Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Daniel Elazar Papers Index

American Political Culture

Territorial Democracy and the Metropolitan Frontier

The American Mosaic, Chapter 9

Daniel J. Elazar

No, my friend, the way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to everyone exactly the functions he is competent to do. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administrations of what concerns the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself, by placing under everyone what his own eye may super-intend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate. An I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that man shall never be free, (and it is a blasphemy to believe it), that the secret will be found to be in the making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetical process to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical. The elementary republics of the ward, the county republics, the State republics, and the republic of the Union, would from a gradation of authorities, standing each on the basis of law, holding every one its delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental balances and checks for the government.
    --Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, Feb. 2, 1816

In the previous chapters we saw how the peoples who came to America forged themselves into a single, if highly diverse, nation, spreading that diversity unevenly across the continent to give it a certain geographic basis. We also looked briefly at the way in which the nation's diversity has acquired local expression through the cultural streams and their political subcultural differences that stop considerably short of separate nationhood. (Even the South, the most distinctive of American sections, set of as it is by a set of distinct historical experiences, is not a separate nation.) Nevertheless, it is through territorial democracy that we can see how the political culture is manifest through political structure.

Territorial demography is closely linked with the principle of federalism in American life. Beyond that, it is the American expression of what popular writer Robert Ardrey has labelled the "territorial imperative."1 As noted at the very beginning of this book, living things, including humans, seem to have a need to stake out a territory of their own in which they feel secure to pursue their own interests and development. Here, too, the American system seems to have been designed to make a special effort to harmonize with human nature.

Territorial democracy as expressed through federalism is the American way to attempt to accommodate these human needs. Federalism also accommodates the need for a proper institutional framework for democratic self-government. In both respects, federalism is the integrating principle of the American polity. The patterns of religion, ethnicity, sectionalism, and political culture, as well as territoriality, find their expressions through the American federal system which has also come to play a critical role in the generational rhythm of American politics. In this chapter we will try to explore how the federal system functions in this manner.

A System of Systems

The realities of the American federal system only begin with the relations between the national government and the states. The states themselves are in many respects congeries of local communities, cities, school and special districts and, in some cases, townships or boroughs. In 1987, when they were last counted, there were 83,186 such local governments within the fifty states and the District of Columbia, as follows:2

  • 3,042 counties (called parishes in Louisiana and boroughs in Alaska) in every state but Connecticut and Rhode Island.

  • 19,200 municipalities (cities, boroughs, and incorporated towns) in all 50 states.

  • 16,691 townships (called towns in the six New England states, New York and Wisconsin; "plantations in some cases in Maine and "locations" in parts of New Hampshire); in 21 northern states.

  • 14,721 school districts in forty-six states (all except Hawaii, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia where all public schools are managed by general government bodies).

  • 29,885 special districts in every state but Alaska, most of which were created for natural resource management, fire protection, water supply and other public utilities.

Most Americans live within the jurisdiction of many local governments simultaneously. One student of American federalism identified the following constellation of jurisdictions to which citizens in the particularly well-endowed suburb of Park Forest south of Chicago paid taxes:

The United States of America
The State of Illinois
Cook (or Will) County
Cook County Forest Preserve District
Suburban Tuberculosis Sanitary District
Rich (or Bloom) Township
Bloom Township Sanitary District
School District 216 (or 213)
Rich Township High School District
Elementary School District 163
South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District3

All of these local governments, whether they are general purpose municipalities like the city of Chicago or very specialized districts like the South Cook County Mosquito Abatement District, are endowed with legal authority to act and possess substantial powers to translate that authority into reality to achieve the purposes for which they were created, whether broad or limited. Somehow all of these governments have to fit together in a system that will serve the differing needs of the American people in their various capacities -- as citizens of a single nation and fifty separate states, as residents of a single nation and fifty separate states, as residents of specific (and often complex) local communities, and as individuals with family and group ties. These different capacities reflect varying and at times contradictory loyalties and interests. Nevertheless, they are all parts of a system of systems built around the original and central political bargain that links the federal government and the states.

Territorial Democracy

Common to all these governments is a territorial base that is, their jurisdiction extends over a particular piece of territory with definite boundaries. Now it is true that modern governments in general tend to organize themselves territorially so as to encompass all people resident within them equally. In other epochs, governmental jurisdictions were designed to encompass particular estates, ethnic communities, socio-economic groups (guilds) or castes. The modern nation-state developed as apart of an effort to do away with such forms.

Here, too, the United States is the epitome of modernism, having never organized its population otherwise. In fact, the American situation is just the reverse of the pre-modern experience. Americans have frequently utilized territorial divisions to make possible the autonomy of particular groups rather than give those groups autonomy within shared territories, precisely because of the principle that equality of political attachment should prevail within every territorial jurisdiction.

The system of territorial democracy was further reinforced by the agrarian foundations of American society. The country was initially settled by people who earned their livelihood from the land, most as farmers living on territorially bounded economic unites. It was natural for them to base their new governments on larger territorial units, each, in effect, an aggregation of the smaller units within its compass.

Not only were the governmental units organized on a territorial basis, but representation within them was also territorially based. Representatives were elected from districts, either following the political boundaries of constituent units or drawn specially for the particular purpose at hand. As political parties emerged, they developed parallel bases for their organization.

The traditions of federalism combined with those of an agrarian society have shaped political organizations in the United States in a territorial mold. Hence, American politics is organized around units of territory rather than economic or ethnic groups, social classes, or the like. All such groups gain formal representation in the councils of government through their location in particular places and their ability to capture political control of territorial units. Alexis de Tocqueville described the situation in the following manner in his classic Democracy in America:

In New England, townships were completely and definitely constituted as early as 1650. The independence of the township was the nucleus round which the local interests, passions, rights, and duties collected and clung. It gave scope to the activity of a real political life, thoroughly democratic and republican.4

The phrase "territorial democracy" was coined by the American journalist and political analyst Orestes Brownson in the 1850s. He wrote that "the United States of America form a republic in which territorial democracy prevails...." Brownson contrasted territorial with "Jacobin democracy," the infatuation with an abstract, infallible People, and the concentration of "popular" power in an absolute, centralized government. In contrasting territorial with Jacobin democracy, Brownson used the terms almost as a synonym for federalism. In theory, the two are not quite the same but in the American system, where federal democracy is expressed in the main through territorial divisions, they come very close to coinciding.5

More recently, Professor Russell Kirk revived the concept in somewhat different form.6 Contemporary experts on the political party system, emphasizing the degree to which both access and representation7 in the American political system are interwoven with the country's territorial divisions. The struggle over reapportionment in the eleventh generation was a dramatic example of how this is so. Since territorial districts form the basis for political life, the character of those districts is necessarily of central importance. The drive for legislative reapportionment after World War II culminated in a series of landmark decisions by the United States Supreme Court starting in 1962 with the case of Baker v. Carr.8 This decision was based on the view that a system of state legislative and congressional districts, which in most states had gone unchanged for decades, or, if changed, had been done without achieving population parity, was inherently undemocratic because it denied citizens equal access.9

On the other hand, the argument against basing apportionment strictly on equal population, or one-person, one-vote, also has its roots in a conception of territorial democracy which holds that pluralism is protected by the use of territorial divisions to protect specific groups, interests, or ways of life. This argument hold that there are polities, groups or interests that deserve or require representation regardless of whether they meet the minimum population requirements -- farmers who need protection in an urban society, blacks who need representatives of their own among a white majority, people from small cities in a metropolitan environment -- and that the apportionment system must take them into account.

The Two Faces of Territorial Democracy10

Territorial democracy in America has two faces. In its first face, specific groups frequently choose to settle in specific territories to create and maintain communities and to gain the requisite political power to secure their common goals. This territorial distribution of power has served to mitigate the effects of great national diversity by allowing subnational territorial communities to interpret national demands in such a way as to reflect their own local values as well.

