In Georgia it is called the Militia District, from the fact that each subdivision furnished a certain proportionate number of men for the militia service of the State.
In Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, it is called the Magisterial District, from the fact that it was constituted as the limit of the jurisdiction of a local magistrate.
In Louisiana it is called the Police Jury Ward, perhaps for the reason that from each one of these subdivisions a warden was elected to administer the parish government.
In Maryland and Wyoming it is called the Election District, from the fact that it was the subdivision made for the convenience of voters.
In Tennessee it is called the Civil District—probably, next to “town” or “township,” the most fitting name for the smallest subdivision of civil government.
In Texas it is called the Justice’s Precinct, as being the limit of a justice’s jurisdiction.
In some of the New England States, also, districts which have not the entire town organization are provisionally called Plantations or Grants, being subject to the administration, in some local affairs, of other towns.
But under whatever name the civil unit may exist, it is the primary seat of government. In many cases the original reason for the name has disappeared, while the character of the government has greatly changed, and been modified and developed from the first crude forms.
THREE GENERAL CLASSES.—As a result, there are at present but three general classes into which we need subdivide the civil unit in the various States: these are the Civil District, which would include the “Beat,” “Hundred,” “Election Precinct,” “Militia District,” and numerous other classes, embracing about one half the States of the Union; the Town, which has its fullest development in the New England States; and the Township, which in some States has nearly the full development of a New England town, while in other States it has a looser organisation, approximating the civil district of the Southern and Southwestern States.
We shall treat of the various forms of the civil unit which we have classed under the general name of civil district before we speak of the town and the township, because they are simpler and much less developed, and therefore naturally constitute the simplest form of the civil unit.
NUMBER, SIZE.—In number and size, civil districts vary widely in different States and in different counties of the same State. There are rarely less than five or more than twelve districts to the county.
PURPOSES.—The division of the county into districts, each with its own court of law, brings justice to the people’s doors. It secures officers to every part of the county, thus affording better means for the punishment of crimes. It provides a speedy trial for minor offences and minor suits. It aids the higher courts by relieving them of a multitude of small cases. As each district has one or more polling-places, it secures convenience to the electors in casting their votes.