U N: Town Meeting? Or Tragedy?

No tradition or practice is more cherished in American life than is the town meeting. It goes to the grass roots of American democracy and dates from the earliest days of the Pilgrims and the Puritans in New England. It is the finest flowering of direct democracy ever to appear in the long course of human history; and even though its institution and implications are not always observed or understood, its principles and prerogatives are jealously guarded by every true American.

No higher claim can be made for the United Nations Organization than that it is the “town meeting of the world.” The question is, therefore, the accuracy of that claim.

The town meeting arose in New England out of the necessity and privilege of self-government. It was the general assembly of all qualified voters in the town or township in which regulations and ordinances were established, taxes levied, appropriation voted and an executive committee of select men chosen to administer the will of the people. It was the privilege of every qualified citizen to speak, to vote and to be a candidate for office. The town meeting was a free assembly of free men for the welfare of all.

The observant de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America declared: “The native of New England is attached to his township because it is independent and free: his co-operation in its affairs insures his attachment to its interest; the well-being it affords him secures his affection; and its welfare is the aim of his ambition and of his future exertions: he takes a part in every occurrence in the place; he practices the art of government in the small sphere within his reach; he accustoms himself to those forms which can alone insure the ...

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