The second and more frequently visible face of territorial democracy emphasizes the openness of American communities. In the United States, most localities are open to virtually anyone who chooses to settle within them, thereby enabling different groups to gain political power or access to power simply by virtue of their location. In many ways this is the most neutral kind of representation. As soon as one interest declines in importance and a new one rises, it can gain representation because the people who make up that interest are located in some particular political subdivision and can vote there.

The first face of territorial democracy was introduced by the Pilgrims and Puritans, extended by various groups of settlers of the West, and has been revived in our own times by some of the advocates of black power, among others. This form of territorial democracy has enabled diverse groups to maintain their own respective integrities and particular ways of life while also sharing in the larger American society.

In the days of the land frontier, it was assumed that people with like backgrounds, views or interests would settle together within the same political jurisdiction. If there were only a few of them, they would settle a particular town or township; if there were more, a whole county; and if there were enough; a state. This pattern was most pronounced in the colonial period when Massachusetts was founded by and for the Puritans; Maryland by and for the Catholics; New Amsterdam, by and for the Dutch; and so on. In the nineteenth century, the settlement of Utah by the Mormons was the pronounced reflection of this pattern but so, too, were the settlement of Alabama and Mississippi by people from the lower southeast and the Dakotas by Scandinavians.

In New England, efforts were made to enforce uniformity within political jurisdictions. Baptists were not welcome in Congregationist Massachusetts and were forcibly evicted. However the Puritan fathers did not particularly object to their settlement of a new territory to the south, Rhode Island, where they could follow their "heretical" ways. Connecticut was founded by Puritans whose doctrine differed from those of the Massachusetts "establishment."

This pattern of statewide conformity and interstate differentiation soon proved untenable. There were just too many people coming to the New World with too many different ideas. On the local plane, however, the opportunities were nearly unbounded, if not for complete homogeneity, at least for the association of two or three compatible groups within a particular locality. This latter pattern was spread across the continent in the 19th century. given the limited population density of agrarian settlement, it was possible to have "Protestant" or "Catholic" towns and counties nearly everywhere and, in many parts of the country the division was even finer -- whole counties predominantly Baptist or Lutheran, not to speak of the many settlements overwhelmingly populated by single ethnic groups (e.g. the German cities, town, and counties that covered the Mississippi Valley).11

Where religious or ethnic homogeneity was lacking, there was often at least a homogeneity of interest, as in the case of the cow towns and mining camps of the West or the coal and mill town of the Northeast and South. The formal structure of government in each of these territorial political communities was essentially the same, varying only according to the sectional patterns that emerged from the three "mother" political culture as they moved westward. But within that formal structure, each community provided its own content, utilizing the opportunities of federalism to maintain local values and interests while functioning as an integral part of the larger society.

The coming of the urban-industrial frontier made the maintenance of this face of territorial democracy more difficult. The densely populated cities that emerged in the 19th century did not easily permit the separation of peoples necessary for its maintenance. Still, in the smallest cities a great deal of homogeneity could be obtained while in the largest, different groups managed to create neighborhoods within which they could preserve their own ways. The political organization of the great cities reflected their desire to do so. The division of the city into wards and the development of the political machine which was almost invariably ward-based provided a vehicle for maintaining sub-communities within the city. Ward leaders negotiating with one another within the framework of the city's formal and informal political structure could win for their constituents practical control over everything from police to schools.

Thus, during the heyday of the urban-industrial frontier, American cities offered opportunities for the maintenance of territorial democracy. However, neighborhood autonomy led to a conflict of political cultures and became suspect as a result. Reformers seeking to restore "good government" attacked the system which allowed the survival of neighborhood control. As they succeeded in weakening or destroying the city political machines, the possibilities for this face of territorial democracy diminished. In this respect, the thrust upward and outward into the larger American society of the various ethnic groups provided additional support for the reformers' efforts.

Manifestations of the first face of territorial democracy can be found in everything from liquor laws to racial discrimination. Take the former. Some local communities and one state (Mississippi) prohibit the sale of liquor within their boundaries; others restrict the sale to state or municipal liquor stores; others allow sales by the bottle but not by the drink. Nor do the laws tell the whole story. In most states, enforcement of liquor laws is informally left to local authorities who handle it according to local mores and expectations. Thus the legal prohibition in Mississippi is virtually not enforced in most localities. In Iowa, Davenport and all of Scott County is allowed greater discretion in selling liquor because it is generally recognized that its population is more tolerant in such matters than the rest of the state. In some communities with strong ethnic traditions of regular drinking, but in moderation, even children under age are informally allowed to imbibe.

In general, local option,12 either formal or informal prevails in such matters, as it does in the matter of Sunday sales limitations, gambling and many other issues involving cultural standards and personal morality. Under the Constitution, the states retain the power to regulate in these areas, subject only to federal constitutional limits involving civil rights. In practice, the states tend to delegate these regulatory powers to their local subdivisions. Here sectional and political factors play a role. Southern states tend to enact very specific legislation in this area and then allow their localities to enforce it or not. Western states tend to keep both state and local legislation in these areas to a minimum, to allow a maximum of private choice, formally as well as informally. The northern states inherited a great deal of restrictive legislation from their early days and now enforce it in a mixed manner, to the extent that U.S. Supreme Court decisions have not undercut enforcement of blue laws.

The "noble experiment" with nationwide prohibition of the sale or consumption of liquor between 1920 and 1933 through the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution was a clear violation of the idea of territorial democracy. Its total failure has generally served as an object lesson for Americans as to the limits of government intervention into private morality. It should also serve as an object lesson regarding the limited possibility of developing a single national standard in such matters. Prohibition was an example of the unnecessary application of a single moral standard by law, in part occasioned by the desire of an older, rural America to secure a symbolic victory over the newer, urban American with its lower level of social control.

Americans are now dealing with a similar case, albeit in reverse. Until 1957, regulation or prohibition of pornographic material was left to local authorities who set policy according to the standards then prevailing in their localities. So, for example, "hit" plays in New York could be banned in Boston. Then the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "contemporary community standards" were to be defined in terms of the national community.13

This decision was expanded over the following fifteen years to cover most of communications media, most particularly publishing and films, only to lead to a double set of problems. On one hand, the Court itself had to become ad de facto national censorship board as it was called upon to review case after case in which publishers and film-makers attempted to eliminate restrictions nationwide, and was overwhelmed by the burden. On the other hand, as the tastes of the most "with-it" sectors of American society began to be imposed on the rest of the country, there was a popular outcry of growing proportions. Finally in 1973, the Court found it necessary to restore the rights of the states and communities to apply their own standards, within certain broad limits,14 demonstrating in another way the utility of territorial democracy as a means of providing for the expression of widely divergent viewpoints in a large and diverse country with a minimum of conflict.

If territorial democracy offers opportunities for the maintenance of necessary and proper diversity, it also enabled some segments of the population to discriminate against other segments, particularly in the South. In this respect, it is like every other human institution, capable of being used for good or ill. For the better part of the past two centuries, whites used their dominant position in the Southern states to oppress blacks, first through slavery and then through racial segregation. Moreover, except during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the majority in the North avoided interference in their practice on the grounds of "states rights," one aspect of territorial democracy. The freedom of action of the territorial polities in this sphere was progressively limited beginning in the 1920s on constitutional grounds and eliminated as an option by the Supreme Court's school desegregation ruling in 1954 and subsequent civil rights decisions.15

In this case, as in the others, the principle of checks and balances allows for intervention when on constitutional principle is used in practice to violate another. At the same time, the original principle itself is not destroyed, only redirected. While maximum federal pressure was brought to bear on the states and localities that maintained racial segregation through a combination of legal and other means, the ultimate responsibility for desegregation was necessarily left to the territorial polities in line with constitutional requirements. The federal Supreme Court could hold that Alabama was acting unconstitutionally when it maintained segregated schools; the Congress of the United States could enact legislation cutting off federal aid to segregated schools; the President could even send troops to protect the civil rights of black students, but under the Constitution, there was no way for the federal government to open its own schools in Alabama or forbid the state to maintain its school system.

