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Canada? But it is impossible to dwell upon these matters now. If the few pages devoted to the subject of the history shall serve to arouse some little interest in one of the most interesting chapters of the history of the continent, their purpose will have been accomplished
Up to the present time, no thorough and adequate history of Michigan has been written and very much material now comparatively easily accessible, has never been given careful and thorough consideration. This fact has increased very greatly the difficulty of preparing these few chapters. They represent, in spite of their brevity, a great amount of time and labor, as I have examined, with such care as time has permitted, all material to which I could gain access.
Another point that perhaps needs some explanation is the character of the work on the government of the state. I never have valued highly the ordinary work on Civil Government in our public schools. The committing to memory of the mere facts of government, without any understanding of the principles that underlie them or any knowledge of the processes through which they have come about, has not seemed to me a more valuable school exercise than the committing of any other comparatively unrelated facts. That such facts have practical value is largely a mistaken notion, and even if they have, most of the time spent upon them is waste time, because without any of our pedagogic efforts the average boy, by the time he is grown up, will know about everything that he ought to know of what the ordinary Civil Governments contain. The minutiæ of Civil Government one learns from experience, so far as one needs to learn and remember them. In fact he must do so, if he learns them at all, for the details of
governmental affairs are constantly changing, and facts of this kind learned twenty-five years ago would now be so inaccurate as to be useless.
But there are many questions which people cannot answer for themselves, many things that they will not of themselves be able to understand. In the average community, for example, or among ordinarily well educated people, how many have any proper conception of the relation of the state and the nation? or of the source of authority of a state government? or of the difference in position with regard to its powers between the state and the national government? and dozens of other things of this kind. Great principles underlie all English and American political development, which it has taken the slow process of ages to unfold and make articulate in existing institutions. It is in the understanding of these principles and of their processes of development, rather than in the everyday details, that the field of Civil Government properly lies. It should be a science starting from its fundamental principles, as does chemistry or any other properly developed science, but taking more careful account of the historical processes involved.
One other thing greatly needs to be mentioned. The Civil Government that is now most studied and that commands the most attention from both authors and teachers, is the government of the United States. The glamor of national politics and the splendor of national operations, because of the great scale on which they are necessarily carried on, has taken the attention of students away from the things that are essential and fundamental. For the student really bent upon understanding the character of our institutions national affairs are the last to demand attention. For national
institutions are in a certain sense artificial. They were made to order for a certain occasion and lack historical background. The principles they embody and even their forms were simply adaptations of what had already been worked out elsewhere, and for different purposes. However interesting and important they may seem, evidently enough their interest and importance is secondary as compared with the institutions from which they were derived, and their own character can be understood only as these others are understood. On the other hand all that is most valuable, both in the forms and spirit of our government, has come down to us through long ages. It is the achievement of our race, often worked out in bitterness and suffering. That the state, and not the nation, is the inheritor of all that the past has handed down to us is the first great fact to challenge our attention. For our state institutions come with almost unbroken line of descent through many generations and many centuries. All of those things that are most dear and most important to us depend upon the state for their preservation, and naturally so from the very character of our history, and besides they have developed from the smallest beginnings, in the smallest of what we would now call local communities. It is the elementary and comparatively simple institutions that have the longest histories and embody the most fundamental principles, and it is to these, to their historical development, and to the principles that underlie them, that our attention should be first given. If we wish to study only the outward forms of institutions, it is perhaps well to take first those that are most striking, but if our purpose is to get at their real character and the principles they embody, then we must take those that are fundamental,
and those that best illustrate the slow unfolding of the ideas from which they have arisen. From this latter point of view, the study of the organization of the state, both local and general, must be considered the foundation of all our civil government.
In the use of this little manual one thing should be kept in mind. The best and most lasting knowledge of a subject is gained by immediate touch with it. This book itself is not the thing to be studied but is simply a guide to study. The government of the Territory of Michigan should be studied in the Ordinance of 1787, and our state governments in our two state constitutions and in the laws which govern the great civic machinery of the state and its districts. These laws should be so studied and such an understanding of the institutions developed as to do away with the set and isolated rules of the ordinary work of civics. The insight thus gained should be corrected and reinforced by a study of the earlier institutional forms, as nearly first hand as possible, and of the character of the changes that have brought them to their present conditions. Such a thorough first hand study of the growth of the organization of the state will give the student a good working knowledge of the government, and train him to the proper methods of investigation for all subjects of this kind.
In the preparation of this work a number of people have been of material assistance to me. To my late friend and associate in the history department here, Miss Phoebe Fairchild, I am especially indebted for the minute and critical care with which she has examined every page of the manuscript, both as to structure and the character of the material. The following pages owe much to her keen insight and trenchant criticism.
Another of my associates, Miss Macy Kitchen, has been of constant assistance in the preparation of the work, and has given me unsparingly of her time as the need has arisen. I have also had occasion to make inquiries with regard to certain facts connected with various points of local history and I have invariably received courteous and painstaking answers to all my letters, notwithstanding that considerable research has sometimes been necessary to ascertain the facts asked for. The inquiries of this kind I have made, however, have jonly the more fully revealed that there is now in Michigan a rich field for local investigation, and many facts, both in connection with our local government and with the development of our school system, can only be established in this way.
WEBSTER COOK. Saginaw, April 24, 1905.