It is the duty of the qualified voters to give the township good government by electing good officers. A vote cast for a bad man or a bad measure is an attack upon the rights of every person in the community. The power of suffrage is held for the public good; but it is used for the public injury when incompetent or unfaithful men are elected to office. Good government and the happiness and prosperity of the country depend upon an honest and intelligent vote.
The township government possesses legislative, judicial, and executive functions. It has a legislative department to make local laws, a judicial department to apply the laws to particular cases, and an executive department to enforce these and other laws. The three functions are of nearly equal prominence in the Eastern States, but in the West the executive function is more prominent than the legislative and the judicial.
CORPORATE POWER.—Each township is a corporation; that is, in any business affair it may act as a single person. In its corporate capacity it can sue and be sued; borrow money; buy, rent, and sell property for public purposes. When it is said that the township possesses these powers, it is meant that the people of the township, acting as a single political body, possess them.
OFFICERS.—The officers of the township are more numerous, and their functions are more extensive than those of the civil district. Many officers are the same in name, and others have the same duties as those of the county in the Southern States.
LEGISLATIVE DEPARTMENT; THE PEOPLE.—In the Eastern States the legislative department of the township government has more extensive functions than in the West. In the New England States most local affairs belong to the township government, and the county is of minor importance. In these and a few other States the people make their own local laws instead of delegating this power to representatives. The electors of the township meet annually at a fixed place, upon a day appointed by law, discuss questions of public concern, elect the township officers, levy township taxes, make appropriations of money for public purposes, fix the salaries and hear the reports of officers, and decide upon a course of action for the coming year. Thus the people themselves, or more strictly speaking, the qualified voters, are the government. In some States special town meetings may be called for special purposes. The town meeting places local public affairs under the direct control of the people, and thus gives them a personal interest in the government, and makes them feel a personal responsibility for its acts. Another benefit of the system is that it trains the people to deal with political matters, and so prepares them to act intelligently in all the affairs of the State and the nation.
In the Western States the county government is more important, and township legislation is confined to a narrow range. In power and importance the township of most Western States is intermediate between the town of the East and the civil district of the South.