Thus, in the end, change had to be effected through intergovernmental cooperation, albeit antagonistic cooperation in this case. This may or may not have meant that desegregation took longer to be achieved (there is no way to be certain that desegregation by federal order coupled with the exercise of force would not have provoked even greater resistance on the part of Southern whites and thereby prolonged the struggle for equality). Its ultimate achievement took place in such a manner that a consensus was developed, with most Southern whites ultimately persuaded of the justice of the change, even if they did not like it personally, and thereby were more willing to support it.

A key element in the desegregation struggle was the opening of the ballot box to blacks in the southern states, just as the anti-slavery struggle a century earlier had to culminate in the institution of constitutional guarantees for black enfranchisement in the country as a whole. The importance of the right to vote in local, state and national elections is directly connected to territorial democracy.

Access to the country's political mechanisms, a crucial concern for those seeking to gain their place in the sun, has always involved location in territorial units of government. Recent black gains in the protection of their constitutional rights on the federal plane, for example, are being translated into political realities because of their concentration in certain territories where they can gain important local representation and also make their numbers count for more than their 12 percent of the nation's total population. By obtaining the ballot in the Southern states where they form majorities in some counties, they have been able to gain significant representation in local offices and a voice in state politics.

That potential is illustrated by the political career of Alabama's late governor George Wallace. Wallace rose to power in the 1950s on a typical southern populist platform, combining attacks on privilege with low-key racism. Seeing the opportunity to strengthen his power base by opposing the federal government over the issue of racial desegregation, he took up the cudgels for "the southern way of life" and demonstrably stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to prevent blacks from enrolling.

His success with his constituency led him to take his racist campaign nationwide. Twice he tried to run for the presidency of the United States. At his high-water mark he received 14 percent of the vote nationwide. (The results of the election offer a very good illustration of the location of the traditionalistic political subculture in the United States.) Then he was shot in a would-be assassination attempt, returned to Alabama, and, semi-paralyzed, successfully ran again for governor.

By this time the tide had turned on racial matters, blacks had begun to vote, and Wallace needed their support. In his new incarnation he became the blacks' best friend, gave them jobs in his administration, and returned to the University of Alabama to bestow his blessing on the university's first black homecoming queen, receiving in return the blessing of leading civil rights activist Charles Evers. In a way this was political cynicism refined to a high art. In another way it was a reflection of the impact of the democratic process in bringing politicians to adjust to changing realities as expressed through territorial democracy.

In the northern and western states, the sheer increase in their numbers has transformed them into a potent bloc, particularly in the major cities where they now comprise one-fourth to over one-half of the total population. Until the 1960s, black city council members were hard to find; by the 1980s, blacks had been elected mayors in most, including all the biggest ones.16

The neutrality of territory has reinforced the second face of territorial democracy so that it remains the fundamental basis for political representation even in today's highly urbanized America. Thus the federal protection of Southern blacks' rights to vote has meant that they have gained a certain potential political power automatically (like all other groups) because the permanent boundaries of the states and the well-nigh permanent boundaries of their major subdivisions serve as major mechanisms for access to positions of influence as well as strong bulwarks for the diffusion of power. As permanent boundaries, they offer continued opportunities for diverse interests to exercise power without fear of retribution form "higher authority" while, possessing the neutrality of so-called "artificial boundaries," they prevent the confinement of power to select interests. Since every interest, new or old, is located willy-nilly in some formally-defined political territory, simply by making use of the country's political mechanisms, each can potentially make its voice heard.

The state of Florida, for example, once a typical representative of traditional Southern interests, now speaks for the pioneers of the space frontier and the new world of leisure. Detroit, Michigan was a locus of power for Yankee commercial and craft interests in the 19th century. With its economic transformation into an automobile center, it was politically transformed into a stronghold for "ethnic" and black autoworkers without having to alter significantly its basic political structure or institutions. Blacks, some of whom felt the need to riot in 1968 to make themselves heard, first elected one of their own (Coleman Young) as mayor of Detroit in 1973, within the same boundaries and under the same ground rules.

Even in the colonial period, the face of territorial neutrality developed side by side with the face of territorial communalism. The middle states, in particular, emphasized pluralistic settlement in their territories. Ultimately, all the states followed their lead to a greater or lesser degree. In the end, with a few exceptions, most political units have some characteristics of both faces, functioning as neutral arenas to the extent that they are open to all who seek to settle within them and, at the same time, as communities to the extent that those who do settle within them seek to use their political structure to maintain their own values or way of life.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states and localities cannot formally prohibit American citizens from settling in their midst, although they can regulate some conditions under which they can settle.17At the same time, on the most immediately local plane, informal methods have been devised to keep communities more or less homogenous, ranging from outright violence against "undesirables" to more subtle devices such as control of home sales and rentals or simply excluding those who "do not fit" from the local and social networks. Most of these devices also have been challenged in the courts and ruled unconstitutional or legally unenforceable.18 Many have been outlawed by state and federal legislation.

Rural America still retains much of the first face of territorial democracy. It is most evident among such truly separatist groups as the Amish, but is equally strong in communities that consider themselves full participants in American life while still preserving their own variant of American mores. It, too, is under pressure as a result of the new style settlement movement.

The opening of the metropolitan-technological frontier brought with it renewed opportunities to strengthen both faces of territorial democracy. On one hand, the new mobility led to a breakdown of many territorially-based local communities. Out-migration from rural areas and older urban neighborhoods depleted old, established ones while in resettling themselves, the migrants often upset other communities. On the other hand, the settlement of the suburban frontier with its opportunities for the development of many politically separate suburbs within a metropolitan areas, created new opportunities for the development of territorial polities consisting of peoples with similar backgrounds and values. In some cases, specific ethnic or religious groups settled together in suburbs; in others, political or economic homogeneity was the source of local unity. Indeed, suburbia has been attacked in some quarters for fostering communities in which one group or another isolates itself to maintain its own particular patterns of life, whatever they might be.19

The attacks on suburban self-segregation reflect a significant aspect of the ideology of the metropolitan-technological frontier, namely that traditional group distinctions which lead to segregation, even self-segregation, are anti-democratic and should be broken down. This ideology emerged out of the struggle to eliminate the divisions in American life between the older, white Protestant "establishment" and the newer ethnic groups and previously excluded racial groups. It is oriented toward the use of territorial democracy in the most neutral manner. Despite their acceptance of the ideology, many, if not most American still retain a pragmatic desire to use their territorial polities to protect real interests, using a variety of means, such as police and zoning powers to preserve local control. Those who do not have the opportunity to control their own politics -- inner city blacks, for example -- seek equivalent opportunities through demands for community control.20

The States as the Keystones in the Governmental Arch

[The word state] describes sometimes a people or community of individuals united more or less closely in political relations, inhabiting temporarily or permanently the same country; often it denotes only the country or territorial region, inhabited by such a community; not infrequently it is applied to the government under which people live;...In the Constitution the term state most frequently expresses the combined idea...of people, territory, and government.21

The fifty American states, located between the powerful federal government and the burgeoning local governments in a metropolitanized nation, are the keystones of the American governmental arch. This was the case when the Constitution was adopted in 1789 and remains true despite the great changes that have taken place in the intervening years.

This assertion if had been made at the end of the eleventh generation of American history or even early in the twelfth, while true then as well as now, would have been greeted with disbelief. Today, as the combination of the failures of the federal government at the end of the eleventh generation, the Reagan revolution at the beginning of the twelfth, and the natural rhythm of the generations which emphasizes the resurgence of state and local powers in the periods of generational consolidation and generational build-up, has created a situation in which the states have once again become the leading innovators and sources of energy in American government. Nevertheless, if this assertion were based upon an analysis of the present position of the states in light of formal constitutional interpretations alone, there would be great difficulty in substantiating it. In fact, the states maintain their central role because of their structural and political position in the overall framework of the nation's political system, a position supported by the Constitution but which transcends its formal bounds.

