Affairs of smaller moment the chiefs determine: about matters of
higher consequence the whole nation deliberates; yet in such sort,
that whatever depends upon the pleasure and decision of the people, is
examined and discussed by the chiefs. Where no accident or emergency
intervenes, they assemble upon stated days…
From their extensive liberty this evil and default flows, that they
meet not at once, nor as men commanded and afraid to disobey; so that
often the second day, nay often the third, is consumed through the
slowness of the members in assembling. They sit down as they list,
promiscuously, like a crowd, and all armed. It is by the Priests that
silence is enjoined, and with the power of correction the Priests are
then invested. Then the King or Chief is heard, as are others, each
according to his precedence in age, or in nobility, or in warlike
renown, or in eloquence; and the influence of every speaker proceeds
rather from his ability to persuade than from any authority to
command. If the proposition displease, they reject it by an
inarticulate murmur: if it be pleasing, they brandish their javelins.
The most honourable manner of signifying their assent, is to express
their applause by the sound of their arms.
Leaving aside the tone of disdain, is it such a great distance between this ancient tribal council and a New England town meeting? Open discussions are held, motions made, and voice votes taken. We tend not to go armed to Town Meeting, though, unless property tax rates are on the agenda.