This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
The charter that Penn received from Charles II gave the proprietor power to establish such local authorities as the town, county, borough, and city. *2 Three important local units were actually established. The county was made the principal unit of local government, and, in the beginning, the county court was the principal administrative body. *3 The township did not become important as an administrative authority until late in the eighteenth century. *4 While Philadelphia remained for many years the only incorporated city in the province, boroughs were also incorporated and, of course, developed in greater numbers than did the cities. It is with the division of powers between the province, on the one hand, and the counties, the cities and the boroughs, on the other, that we have here to deal. *5
2 Charters and Laws, 1682-1700, pp. 85-86.
3 Howard, An Introduction to the Local Constitutional History of the United Stales, pp. 371 ff.
4 Idem, p. 385.
5 For a discussion of the development of the Pennsylvania county see Howard, Pt. III, Ch. VIII, Sec. iii, and Gould, "Local Self-Government in Pennsylvania," (Johns Hopkins University Studies, I); for Philadelphia see Allinson and Penrose, Philadelphia, 1681-1887; for the burroughs, Holcomb, "Pennsylvania Boroughs," (Johns Hopkins University Studies, IV).
The governmental machinery of the province of Pennsylvania, like that of the other colonies, was very simple. As Dewey has pointed out in discussing colonial expenditures, *6 these frontier communities felt the need of government very slightly. Public offices were few; public works were undeveloped; and with the exception of poor relief of the crudest sort, public charity and public assistance were non-existent. Provincial authorities had chiefly to do with the more fundamental functions of government, without which organized society cannot exist, and with the provision of soldiers for Colonial and Indian wars. The military operations of Pennsylvania, Quaker colony though it was, assumed at times predominant importance in provincial finance. In the war against the French and their Indian allies, during the years 1756 to 1763, the province expended about £500,000. *7 In addition to its expenditures for war the colony paid out smaller amounts in bribes and peace-money in order to prevent Indian attacks. *8 In time of peace the provincial authorities were relatively inactive. Ordinary expenses, in 1767, included little beyond the payment of modest salaries to the governor, to the judges of the supreme court, and to the assemblymen, and a few minor payments to unimportant state officials. *9 With the war for independence came tremendous increases in military expenditures, but no important new functions were added to the central government. All important relations between the commonwealth and the localities remained about as they were during the colonial period. *10
6 Financial History of the United States, (1st ed.), p. 9.
As might be expected, if the province assumed no very great number of functions, the local governments were more heavily burdened. But in the localities as in the province, the need for governmental action was felt only to a slight extent. The life of the local communities was not complex, and the expenditures of the local units could not have been called "burdensome." The significance of the division of functions during the colonial period does not lie in the onerousness of the fiscal burdens imposed on the localities, but in the number and variety of functions that were assigned to them. A single illustration will serve to show the significance of these assignments. Poor relief, in colonial times, was made a matter for local control, and, before 1776, it was an important but not onerous service, the cost of which the localities were compelled to bear. In the nineteenth century, however, when public charity came to include he care and treatment of the insane in specialized institutions, the provision of homes for the aged and the physically and mentally incapable, and the provision of free hospitals for injured miners, the fact that all poor relief had long been regarded as a local affair became of the greatest fiscal significance for the localities. The localities were now in danger of being charged with services that were onerous in the highest degree.
7 The British government reimbursed the colony in part. Bigelow's Works of Benjamin Franklin, II, p. 414. This is Franklin's estimate given before Parliament.
8 Gordon, T. F. History of Pennsylvania, pp. 260-263.
9 Idem, p. 585. For a good outline of state and local governments, their officers and duties, see Proud, R. History of Pennsylvania, II, pp. 284-291.
10 Bolles makes the statement that in 1760 the cost of governing each person in the province "was two and one-half pence apiece." History of Pennsylvania, I, p. 395.
The functions assigned to the local governments during the period when institutions were becoming fixed may be grouped roughly under five heads: (1) the support of local administrative, legislative, and judicial officers; (2) poor relief; (3) the prosecution and punishment of criminals; (4) local public works; and (5) miscellaneous provisions for the protection of life and property. With respect to the first class of services little need be said, except that their fiscal importance depended upon the degree of complexity of local government, and, other things remaining the same, that they tended to make larger demands for money as the community progressed from a backwoods county to an industrial or commercial center. It should also be observed that the officers of the town, county, borough, city and province were supported to some extent by fees, instead of salaries paid out of the proceeds of taxation. *11 In addition to the payment of the salaries of such officers as were not supported by fees, the counties were for many years charged with the payment of their representatives in the provincial assembly. *12
11 Urdahl, The Fee System in The United States, pp. 99, 121. In this respect Pennsylvania was no exception to the general rule, followed in all the colonies. For a long list of "fees" that might be charged by different officers see II Statutes at Large, pp. 343 ff.
12 Act of 1724, IV Statutes at Large, p. 13.