By structural position we mean the very existence of the states with their own political institutions, tax bases, and congeries of interests that make them players in the American game of government. By political we mean the power of the states and their representatives operating through the political process to make their demands felt and to satisfy their needs.

Unlike the more or less visible constitutional status of the states, their structural and political position is generally of low visibility, not only to the public at-large, but often even to those people involved in the day-to-day operations of American government.

When we speak of a state's doing this or that or taking one position or another and of states responding to federal actions in different ways, we are, like Chief Justice Chase, using a convenient way of speaking about the actions of those people and interest within each state's civil society that dominate its political system. This does not mean that the dominant forces leading a state represent all or even a majority of the citizens of their state every time they act in its name. Cross-pressures of varying degrees exist within each state on every issue. On most issues that attract nationwide attention, the cross-pressures extend across state lines. This means that contesting groups within the state's civil society may momentarily find they have more in common with their counterparts in other states than with their immediate compatriots.

Nevertheless, there are a wide range of issues in which the dominant interests in any state can act as if they had statewide consensus behind them. These include some substantive issues in which the welfare or interests of the bulk of a state's citizenry are clearly involved (such as state economic development), certain fundamental procedural issues that are important because they concern the maintenance of the state itself (such as the right of the state to determine the terms of employment in its government), and at least a few issues which, while not necessarily reflecting a "state" interest as such, do reflect the opinions of a solid majority of the state's citizens (such as the general antigovernment bias widespread among citizens of the sparsely populated states of the mountain-and-plains West or the racial bias of the white majorities that once was so powerful in the southern states).

Proper use of the systemic aspects of a state's civil society enhances the possibility for the people and interests dominating the state's political system to speak in the name of their state. There is a wide variety of ways in which each state, as a reasonably autonomous civil society, can capitalize on its potential for internal unity in the face of outside pressure. States can take appropriate legislative and executive action. Local official can enforce regulations and ordinances that, taken at face value, seem irrelevant to the issue at hand but can be applied discreetly in a relevant way. Private exercise of property and personal rights backed by state and local law enforcement agencies can be used as a countervailing power.

Nor is this ability simply a matter of negativism, of opposition to national goals or norms. Minnesota protects itself against organized crime by a combination of the same instruments: state legislation against the "betting" sports -- horse and dog racing, a vigilant and uncorruptable judicial system cooperating among local law enforcement officers to expel "undesirable elements" when they enter the state, and an attitude among the citizenry that provides both tacit and active support for the state's activities. In a more subtle way, Oregon mobilizes its resources as a state to maintain its "pristine" character by encouraging environmental protection and discouraging economic development that might bring an influx of new settlers in the pattern of California and Washington, its two principal neighbors. Even a highly diverse state like New York is capable of this kind of mobilization when its hegemony as the nation's economic and cultural center is in question.

Take a different kind of case involving defense against "outside encroachment." State law enforcement agencies are often able to reshape certain Supreme Court rulings on criminal procedures if they can foster agreement among the courts, the prosecutors, the police, and the bar at the state level and in the state's communities as to how the individual's basic rights are to be protected under the state's scheme and what discretion law enforcement agencies are to be allowed.22

The state's formal constitutional position, taken alone, would hardly be an adequate line of defense in cases where they have a paramount interest in preserving local patterns or customs, just as (to take a far different example) the states have no constitutional guarantee that their citizens will receive a specific share of federal defense expenditures. Even the states' role at the center of the nation's party system would not provide sufficient defense against concentrated national pressure, though it helps considerably. The states' first line of defense (or, in the case of the defense contracts, offense) lies in their ability to function as civil societies, to mobilize many facets of their internal and external powers through their own political systems to resist "encroachments" (or to gain benefits) from the outside.

In the militant states of the South, the state police, the local school boards, the senators in Washington, the governor, the local fire inspectors, the network of Citizens Councils, all joined together to fight desegregation after 1954, so much so that federal authorities, including the courts, implicitly recognized that those states were functioning as civil societies in this way, stamping as equally unconstitutional both direct state action and private actions sanctioned by the states and serving to reinforce racial segregation. In every state, relevant groups of similar diversity -- the state's economic development agency, state and local chambers of commerce, the governor and the mayors, and the state's representatives in Congress -- join to secure defense contracts, federal installations, or public works.

More recently this kind of effort has been mobilized for purposes of economic development, especially in the way of exports to foreign countries and foreign investment. This foreign economic activity may well be the new frontier of the states as civil societies. States not only serve their own interests but play a role of critical national importance, so recognized by the federal government as one which only they can perform well.23

The states are also once again becoming more visible as civil societies in matters of life style issues where moral questions are involved. While less differentiated than they used to be in matters related to gambling and liquor consumption, they are more differentiated in matters of abortion rights, control of obscenity and pornography, with regard to matters involving sexual preference, and similar concerns of the new-style politics.24 It is their ability to join together and to fight their common battle on a number of fronts that has given certain states such a large measure of success in these various endeavors.

The States as Political Systems

The ways by which the states and localities organize themselves as political systems to exercise power within the national political system are vitally important to the functioning of American government.

The term "state," as used in the United States, can be said to refer to those people, interests, and institutions that at any given time are bound together within the territory organized constitutionally as a particular state and who are capable of speaking for the political system of the state in question. No state speaks for any specific ethnic racial or religious group or interest, per se, since the people not the states maintain separate identities apart from their common American identity. People do identify with their states, often very strongly. Texans, Virginians and Californians are expected to have highly developed sense of state identity. Southerners tend to maintain a sense of themselves as citizens of their state. Coloradans and Minnesotans have equally avid, if less well-known, state attachments. but in no case, not even among Hawaiians or Alaskans, odes state identity stand apart form their sense of being Americans; rather, one's state attachments are generally considered to be a function of one's being an American. If nothing else, the migratory habits of Americans tend to discourage any such development.

Consequently, there is no authentic way to determine which people, interests and institutions speak for a particular state at any given time. Certainly, no particular group or institution can claim to be the custodian of a state "ism" or culture. While the likelihood is that the governor and the legislator will be a state's prime spokesmen, that is not always the case. Courts, political leaders, heads of government departments, important interest groups, even public opinion broadly defined may speak for the state in particular instances. It is under these conditions that each state's existence as a civil society -- a complex social institution organized for civil, or political, purposes -- becomes clear.

The political system of each state can be said to include the following components:

  1. The state government in its several branches and parts (including its local parts).

  2. Those agencies of the federal and local governments which, though not formally attached to the state government, function primarily to serve the state and its citizens (e.g. the U.S. District Court for the state).

  3. The public non-governmental institutions organized on a state-wide basis which serve the states' civil society (e.g. the state Red Cross).

  4. The state's political parties.

  5. The various interests regularly concerned with and involved in the state's political life for reasons of their own (e.g. the state trade and labor council).

All of these components have some place in the state's constitution, both in the immediate sense of the document setting forth its frame of government and in the larger sense of the documents and traditions which define the state's particular orientation as a civil society.

In each state the various institutions, organization, groups, individuals and values involved in these components form the basis for the network that is the state's political system, that makes it civil society function in pursuit of its civic goals, even while the state is an integral part of the nation. Not every state functions as a unit to the same degree. Some choose not to do so by design and occasionally by default. Obviously, the more successful a state is in formulating common goals shared by the greater part of its citizenry, forging a network of institutions that embraces all the variegated elements within its boundaries, and utilizing its own government to set its pace as a state, the more important it will be to its citizens and the better able it will be to promote those goals.

