Correction 203,295.00
Department of Public Safety—
Director's Office 18,721.25
Bureau of Health 251,838.08
Bureau of Building Inspectors 46,636.75
Bureau of City Property 777,751.73
Electrical Bureau 1,118,017.78
Bureau of Boiler Inspection $15,650.00
Bureau of Fire 979,501.20
Bureau of Police 2,732,483.31
Department of Public Works—
Director's Office 27,963.49
Bureau of City Ice Boats 22,900.00
Bureau of Highways 3,343,789.92
Bureau of Street Cleaning 903,033.00
Bureau of Lighting 287,690.00
Bureau of Surveys 5,014,008.36
Bureau of Water 2,519,425.00
Board of Port Wardens 20,208.40
Board of Revision 147,255.00
Department of City Commissioners 921,054.50
Department of City Comptroller 60,249.52
Department of Law 155,490.00
Department of City Treasurer 4,416,867.43
Department of Clerks of Councils 140,237.95
Fairmount Park Commission 596,104.69
Reed Street Prison 87,172.25
Holmesburg Prison 84,307.43
Public Building Commission 1,011,194.43
Department of Receiver of Taxes 163,205.93
Department of Sinking Fund Commissioners 1,450.00
Department of Education 5,068,253.94
Nautical School of Pennsylvania 20,000.00
Department of Gas 5,921.54
Total $30,958,382.88

In the year 1897, $3,399,672.43 were appropriated to the Bureau of Gas; but in that year the city (through its Councils and the Mayor) leased the gas works to a private corporation, so that now the city has to maintain a department for inspection only.

The population in 1800 was 70,287, the budget $68,485.92; the per capita expense, therefore, 97 cents. The population in 1899 was approximately 1,115,000; the budget $30,958,382.88; the per capita expense, $27.76. This great increase is due mainly to the fact that the city does more for the citizen than it did one hundred years ago, and is constantly doing more, and partly to the fact that a much larger territory is covered.

In 1897 Philadelphia had 433 public schools, with 3,465 teachers; in 1800 there were none. In 1899 there were 2,191 policemen, commanded by 6 captains, 34 lieutenants, 196 sergeants, with 23 patrol wagons, and requiring an appropriation of $2,732,483.31; in 1800 there was a handful of constables, paid out of an appropriation of $18,000 'for lighting and watching the city', and another of $156 for 'patrolling streets on the Sabbath day' In 1899 there were 46 fire engines, 32 combination wagons and chemical engines, 15 chemical engines, 13 hooks and ladders, 15 hose carts, manned by 736 firemen, including 1 chief, 8 assistant chiefs and 57 foremen, and the appropriation for the whole bureau amounted to $979,501.20: in 1800 the city was dependent on volunteer fire companies of limited usefulness. In 1899 the sum of $1,118,017.78 was appropriated for electric lighting and $279,930.00 for gasoline lighting, and 19,417 gas lamps were lighted by the gas company; in 1800, $18,000 sufficed for 'watching and lighting" the city.

It is when we come to consider the activities of a bureau like the Electrical Bureau of Philadelphia, however, that we find the most amazing developments. I was about to say changes and advances, but there was nothing corresponding to it a century ago. Chief Walker, of the Electrical Bureau, in a recent report to the Director of Public Safety, summed up the situation in these words:

"Among the many bureaus in the department over which you so ably exercise the directorship, there is none, perhaps, whose duties are so varied and which embraces a system so diversified in its branches and which is required to be so persistently active, as the Electrical Bureau. Correspondents from other cities frequently ask what duties are concentrated in, and what knowledge is necessary to an effectual supervision of the affairs of the Electrical Bureau. An enumeration of the various duties assigned includes, among others, the Police Telegraph, the artery through which the orders and wishes of the officials of the executive branches of the municipality are transmitted, and the medium of communication for all municipal affairs requiring immediate attention; the Fire Signal System, over whose wires the signals are sent from localities threatened with the dangers of a conflagration; the Fire Alarm System, by means of which the signals received over the Fire Signal System are transmitted to those skilled and trained in the handling of the magnificent apparatus provided for the suppression of fire; the Fire Signal and Telephone System, a very efficient auxiliary to the Bureau of Fire, by means of which verbal communication is possible between the Chief of the Bureau and his aids, and which at the same time serves as an additional means of transmitting alarms to the Bureau of Fire; the Police Signal and Telephone System, by means of which the officials of the Bureau of Police are in almost constant touch with the patrolmen while on their respective beats, and which has proved its value many times over; the Trunk Line, between the local and long distance telephone exchanges entering the City Hall, which are of necessity under control of this office, centering at a switchboard in the operating room, where the necessary connections are made by employees of this bureau; the Telephone Service between the police stations and their sub-stations, by means of which the officers in charge of the district are in constant communication with their subordinates. The armories of the National Guards and the officers of the various hospitals are in direct communication with and the services connecting them are supervised and maintained by this bureau.

