The Division of Functions Between the Central and the Local Governments

As was pointed out in the preceding chapter, the development of a system of subventions is conditioned by the division of functions between the central and the local governments. Unless the local governments have numerous functions to perform state aid is quite unlikely to develop. It is necessary, therefore, to ascertain the division of governmental functions in Pennsylvania before proceeding to discuss the development of the state subventions. Again, as has been pointed out, a system of subventions is not often found unless the central treasury is amply provided with revenue. It is necessary, therefore, to ascertain the relative revenue resources of the state and of the local governments in Pennsylvania before discussing the development of the subvention system.

It must not be concluded, however, that subventions never come into existence when the localities have few duties to perform and when the central governments are not in possession of overflowing treasuries. The state subventions to common schools, in the United States, are standing proofs that special levies may be made upon general property solely for the purpose of making a subvention whose chief object is to insure a certain minimum of excellence in the performance of a given service or to equalize the burden of a service between localities. This fact does not, however, obviate the necessity of studying the division of functions and revenue resources, since equalization of burdens between localities and central control to secure standards are only two of the purposes for which subventions are made.

Like most American colonists the first settlers in Pennsylvania were jealous of all encroachment upon their political privileges by the provincial government. Quarrels having to do with the amount and methods of raising revenue and other political matters sprang up between the popularly elected assembly and the governors or their deputies and made the people hostile to central authority. Again, in Pennsylvania to a greater extent than in any other colony, differences of language, of nationality, of religious belief, and of political tenets served to accentuate the isolation that a lack of communication and the pioneer environment naturally produced. These conditions together with the feeling of local self-sufficiency, so common in frontier communities, tended to prevent the growth of solidarity of interests and to array one sect or one nationality against the others. Under such conditions a powerful state government could have been built up only by one party gaining complete ascendancy. To a certain extent the Quakers may be looked upon as the party in power down to the Revolution. But their frequent quarrels with the governors of the province would have prevented the development of a strong central government, even though other forces had not worked against such an eventuation.

After the colonies had separated from England, the tendency for the people to look with suspicion upon governments that were distant and to regard with favor the exercise of authority by those that were near and administered by their neighbors, increased rather than diminished. *1 The relative influence which should be assigned to the spirit of local independence, in Pennsylvania, in determining the causes that resulted in the delegation of a large share of the business of government to the localities, cannot be accurately measured. Neither can we estimate the effect of this tendency in counteracting the opposing principle of state interference, which grew steadily throughout the nineteenth century. But it is one of the forces that must be kept constantly in mind in explaining fiscal and political arrangements between the state and the minor civil divisions.

*1 Merriam, A History of American Political Theories, pp. 78-79.

From the legal point of view there is no "proper," or one best division of powers between central and local authorities. There are certain functions of government, of which diplomatic intercourse with foreign nations is an example, that can scarcely be locally administered under any circumstances. With respect to such functions as the military, the administration of justice, and the management of state revenues, upon the proper performance of which the central government is dependent for its very existence, the local authorities can act only as agents of the superior power. The demand for uniformity is imperative and the localities can have little discretion. Aside from a limited number of such exceptions, however, there are no functions of government that might not be exercised by the localities; and in the following discussion it will be assumed that the terms "local services" and "state services" carry no implication of a necessary division of powers.

The first source of information as to the actual division of power in any given state is the body of fundamental laws governing it. In the state this is the constitution, and in the province the royal charter or other fundamental agreements. The next source is, of course, the acts of the legislature establishing and giving power to local governments. In Pennsylvania, before 1776, we have to look to the charter given by Charles II to Penn, to certain subsequent documents, such as the Frames of Government, and to the acts of the Assembly for information concerning the political status of the localities. Now, although Pennsylvania was founded by a religious reformer, who belonged to a sect that advocated many specific departures from the religious practices, social customs, and political methods then existing in England, the government that he set up in the new world followed closely the English model. In many instances, the English system of local government was copied with remarkable faithfulness but in other cases the new environment made changes from the older arrangements necessary.