The States as Civil Societies

The subtle and sometimes-not-so-subtle differences among the states are worth noting and considering as part and parcel of any discussion of American politics. Every state has its own distinctiveness -- in the composition of its people, in its political goals and processes, and in the way in which its people respond to those goals and processes. Yet those differences are not like the differences between the six republics (states) of Yugoslavia, each of which represents a different nationality within that union. Nor do they even approach the differences that set Quebec apart from the rest of Canada.

Every state has its own character as a civil society because it has its own laws, institutions and history (or, better, geo-historical location). Some enjoy the advantage of being easily perceived as distinctive by their citizens and other. Some are not easily seen in a distinctive light but, on closer examination, their distinctiveness becomes visible. What every state does have is a history of its own which continues to shape future events; its own legal system which set the framework for so much of the economic and political activity; and its own conception of justice upon which it builds its social and economic policies as a state. As a civil society every state has its own means of organizing power, developed over time and, in part, encapsulated in its system of laws. Each also has its own conception of justice, manifested through its policies and their manner of execution.

What, then, is the substance of state differences? We can identify several ways in which particular states are unique. They include:

  1. Substantial cultural distinctiveness
  2. Substantial and self-conscious public attachment
  3. A widely shared sense of a common historical experience of
  4. substantial worth or distinctiveness
  5. Substantial state distinctiveness in policy matters
  6. Substantial geographic isolation and/or distinctiveness.

These five categories frequently reinforce one another.

Some examples are in order. Perhaps the most distinctive state is Utah. Its overwhelmingly Mormon population is more internally homogeneous than that of any other state end, at the same time, very different from any of its sisters. As the Mormon "homeland," its citizens are self-consciously identified with it as a state and with its history as the center of Mormonism. Because of the special role of the Mormon church, Utah maintains very distinctive governmental policies, internally and externally. Finally, Utah is geographically one of the most isolated and self-contained of the states; the Mormons chose to settle where they did for precisely that reason.25

California is another highly distinctive state, but in the mainstream (if not the avante garde) of American life. The "California way of life" is a well-recognized American subculture. Californians identify strongly with it and with their state as its home. The state pursues distinctive policies, especially in the realm of social relations, that flow from that way of life and support it. California's history has acquired an especially romantic flavor in the minds of its people, who follow it avidly, while its geographic character and position give it a measure of separation from the rest of the country.26

Minnesota is as distinctive as California but in a low-keyed way. It gains room for its distinctiveness from its geographic position away from the country's mainstream. Its government has consistently pursued distinctive policies, especially in the areas of education, social welfare, and human rights. The state has a special ethnic heritage that is well-known yet the political culture of its population is as homogenous as that of Utah because of the cultural convergence of the streams that settled it. Moreover, Minnesotans are highly conscious of their distinctiveness and of the virtues of their state, especially after they travel outside of its boundaries. The weakest link in this chain is that, while Minnesotans have been conscious of their history from the first (one distinctive feature is that the state's oldest institution is the Minnesota Historical Society), they do not have a real sense of how unique it is.27

On the other end of the scale, New Jersey is usually pictures as an artificial and even accidental creation with no real identity of its own.28 The picture is not entirely false, but it overlooks a very real coherence within the Garden State forged out if its historical experiences. From its first settlement in the 17th century until the end of the eleventh, New Jersey was a satellite of New York City and Philadelphia, with its northern half pulled toward the former and its southern half toward the latter. It was so much a "colony" of its neighbors, that it depended upon them for its mass media, having no major newspaper, radio or television station within its boundaries. Yet as a result of its historical experience, the state acquired a personality of its own. Its people share a common pattern of settlement in small cities and towns; they are heavily suburbanite in their orientation; they join together to oppose substantial state taxation, preferring to maintain a relatively low level of public services instead. At the same time, they rely upon their state government for far more than do the two cities in New York and Pennsylvania which function as their states' centers of gravity.

The twelfth generation has marked the turning point for New Jersey. Today the state is coming into its own as the very enter of action on America's "main street." The headquarters of major corporations moved from New York City across the Hudson. New Jersey acquired some major sports teams (some of which still were identified as New York teams even though they play in the Garden State). A political leadership visible for its progressiveness and quality emerged and attracted national attention. New Jersey finally acquired television service of its own. By the middle of the 1980s the rurban-cybernetic frontier epitomized New Jersey's pattern of settlement and suddenly the state found itself as the heartland of the new frontier. Its people began to develop a new sense of identity, purpose, and state pride.29

Similarly, Ohio has a certain anonymity as a state, fostered by its location well within the mainstreams of American life. Contrast Ohio's stance in defining the state's role with that of Minnesota. In Ohio, it has been assumed that the basic task of state government is to create a proper climate for business to prosper on the assumption that such prosperity will lead to general prosperity in the state as a whole, leaving to its many different cities and counties the task of defining what constitutes the good life for their residents. Thus Ohio has consistently pursued a tax policy that favors business investment and has widely advertised that fact. Or, in a slightly different context, Ohio began to provide substantial support for higher education when it became clear that good universities were an integral part of the "package" needed to attract growth industries.30 In the Gopher State (Minnesota), it has long been assumed that state government exists to equalize opportunity and benefits even at the expense of what is often termed "a good business climate." It has levied taxes accordingly, with a steeply progressive income tax at the core of its revenue raising system. Moreover, the state has always supported higher education handsomely because its people believe in the social and moral efficacy of education.

In sum, every state has its own particular identity matched by the realities of its distinctiveness. In many cases, that identity is widely perceived. What does "Texas" evoke as an image" Virginia? Indiana? Hawaii? Vermont? In these cases the image is clear, but even where it is not, a moment's reflection does bring something special to mind. And behind that "something special" there is a reality forged by history, geography and culture and embodied in particular patterns of political organization focusing on a particular conception of justice.

The Federal System and the Political Setting

Each of the 50 states responds to the intergovernmental system described in the foregoing chapters in its own way. Understanding their responses requires an appreciation of (1) the way in which the states' functioning as political systems influences the operations of the general government; and (2) the way in which the states -- still functioning as political systems -- adapt national programs to their own needs and interests. For such an appreciation, it is first necessary to understand the fundamental social and political factors that serve to shape the states and the political setting in which they operate.

The three overarching factors of political culture, sectionalism, and the continuing frontier appear to be especially important in shaping the individual states' political structures, electoral behavior, and modes of organization for political action. All three of these factors represent dynamic processes that generally act upon the states and the federal system, and interact with one another in ever-changing ways. The three factors embrace and shape and primary social, economic, and psychological thrusts that influence American politics. Indeed, it is suggested here that other factors, often presented as basic to the shaping of political systems, and ranging from the class system to urbanization, can best be understood in light of these three factors and are accordingly secondary in their influence.

Political culture is particularly important as the historical source of differences in habits, perspectives, and attitudes that influence political life in the various states. Sectionalism is particularly important as a major source of geographically rooted variations that influence state-by-state differences in responses to nationwide political, economic, and social developments. The frontier is particularly important as the generator of the forces of change. These forces influence patterns of settlement and human economic, social, and political organization throughout the federal system; they stimulate governmental action in new fields on all planes, and consequently force the continual readjustment of the federal balance.

Federalism and Political Culture

One of the observations coming out of the various studies of state-federal relations is that the states themselves (or their local subdivisions) well-nigh shape the impact of federally aided activities within their boundaries. Take the case of the impact of federal aid on the administration of state government. In those states where the executive branch is organized along hierarchical lines and the governor is usually strong, federal aid has tended to strengthen executive powers by giving the governor more and better tools to wield. In those states where power is widely diffused among the separate executive departments, federal aid has tended to add to the diffusion by giving the individual departments new sources of funds outside of the normal channels of state control. These can be used to obtain more money and power from the legislature. In those states where earmarked funds reflect legislature or lobby domination over programs, earmarked federal funds follow the same pattern. Despite many protestations to the contrary, only in rare situations have federal grant programs served to alter state administrative patterns in ways that did not coincide with already established state policies, although such grants have often sharpened certain tendencies in state administration.

