The New Student's Reference Work/Town-Meetings

Town-Meet′ings are held annually in the New England towns for general discussion, the election of officials and the voting of taxes. A town in New England does not necessarily mean a small city; but, rather, a unit for the administration of local government, often mainly rural. The township system is much more important in New England than elsewhere. It dates from the days of independent, local governments by the Pilgrim Fathers and the Puritans, when the town was essentially the church, and the church was almost the state. The New England town-church was intensely democratic. Thus the town-meeting as still practiced in New England affords the most perfect example of a completely democratic government. All the legal voters of the town may appear, and discharge the duties of government, as in some of the Swiss cantons, not through their representatives but in person. The colonial legislatures left the townships to govern themselves almost without interference, except where the colonial laws might happen to be transgressed. Town-meetings were at one time held about once a month; and even now special meetings in addition to the annual meeting are occasionally held. But the usual type of town-meeting is that which meets annually, elects a committee of selectmen and such officials as the town-clerk, the tax-assessors, the treasurer, the school-trustees and the overseers of the poor. The officials so named may themselves constitute the board of selection. The New England town-meetings resemble the Old-English town-moot; but seem not to have been direct imitations of it.