What might be termed the general municipal telephone system, embracing the system of inter-communication in City Hall and connections with all officers that are not yet installed therein, and all other municipal telephone connections are centered in and controlled by this bureau.

All electric lights authorized by Councils are located and their erection supervised by this bureau. Tests of electric lights so authorized and erected are made by us, and if not up to contract standard, deductions are made from the contracting companies' bills.

By ordinance of Councils, we are required to locate each and every pole for telegraph, telephone, electric light, trolley, or whatever electrical purpose, to issue a license for the same, for which, with the exception of the trolley poles, a fee payable at the City Treasury is charged. No poles or wires can be erected within the city limits without a permit issued from this bureau, describing its location, if a pole, and its direction, if a wire.

All conduits for municipal electrical purposes authorized by Councils are laid by this bureau, as are cables necessary for the connection of the various municipal electrical services. All scientific electrical tests of cables are also made by this bureau.

As a member of the Board of Highway Supervisors, the Chief of the Bureau is required to pass upon the location and position of all electrical constructions under and over the highways, and to approve of the materials used and the methods employed in its installation and maintenance. All minor details of electrical construction necessary to the needs of a municipality are formulated and carried forward to successful completion."

Surely a wonderful work; unheard of, yes—I venture to say, unthought of, in the mind of the most imaginative thinker a century ago!

Search we never so carefully, we can find nothing in the budget or reports of 1800, or for those of many years later, which in anywise approaches or approximates this work—for the simplest of reasons—that electricity had not as yet been harnessed to bring the distant near and to eliminate space. Fancy the constable of 1800 communicating every hour with his headquarters without leaving his beat; or having an alarm of fire sounded simultaneously in every section of the city, no matter how remote! Imagine the look of incredulity which would descend upon a citizen who was told that he could be placed in communication with a city official in less than a minute and without leaving his office!

Our municipalities have grown and have developed along extensive lines to an unexpected degree, and the same factors that have been at work in our national development in the same direction have been at work in our municipal development, and the same observation will apply—the next century's development in our cities will be along intensive lines. Already, we see the tide setting in this direction. Take, for instance, the growing demand for charter reform. During the expansive period of a city, everything is sacrificed to size and numbers; the form and methods of government are considered as of secondary importance. When this period is passed there comes a time when the necessity for a conscious adjustment of the form of government to the new conditions and environment becomes paramount; then follows the demand for a new charter; and charter amendments and charter conventions become the order of the day.

Recognizing that we had reached this stage of our development, the National Municipal League, at its Louisville meeting, held in 1897, adopted the following resolution:

"Resolved, That the Executive Committee appoint a committee of ten to report on the feasibility of a municipal program, which will embody the essential principles that must underlie successful municipal government, and which shall also set forth a working plan or system, consistent with American industrial and political conditions, for putting such principles into practical operation; and such committee, if it finds such municipal program to be feasible, is instructed to report the same, with the reasons therefor, to the League for consideration."

The committee thus authorized presented its preliminary report at the Indianapolis Conference for Good City Government in 1898, and its final report to the Columbus Conference in 1899. While it is fully aware that its "recommendations do not constitute the last word on the subject, nevertheless the fact that a body of men of widely divergent training, of strong personal convictions, and who approached the matter in hand from essentially different points of view, could and did come to unanimous agreement that a 'Municipal Program' was feasible and practicable, and by fair and full comparison of opinion were able to embody the result of their agreement in definite propositions, is a hopeful augury." This committee realized that "good government is not to be achieved at a stroke, nor do we exaggerate the importance of the form of governmental organization as a factor contributory to this end. Civic advance in general, and municipal efficiency in particular, are the result of a combination of forces, of which higher standards of public opinion and lofty civic ideals are the most important."

