THE New England Town Meeting
of the 17th century was the genesis of civil government in the United States.
The early English colonists inaugurated an original system of local self-government
in this country when they organized themselves into separate societies
or bodies for maintaining law and order. The "community of interest" idea
was apparently the primary motive for organizing these primitive municipal
governments. Each one was independent of the other because the wilderness
separated them and stockades limited their boundaries. Every settlement
was a religious as well as a civil body politic, with a church as its center.
The people constituted the law-making power and frequently met to discuss
affairs of common interest. These meetings were presided over by a moderator
elected for that purpose, and the will of the people was executed by officers
annually elected at the town meeting.
The towns experienced expansion
as the Indians retired into the Wilderness, and the townships were gradually
extended over a rural area of several square miles.
The evolution of this original
system of town government established in the colonies was the foundation
upon which the State was built as well as the Nation. Vermont was known
as the wilderness until after the subjugation of Canada by the English.
There were settlements by the French and English in the territory now known
as the State of Vermont before the French and Indian Wars.
All of these settlements, however,
were in the nature of a military fort or outpost. The first organized form
of local government in the then New Hampshire Grants took place in 1762,
when the town of Bennington was organized under a charter granted by Bennington
Wentworth, in 1749. This was the beginning of organized Anglo-Saxon self-government
Bennington did not long enjoy
a municipal government alone, as numerous other townships were chartered
from time to time by Governor Wentworth. By 1764, Gov, Wentworth had issued
charters for one hundred and thirty townships in what is now the State
of Vermont. At the time of the admission of Vermont into the Union the
number of towns had increased to one hundred and eighty-five.
Soon after Vermont became an
independent State, the question of the disposition to be made of the ungranted
land in the State was taken up. During the session of 1779 the Legislature
formulated plans for the manner of making new grants. At the session of
the Legislature in 1780, about fifty new townships were chartered. Charters
continued to be granted for townships at the succeeding sessions of the
Legislature until, in 1791, when Vermont was admitted into the Union, one
hundred and eighty-five towns were on the map of Vermont. In 1850 there
were two hundred and forty-four towns and one city in the State. Since
that time a number of towns have been effaced from the map of Vermont by
There are 240 towns and 6 cities
in the State. Vermont was one of the first of the New England States to
have a city within its boundaries. The Vermont Legislature, in 1788, incorporated
the town of Vergennes with city privileges, and an organization was effected
under this charter March 12, 1789. It was not however, until July, 1794,
that a city government was organized in Vergennes under this act. Thus
it was that Vergennes became a city thirty years before Boston, which maintained
its town organization until 1824.
For a period of seventy years
Vergennes enjoyed the distinction of being the only city in Vermont.
In 1865 Burlington became a
city. From that period until 1892 no other city was incorporated. The legislature
of 1892 passed an act incorporating the city of Rutland, in 1893 the third
city was added to the list. Montpelier and Barre were incorporated as cities
and their city government were organized the following year. The charter
for, the incorporation of the city of St. Albans was passed in 1896, and
St. Albans became a city in 1897. The acts incorporating some of these
cities resulted in the readjustment of boundary lines and the organization
of six new, towns viz: So. Burlington, Rutland, W. Rutland, Proctor, Barre
and St. Albans, making a net gain of three towns.
The State also has within
its borders 43 incorporated villages and 57 incorporated school districts.
Thus, it will be seen, that four systems of municipal government exist
in Vermont-town, city, village and school representing 346 independent
municipalities, each having a separate corporate life.
Municipal Government in Vermont
is the subject of a series of articles to appear monthly in THE VERMONTER
in 1902. These chapters will be devoted to the history of the municipal
government of each of the six cities in the State. Each chapter will recite
the facts connected with the incorporation and organization of these cities
and tell the story of the conduct of public affairs up to the present time.
The character of the public works and of the schools, streets, sidewalks,
water works, sewers, etc., will be described. The growth in population,
the property valuation, the rate of taxation and the financial condition
of each city, will be noted by years. A complete list of mayors aldermen
and other city officers from the time the city was organized, up to 1902,
will also be included ill this history. Each chapter will be illustrated
with half tone portraits of the present mayor aldermen and other city officers,
and the ex-Mayors. There will also be illustrations of public buildings
and works, and snaps showing the streets of each city. A notable feature
of this history will be brief articles on the problems of municipal government
and the best methods of conducting city affairs. These papers will be contributed
by present or former mayors of Vermont cities. The subjects to be discussed
are as follows:
Non-partisanship in Municipal
Affairs; Value of Franchises to a City; How to Secure the Best City Officials;
Proper Limitations to City; What Authority should be vested in a Mayor
and a City Council.
George W. WING, 1895; George O. STRATTON, 1896; George H. GUERNSEY, 1897;
John H. SENTER, 1898, 1899; Joseph G. BROWN, 1900, 1901; James M. BOUTWELL,
by Karima, 2002