During the past generation, in state after state, constitutions were revised, gubernatorial tenure and powers were strengthened, legislative sessions were lengthened, legislators' salaries were increased, and state tax systems were overhauled. While indirect federal influence, in the sense of U.S. Supreme Court decisions or the threat of federal encroachment on their prerogatives, should not be ignored, and strengthened the states' desire to maintain their position in the Union by modernizing, these changes were self-generated and were not the result of any direct influence by federal authorities or programs.

Or, in the case of federal merit systems requirements, states dominated by political attitudes conducive to notions of professionalization and to the isolation of certain forms of government activity from the pressures of partisan politics have had little problem adjusting their programs to meet federal standards. They had either adopted similar standards earlier or were quite in sympathy with the standards when proposed. Minnesota, for example, has tighter merit system requirements than those applicable to its federally aided programs under the Hatch Act. On the other hand, states dominated by a political outlook having little sympathy for nonpartisanship in government administration (Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, for example) have had a more difficult time adjusting to federal requirements of this sort, and have often worked to find ways to circumvent them, even while conforming superficially. States with a similar lack of interest in civil service reform but with an environment shaped by advanced industrial and commercial organization are generally open to the organizational aspects of the federal requirements if only because their dominant economic organizations already reflect the modern organizational approach. So, even if the dominant political interests in states like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, or Illinois object to the political aspects of Hatch Act requirements, they are in reasonable harmony with their organizational demands.

A parallel situation exists in regard to the substance of the federal programs. Every state has certain dominant traditions about what constitutes proper government action and every state is generally predisposed toward the federal programs it can accept as consistent with those traditions. Many states have pioneered programs that fit into their traditions before the initiation of similar ones on the federal plane or on a nationwide basis through federal aid. This, too, tends to lessen the impact of federal action on the political systems of those states and also to lessen any negative state reaction to federal entrance into particular fields.

Wisconsin's pioneering efforts in social welfare before the New Deal are well known. They became the models for many of the new federal aid programs that were often drawn so as to minimize the dislocation to that state's established programs. The majority of Minnesota's congressional delegation is continually at the forefront in supporting new federal-aid education, welfare, and internal improvement programs because as a state, Minnesota is predisposed toward positive government action and finds such programs useful in supporting its own goals. In matters of national defense, the southern states have a long tradition of supporting state militia and National Guard units, so that over the years they have taken greater advantage of federal subventions for the maintenance of military reserve units than have most of their sister states.

States like California accept federal aid and its requirements for mental health programs as a reenforcement of programs they have developed themselves. On the other hand, professional mental health workers in states like New Jersey rely upon the same federal grants to keep their programs free of internally generated political pressures, arguing with the patronage-inclined legislatures that federal regulations demand maintenance of professional standards. Their colleagues in states like Pennsylvania use federal aid requirements to force the hands of their legislatures to expand state activities in new directions. Reformers interested in mental health in states like Mississippi are interested in federal aid to inaugurate new programs. Many of these and other differences in state responses within the federal system appear to be stimulated by differences in political culture among the states.

The Political Culture of the States

The amalgam of the political subcultures in the several states is varied because representatives of each are found within every state to varying degrees. In fact, unique aggregations of cultural patterns are clearly discernible in every state. These cultural patterns give each state its particular character and help determine the tone of its fundamental relationship, as a state, to the nation. In general, the states of the greater South are dominated by the traditionalistic political culture; the states stretching across the middle sections of the United States in a southwesterly direction are dominated by the individualistic political culture; and the states of the far North, Northwest, and Pacific Coast are dominated by the moralistic political culture.

Seventeen states are predominantly or overwhelmingly influenced by the moralistic political culture, 16 are similarly influenced by the traditionalistic political culture, and 17 by the individualistic political culture. This division is paralleled by the relative populations of the three groupings of states. The states dominated by the individualistic political culture used to be fewer in number, but with a far greater share of the nation's population. Now they have reached parity in number and declined to parity in population. Thus, while the aggregate population of all three groupings is growing in absolute numbers, their relative share of the nation's population has shifted considerably. Moreover, because several of the traditionalistic states are undergoing subtle changes in the direction of the individualistic political culture, the role of the traditionalistic subculture nationally is further diminished. In terms of population, the relative strength of the moralistic states is increasing. The figures do not tell, however, whether the population increase in those states is reenforcing the established political subculture or injecting new elements foreign to it. Neither can the figures reveal to what extent the moralistic political subculture is gaining strength in the individualistic states as a result of social and cultural change.

What we do see is an overall shift of American national political culture in a moralistic direction. This is evidenced by the new standards of public and private rectitude demanded of politicians. Although this shift is the product of many trends, it also suggests that the shifting state-by-state population aggregations do reflect real change in the nation as a whole.

The Widespread Application of Federal Principles

The basic federal division of powers is supplemented by widespread acceptance of the idea that federal principles should apply to relations between all governments in the United States. Hence local governments -- formally the creatures of their states -- have been effectively endowed with a seat at the bargaining table hardly inferior to that of the states despite the nominally unitary state-local relationship. Formal structures have a certain legal force that contributes to the shaping of the state and local roles in the American system. They have certainly contributed to reliance upon grants-in-aid and similar efforts to stimulate state activity in fields deemed by the national legislature to demand national effort in place of direct federal action in those fields.

At the same time, the constitutionally unitary character of the states proclaimed by the courts (often in the face of clear expressions of the public will to the contrary) sets certain very definite legal limits to local powers.

This view, although it can be challenged, has been adopted by the United States Supreme Court which has reaffirmed it in a series of decisions beginning with the reapportionment case in 1962. The Court has made it a point to refer to the unitary character of the states as distinct from the federal character of the Union in justifying its rulings. The people of most states have succeeded in modifying this doctrine by introducing home rule provisions into the state constitution or adopting them by statute to maintain the principle of local autonomy. Advocates of home rule argue that by granting the cities (and counties, in some cases) the right to determine their own governmental structures and full power over all local activities except those of states concern, local government is substantially enhanced and improved. Since 1875, thirty-three states have provided for home rule on a constitutional or statutory basis and over two-thirds of the cities of over 250,000 have adopted home rule charters.31 Moreover, in some states, particularly (but not exclusively) those of New England, strong traditions hold the states to be federation of towns or counties on much the same basis that the United States is a federation of states.

Beyond that, philosophical traditions, historical processes and political realities have substantially modified the practical application of both principles of constitutional law. Today there is no question that, rightfully or not, there are few practical limits on the scope of federal activities as the result of the expansion of that government's delegated and implied powers. On the other hand, at no time in American history has local government more vociferously demanded that the localities also partake of the autonomy that comes with federal arrangements.

In the actual business of everyday problem-solving, political leaders and the public rarely stop to consider constitutional nuances. Rather, they respond according to their sense of the immediate need and the overall "fitness" of things from the perspective of an outlook that has become second nature. Hence in the course of the normal give and take of policy-making and program implementation, the spokesman for the localities assert their "federal autonomy" -- their right to be considered autonomous as any other plane of government in the federal system.

At times the federal system even takes on elements of a caricature of itself in reverse with the public and Congress treating the federal-state relationship as a unitary one and the state-local relationship as federal in character. Big city mayors, for example, have insisted that the federal government force the states to recognize their cities' "independence." The fact that there were a number of big cities larger than some of the smaller states also contributed to this de facto extension of federal principles. For awhile, in the 1960s and 1970s, they were successful. However as cities actually declined in population size so, too, did their influence. The Reagan administration proclaimed the shift as a matter of federal policy, emphasizing federal-state relations to the exclusion of direct federal-local relations. By the same token, as the population of the country grew, the predominance of the larger cities diminished. The states, capitalizing on the decline of federal aid and the increasing financial problems of those cities reasserted their role, albeit with new activism and greater assistance for the big cities. This is almost a natural sequence of events in a political system so heavily influenced by federal principles.