Another sign of the times is the formation of organizations like the League of American Municipalities, the State Leagues of Municipalities, the American Society of Municipal Improvements, the National Association of Municipal Electricians, the various societies of fire and police and other municipal officials. These indicate that those who are actually and directly responsible for the administration of municipal government are awakening to their responsibilities, to the need of conference to advance the interests committed to their care. The time was, and that not very far distant, when the principal rivalry between cities was confined to population figures and extent of territory. Now a healthful and auspicious competition based on efficiency is springing up, and such societies and organizations as those to which I have referred foster and encourage this tendency.

We have only to examine the program of conventions such as that held under the auspices of these societies to be convinced of the earnestness and sincerity of purpose of their sponsors. Hard practical questions of municipal administration are to the front. The men come together to exchange views and ideas as to how to conduct certain lines of municipal business—not to listen to useless, though perhaps graceful, oratory and senseless bombast and adulation. Some may decry conventions; but certainly not such as serve so useful a purpose as those conducted under the associations already mentioned. They are a sign of the times—a most auspicious sign of the times. Do you read anywhere a century ago that the mayors or aldermen or constables of that time came together to confer about municipal affairs? We may not hear of them a century hence, because they may have performed their function and gone the way of other good and useful means to an end; but at this time they indicate the change taking place in our development; the change in emphasis.

I do not propose to indulge in prophecy. I am not so gifted with foresight as to be able to peer into the future and read its message. I can only express a personal opinion as to the possible result of present tendencies, based upon a study of present and past developments. I have already indicated what I believe will be the greatest change, that from extensive to intensive growth and development, and with this will come a great amelioration of many of the present-day evils.

The instinct for territorial expansion gratified, the various world powers and their possessions will tend more and more to assume a condition of permanent equilibrium. Great armaments and vast armies will become less and less necessary. Economic causes plus political necessity plus moral growth will gradually result in the substitution of mediation, arbitration and conciliation for warfare and bloodshed. Already the beginning of this substitution is at hand. We have the Argentine-Italian treaty providing for the submission of practically every difficulty to arbitration; similar treaties under consideration; and the Delagoa Bay arbitration has just been completed.

The accomplishment of these ends will result in a transfer of political energy and ability. Constructive statesmanship, liberated from considerations of expansion and colonization, will be free to devote itself to the great questions of internal improvement. Our municipalities will correspondingly benefit and will have at their command that genius and that ability which seem to be a chief characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race, but which hitherto have been absorbed by national and international activities.

Civil service reform, which lies at the very foundation of efficient government, will become an accomplished fact from the very necessity of things. A century ago there was no need for it, because the number of offices was so small and the interests involved practically so limited. A century hence the number of offices will be so great and the interests so vast, that it will be an impossibility to administer them upon any other basis. Public opinion on fundamental political questions changes slowly; but already we see evidences that there is a growing resentment to the use of public office to pay political debts. The business instinct of the people is slowly but surely asserting itself to the same end. There is a growing appreciation of the fact that an electrical bureau or an engineering bureau or a survey bureau cannot be successfully and efficiently conducted on a spoils basis.

No one doubts or denies that municipal reform is to-day a great and pressing problem, constantly attracting more and more attention and bidding fair, in the course of advancing years, to become a dominating one. When we have accomplished what we are now striving for—civil service reform, the elimination of State and national politics from the consideration of municipal affairs, the conduct of the latter upon enlightened principles, the extension of educational facilities, municipal reform will choose other objects for its end; otherwise, America would not be true to its Anglo-Saxon heritage. One reform achieved, then the Anglo-Saxon presses forward to another. He would not be true to his instinct if he did not. We may not, and I for one believe we shall not, be discussing civil service reform, ballot reform, municipal ownership, a century hence; nor will a National Municipal League perhaps be needed to preach the doctrine of an aroused civic consciousness. These will be accomplished facts, if we may judge of the future by the past and present—but none of these things will come to pass unless every one who now feels the obligations of his political duties is true to the best that is within him. The secret of the greatness of America and England in the civilization of the world is that there has always been a sufficient number of men to respond when a Nelson said, 'England expects every man to do his duty.' Whenever that day passes, then the greatness of the Anglo-Saxon race shall have departed.