EXPLANATORY.

From the organization of the county, in the spring of 1840, to August, 1851, the management of county affairs was vested in a Board of three Commissioners, chosen by the people, and were recognized and known as a Board of County Commissioners. This system of county management originated with Virginia, whose early settlers soon became large landed, proprietors, aristocratic in feeling, living apart in almost baronial magnificence on their own estates, and owning the laboring part of the population. Thus the materials for a town were not at hand, the voters being thinly distributed over a great area. The county organization, where a few influential men managed the whole business of the community, retaining their places almost at their pleasure, scarcely responsible at all, except in name, and permitted to conduct the county concerns as their ideas or wishes might direct, was, moreover, consonant with their recollections or traditions of the judicial and social dignities of the landed aristocracy of England, in descent from whom the Virginia gentlemen felt so much pride. In 1834, eight counties were organized in Virginia, and the system, extending throughout the State, spread into all the Southern States and some of the Northern States, unless we except the nearly similar division into "districts" in South Carolina, and that into "parishes" in Louisiana, from the French laws.

In 1851, a County Court was created (see Code of Iowa, 1851, Chap. 15). The act creating that Court gave the County Judge jurisdiction of probate affairs, and clothed him with all the powers previously exercised by the Board of County Commissioners. In short, it legislated the Commissioners out of existence.

The Township System.—On the 22d of March, 1860, the Legislature passed an act entitled "An Act creating a Board of Supervisors, and defining their duties." (See Revision of Iowa, p. 48). This law went into effect July 4, 1860, and provided for the election of one Supervisor from each civil township. When assembled together for the transaction of county business, these town representatives were known as the Board of County Supervisors. The township system had its origin in Massachusetts, and dates back to 1635. The first legal enactment concerning this system provided that, whereas " particular towns have many things which concern only themselves, and the ordering of their own affairs, and disposing of business in their own town," therefore "the freedom of every town, or the major part of them, shall only have power to dispose of their own lands and woods, with all the appurtenances of said towns, to grant lots, and to make such orders as may concern the well-ordering of their own towns, not repugnant to the laws and orders established by the General Court." They might also impose fines of not more than twenty shillings, and "choose their own particular officers, as constables, surveyors for the highways, and the like." Evidently, this enactment relieved the General Court, which was composed of the Governor and a Council selected from among the most influential inhabitants, and possessed and exercised both legislative and judicial powers, hardly limited—in fact, did all the public business of a colony—of a mass of municipal details, without any danger to the powers of that body in controlling general measures of public policy. Probably, also, a demand from the freemen of the towns was felt for the control of their own home concerns.

Similar provisions for the incorporation of towns were made in the first Constitution of Connecticut, adopted in 1639, and the plan of township organization became universal throughout New England, and came westward with the emigrants from New England into New York, Ohio and other Western States, including the northern part of Illinois; and, there being a large New England element among the population of Iowa, it is fair to presume that their influence secured the adoption of this system in Iowa, as created in the act already quoted.

It seems, however, that the township system did not continue in general favor with the people of the State. Objections were made that the body was unwieldy and expensive and that the populous townships wielded an undue proportion of voting power in the Board to the disadvantage of the less thickly populated townships, and, in 1871, the system was abolished or modified, so as to vest the powers of the former Board of Township Supervisors in a Board of three County Supervisors. (See Code of Iowa, Title IV, Chapter 2). From the time of this law going into effect, the affairs of the county have been under the control of a Board of Supervisors, consisting of three members, one of whom is annually elected at the general election, for a term of three years.

SOURCE: Allen, L. P., History of Clinton County, Iowa, Containing A History of the County, it's Cities, Towns, Etc. and Biographical Sketches of Citizens, War Record of it's Volunteers in the late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men, History of the Northwest, History of Iowa, Map of Clinton County, Constitution of the United States, Miscellaneous Matters, &c, &c., Illustrated. Chicago IL; Western Historical Company, 1879

 

 

Back to Table of contents