In the last analysis, the institutions, politics, and policies of a state and its localities are so closely intertwined that no real separation between them is possible. Even when the biggest cities deal directly with Washington, they usually do so with their states' active or tacit consent and operate as much as arms of their states as do state administrative agencies when they deal with their federal counterparts. On the other hand, home rule has not significantly altered the state-local relationship. The reasons for this lies in the fact that virtually no local activity is not of state concern or has not been so defined by the state legislatures. The Colorado Constitution, for example, grants the right to adopt home rule charters to every city with at least 2,000 residents. Once a city does so, it gains full power over all local activities, subject to state intervention only in matters of statewide concern. While on paper this is an extreme grant of local autonomy, in fact the state legislature has ruled that wherever state laws or funds are involved, the home rule provision is superseded. This covers virtually every subject except the adoption of the charter itself. Home rule has proved useful in giving the cities and counties in home rule states greater power over the structure of their governments, but in a highly integrated society, has done little else to advance their autonomy.

The Civil Community --
The Vehicle for Local Action in the Federal System32

The diffusion of powers and functions among many local governments is the most characteristic feature of local governmental structures. In most cases it is even difficult to determine which is the principal government in the local constellation; the city or the county, the borough or the township. Only the largest cities and some of the larger counties (those of over half a million population) have governmental structures sufficiently comprehensive to resemble that of the states. But they account for no more than one-fifth of the country's urban population. For the majority of localities, and the vast majority of Americans, the network of governmental, quasi-governmental, and public bodies that give each locality a political form is less neat and therefore harder to discover. In them political form is determined by the organized sum of the political institutions which function in a given locality to provide the bundle of governmental services and activities which can be manipulated locally to serve local needs in light of the local value system.

Under this definition, a locality becomes a community insofar as at is organized for political or civil purposes. A civil community of this kind is, in effect, a smaller and more limited counterpart of the two civil societies in which every American lives. The civil community is designed to meet the immediate civic needs of people living in close proximity rather than the more comprehensive purposes served by civil societies. Among its politically significant components are:

  1. the formal local governments serving the locality (city, township, school districts, special districts, county);

  2. the local agencies of the state and federal governments insofar as they became adjuncts of the local community functioning primarily to serve it (the state employment office, the local post office);

  3. the public non-governmental bodies which function in governmental or quasi-governmental capacities locally (the community welfare council, the chamber of commerce);

  4. the political parties, factions or groupings that organize political competition locally;

  5. the interest groups operating within the local political arena;

  6. the body of written constitutional material and unwritten tradition which serves as a framework within which sanctioned political action must take place and as a check against unsanctioned political behavior.

Every locality with its own comprehensive political system is a civil community. Such a system provides a wide variety of governmental services for those who live under it, ranging from the maintenance of law and order to the provision of recreation and welfare services. the extent and character of which depend, in great measure, on local demands. It also functions to manipulate activities not of local concern alone, such as the Selective Service and public educational systems, so as to make them conform with local values.

Not every locality is equally successful in making the transition from a congeries of political institutions to a civil community since not every one is able to create the necessary network of relationships among the institutions involved. What is clear is that a "civil community" is far more capable of asserting its claims within the federal system in both policy-making and administration than any single local government acting alone, including the occasional city government that possesses and exercises broad powers under its state's constitution.

American civil communities have existed in a variety of forms, urban and rural, ranging from the traditional New England town or rural southern county of yesteryear to the metropolitan center of today. The New England town and the southern county were easily visible as civil communities because, in a simpler age, the community and its political boundaries were identical. Today, the complexities of government are reflected in the complexities of governmental structure, at least at the local level. While city, town, or county lines may indeed delimit the civil community adequately in many cases, the limits of specific civil communities may be less easily discovered within formal political boundaries. In metropolitan America, city boundaries do not necessarily encompass the entire population of the civil community, and city governments only partially encompass the institutions of the local political system. At the same time, counties are often too large or politically complex to be coterminous with the civil community, either because urban-rural divisions within them are sharp or because they contain too many different forms of urban life.

Most Americans today live in metropolitan areas which are, in effect, congeries of civil communities in various stages of internal organization and development and with varying levels of intercommunity contact. It must be recognized that most metropolitan areas themselves are not civil communities, no matter how integrated they are economically. That is why suggestions to consolidate metropolitan areas under a single government have not been adopted. In the last analysis, local sentiment, political interest, and lines of civic communication are far more important determinants than commuter flows or bank clearings.

Obviously, there is no such legal entity as the civil community, yet Americans -- particularly those involved in local affairs -- act as if it were a very real entity indeed. The civil community is an operational reality because it represents a characteristically American adaptation of the principle of local community. America's very fluid, highly mobile and socially pluralistic society is not oriented toward the development of the kind of rooted, homogeneous, "organic" community of our European ancestors. Properly developed, even such limited communities can have a great deal of meaning; there is no question that they can have a great deal of influence over those political matters which affect them and their residents.

As the etymology of the words themselves reveals, the key to community is to be found in the ongoing existence of a particular sphere of communication among relevant communicants -- communication in its original sense of sharing as well as in the sense of transaction. Obviously, the key to civil community is the existence of a particular sphere of political communication. It is not at all amiss to see the problem of creating and maintaining civil communities as a problem of communication, especially in the sense of the sharing of a particular kind of political life. Since the existence of a civil community is more a matter of the interrelationships between its public and private, governmental and nongovernmental, political and civic parts than simply a question of political boundaries, the primary measure of that existence is the ambit of a particular kind of political communication, while the primary measure of its effectiveness rests on the level and pattern of political communication between and among its parts. That is where the question of scale takes on added significance.

Some political jurisdictions, even if they are legally cities, are simply too large to foster the requisite kind of sharing among their components necessary for the existence of a civil community. This is true even if their leaders are able to manipulate the organized media of communications so as to give the illusion of community. The proof of that pudding is invariably demonstrated when the city has to confront internal and external pressures and cannot produce anything like a common front. By the same token, some political jurisdictions are simply too small to contain a complete local communications network. If they are properly located, they become, in effect, neighborhoods within some larger civil community. If not, they remain suspended with no civil community.

One of the primary tasks of any civil community today is to function as an active power in the complex network of federal-state-local relations that is responsible for delivering most governmental services and benefits to its residents. In many respects, the test of a civil community is in its ability to acquire state and federal aids, adapt them to local needs and combine them with locally provide services into a comprehensive governmental "package" responsible to the needs and interests of the local citizenry.33

Territorial Democracy on the Metropolitan Frontier

The mosaic of American governments and the patterns of territorial democracy which it reflects and sustains are originally products of the rural frontier. While those patterns were tested, in some cases severely, by urbanization (the urban-industrial frontier), the mosaic survived in basic form to be reinvigorated by metropolitanization. Thus the 1980 consensus showed some apparently contradictory trends that can be understood only in light of the principles of federalism as Americans understand them. On one hand 73.5 percent of all Americans lived in what the Census Bureau defines as urban places (essentially places of 2500 inhabitants or more and 76.6 percent lived in Metropolitan Statistical Areas. At the same time, only 31 percent of the population lived in central cities of 50,000 or more people while 37 percent lived in suburbs and 32 percent in open country or small towns. Even with the growth of very large metropolitan areas (there were 37 with over one million people within the SMSA in 1985 containing some 45 percent of all Americans), the overwhelmingly majority of whom lived in small cities within those regions. Metropolitan America is still a land of relatively small local jurisdictions. In an age of great complexity and despite the efforts of many who have sought, in the name of reform and modernization, to change the organization of American local government and the distribution of powers within the federal system as a whole, the mosaic and its animating principles have survived.

