chapter  5
29 Pages

Federal Government and Community Will

Central versus local control INTO THE era of national independence from the colonial period moved two strong traditions of government in relation to the economy. One was the tradition of regulation, the other of promotion of economic activity. Both stemmed from the same basic concern for the welfare of the community, and were less a reflection of European mercantilist principles than of needs for group survival. Numerous price, wage, and commodity regulations combined with bounties and other grants of special privilege to make for a high degree of community participation in economic life. British legislation, however, while also regulatory and promotive, ran along the periphery of community life, being very largely confined to matters of trade and other external relations. Control over local affairs, including taxation, had long been left in the hands of the colonists. For them, therefore, it was psychologically easy to convert custom into a sense of constitutional propriety: local governments were more intimately aware than any distant administration could be of needed services and of property values capable of sustaining them via their tax yields. This understanding of where the line properly lay between the powers of external and internal governments was explicitly achieved only when the crisis in imperial relations after 1763 made it necessary for some of the colonists to reflect upon the nature of the unwritten constitution governing the British Empire. Because the deep problem crystallized by that crisis was to persist within America long after it had been resolved imperially by Revolution it will be worth while to formulate it here more precisely.