This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol8 Partnership, Private Corporations, Public Corporations", by Albert H. Putney. Also available from Amazon: Popular Law-Dictionary.
Section 9. The idea of a government by-means of counties, comes down from the remotest period of Anglo Saxon history. It was imported to the American colonies with the common law, and entered, naturally, and of course, into the frame of all their colonial governments. The political power is composed of representatives from counties. Through them justice is administered, the revenues collected, and the local police rendered effective.
According to modern usage, the county means a distinct portion of the country, organized by itself for judicial and political purposes.
Counties are of a peculiar political character, constituting the machinery and essential agency of the State, by which free governments are upheld. Whatever of power a county possesses, or whatever of duty it is required to perform, originates in the statute creating it.1
In New England, the original functions of the county were very limited, being generally such as appertained to the duties of the county court; there the town was the original unit of government, and in it was vested the greater part of local government and administration. In the southern and middle states the county was, and is the unit of government, while the two systems have met and modified each other in the western states.
1 Eagle vs. Beard, 33 Ark., 497; The People vs. Martin, 178 III., 611. "The United States are generally divided into counties. Counties are, in many of the States, divided into townships or towns. In the New England States, however, towns are the basis of all civil divisions, and the counties are rather to be considered as aggregate of towns, so far as their origin is concerned." - Bouvier L. Dict.