Territorial entities such as states, counties, cities, boroughs, townships, school districts, special districts, congressional districts, wards and precincts form the basis of American political life. Territorial democracy means that people gain formal political representation through their location in particular places and their ability to capture political control of those places. Territorial democracy is a neutral kind of representational system in the sense that specific groups like the Mormons may choose to settle in a particular place in order to gain sufficient political strength to secure their own goals, or specific groups like blacks who have been discriminated against or who migrate into already established places may develop sufficient political clout to compete with or even displace the old "establishment."

In the scheme of American territorial democracy, the states are the keystones. It is important to note that the position of the states rests not only on constitutional guarantees but more importantly on their ability to function as civil societies by orchestrating the components of their political systems for successful action. These components include the formal state government; the agencies of the federal and local governments within the state; the public's non-governmental institutions serving the state; the state's political party organs; the various interests involved in state politics; and the state's "constitution." In a similar manner, the political power of localities rests not so much on legal provisions for local autonomy or home rule but on the ability of localities to function as civil communities with the capacity to gain seals at the state and federal bargaining tables.


Chapter 9 has focused on territorial democracy manifested primarily but not only through federalism as a key aspect of the American political system and how it had been changed through the impact of the metropolitan frontier. It began by explaining the meaning of territorial democracy, how the United States is a polity of polities or a system of systems. The chapter then described the two faces of territorial democracy and how territorial democracy has been influenced by the continuing frontier.

Special emphasis is placed on the states as civil societies with comprehensive political systems of their own. The basic elements of territorial democracy have focused on the states as the keystones of the governmental arch. The federal system is examined in its political setting, especially how institutions in all territories are affected by the political cultures in which they are embedded.


1. Robert Ardrey, The Territorial Imperative (New York: Atheneum, 1967).

2. U.S. Census of Governments.

3. Morton Godzins, The American System, edited by Daniel J. Elazar (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966), pp. 3-4.

4. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. I (New York: Schocken Books, 1961), p. 42.

5. Orestes Brownson, The American Republic (facsimile edition, Clifton, N.J.: A.M. Kelley, 1972).

6. Russell Kirk, "The Prospects for Territorial Democracy in America," (1963), in Robert Goldwin, ed., A Nation of States (Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing Company, 1974).

7. Representation: The ability to participate in the selection of official decision-makers so that they will have reason to seek to represent the selectors' interests. Access: The ability to contact official decision-makers to present a case in such a way that it will receive serious considerations.

8. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962).

9. On the reapportionment debate and struggle, see Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations Report - A Framework for Studying the Controversy Concerning the Federal Courts and Federalism (Washington, D.C.: United States Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, 1986); Daniel J. Elazar, American Federalism: A View from the States, 3rd ed. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1986), and The American Constitutional Tradition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988).

10. This section draws heavily on my book American Federalism: A View From the States, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).

11. For a graphic illustration of this, see the large map of the distribution of religions inserted into Edwin Gaustad, Historical Atlas of Religions in the United States (New York: Harper, 1962); The Economist World Atlas and Almanac (New York: Economist Books, Prentice Hall Press, 1989).

12. Local Option: The right of a local community under state law to choose its own policy and enact appropriate regulations to enforce it, usually on matters relating to the health, safety and morals of the population.

13. Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957).

14. Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973).

15. Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954); Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958); Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971).

16. Marcus D. Pohlman, Black Politics in Conservative America (White Plains, NY: Longman, 1990); Michael Preston et al., The New Black Politics (White Plains, NY: Longman, 1982); Hanes Walton, Jr., Invisible Politics: Black Political Behavior (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985); James A. Barnes, "Into the Mainstream," National Journal (February 3, 1990): 262-266.

17. Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160 (1963).

18. For an example of a Supreme Court case on housing discrimination, see Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968).

19. One particular area of recent contention has involved the rights of lower-income people and non-whites to move into suburban communities. See, for example, Anthony Downs, Opening Up the Suburbs (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973); Michael N. Danielson, The Politics of Exclusion (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976); John J. Harrigan, Political Change in the Metropolis, 3rd ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1985); Daniel J. Elazar, Building Cities in America (Lanham, MD: Hamilton Press, 1987).

20. On black demands for "community control," see Milton Kotler, Neighborhood Government: The Local Foundations of Political Life (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1969); Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (New York: Random House, 1967); August Maier, ed., The Transformation of Activism (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1973); Marguerite Ross Barnett and James A. Hefner, eds., Public Policy for the Black Community: Strategies and Perspective (New York: Alfred Publishing Company, 1967).

21. Chief Justice Salman P. Chase in Texas v. White, 7 Wallace 700 (1869).

22. See discussions of Theodore L. Becker and Malcolm H. Feeley, eds., The Impact of Supreme Court Decisions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973); Stephen L. Wasby, The Impact of the United States Supreme Court (Homewood: Dorsey, 1970). See also Stanley I. Kutler, ed., The Supreme Court and the Constitution: Readings in American Constitutional History, 3rd ed. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984).

23. On the state's foreign economic activities, see John Kincaid, "American Governors in International Affairs," Publius, vol. 14, no. 4 (Fall 1984): 95; John Kline, "The International Economic Interests of U.S. States," Publius, vol. 14, no. 4 (Fall 1984): 81.

24. On the states and life style issues, see Robert N. Bellah, Habits of the Heart (New York: Harper and Row, 1985); John Kincaid, "Political Cultures and Quality of Life," Publius, vol. 10, no. 2 (Spring 1980) .

25. See also Wallace Turner, The Mormon Establishment (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966); Frank H. Jones, "Utah: The Different State," in Politics in the American West, Frank H. Jones, ed. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1969).

26. See also Carey McWilliams, California, the Great Expectation (New York: Current Books, 1949); Todd LaPorte and C.J. Adams, "Alternative Patterns of Postindustria: The California Experience," in Politics of Industrial Society, Leon N. Lindberg, ed. (New York: McKay, 1976).

27. June D. Holmquist, ed., They Chose Minnesota; Theodore G. Blegen, Minnesota: A History (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1964).

28. In the first issue of the New Jersey Monthly (November 1976), the publisher noted that the magazine would try to break down "The Myth of New Jersey" "which holds that [the state] is not really a place. True, it is a state in which 7.5 million people have chosen to live. True it has a governor and a legislature and its own laws and roads and cities and shopping centers. But it isn't really a place. It has no identity of its own; it is merely a large suburb of New York and Philadelphia; it is smelly and dirty; it is run by the Mafia; it is corrupt; it is crowded; and worst of all, nobody who lives in New Jersey really cares about New Jersey." (p. 5).

29. See also John T. Cunningham, New Jersey: America's Main Road (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966); Alan Rosenthal and John Blydenburgh, eds., Politics in New Jersey (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1975). See also State Politics and Government in New Jersey, in "State Politics and Government Series" (University of Nebraska Press, forthcoming).

30. On Ohio, see John H. Fenton, Midwest Politics (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966); Dick Perry, Ohio: A Personal Portrait of the 17th State (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969); Robert McLaughlin, The Heartland (New York: Time-Life Library of America, 1967).

31. Stephanie Cole, ed., Partnership Within the States (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois, Institute of Government and Public Affairs and Temple University, Center for the Study of Federalism, 1976). See also Joseph Zimmerman, ed., Government of the Metropolis (New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1968).

32. See also the following books by Daniel J. Elazar, Cities of the Prairie, (New York: Basic Books, 1970), Ch. 9, p. 45; Cities of the Prairie Revisited (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), pp. 38-45; Building Cities in America (Lanham, Md: Center for the Study of Federalism and University Press of America, 1987); The Politics of Belleville (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1971).

33. See also Daniel J. Elazar, "Local Government in Intergovernmental Perspective," in The Politics of American Federalism, Daniel J. Elazar, ed. (Lexington, MA: C.C. Heath, 1969); Paul Finkelman and Stephen E. Gottlieb, eds., Toward a Usable Past; Liberty Under State Constitutions (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1991).

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