Official country name: United States of America
Capital: Washington, D.C.
Geographic description: North America, north of Mexico and south of Canada, forms the coterminous United States; Alaska is to the west of Canada and Hawaii is in the North Pacific
Population: 295,734,134 (est. 2005)
The United States of America considers July 4, 1776, as the founding of the nation with the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. The original thirteen states were considered colonies of Britain. They joined together to fight for independence during the Revolutionary War (1775–1782). The second Treaty of Paris in 1783 officially ended the war for independence. During the early years of the country, much effort was placed on establishing a federal government that would work in conjunction with the various states. It was 1791 when the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights were adopted and put into action.
Prior to independence, social control and policing efforts throughout the colonies consisted of practices that were common in the colonists' homelands—local constables, sheriffs, and night watchmen. Night watchmen and constables, appointed or elected in villages and cities, were assigned a number of duties. For example, the constable in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1634, was the sealer of weights and measures, surveyor of land, jailer, and an announcer of marriages. County governments copied the English precedent of appointing sheriffs as their primary law enforcement officials. These sheriffs, like their British counterparts, were appointed through the political system (usually the colonial governor's office) and were not elected. Service as a night watchman or constable was an obligation of the adult males of the community. Although some communities experimented with paid constables, most colonists relied on volunteers to staff their law enforcement offices well into the 1700s. Some variations existed, however. For example, in New Amsterdam (later named New York when the British took over the city), a group of citizens equipped with rattles to warn of their watchful presence was referred to as the "rattlewatch." In 1658 New Amsterdam appointed eight paid watchmen to replace the volunteers, but it was not until 1693 that the first uniformed police officer was appointed by the mayor (Conser and Russell 2000). During the 1700s, policing in most colonial cities changed little, although historians note that the reliance
on volunteer watchmen was becoming strained. The towns were becoming large enough to need reliable police but their best citizens habitually refused their turn and obligation to serve on the night watch. Some cities did pay their watchmen, but not enough to allow someone to earn his living by law enforcement. The idea of citizen participation in policing was breaking down, and something was needed to replace it. In 1749 the city of Philadelphia was permitted to levy a tax and appoint wardens with the authority to hire watchmen as needed. Only those interested in working on the watch for pay applied to the wardens (Johnson 1981).
The military presence of the British became an increasing factor as massive social and political discontent grew stronger toward the latter part of the 1700s. This military presence extended to the frontier in the Ohio Valley and Lake Erie during the French and Indian War (1756–1763). From 1765 through the end of the Revolutionary War (1783), the colonies faced several riots and disturbances, economic depression, and an ever-increasing imperial policy of Britain. The duties of public safety were given to military forces. Following the Revolutionary War, policing was turned back over to civilian authority (local government).
Some parts of the colonies had their own unique forms of policing. For example, southern governments enacted slave patrol legislation in the 1740s. These laws protected people from runaway slaves, inhibited insurrection, and authorized recapture of slaves. The slave patrols had the right to visit every plantation and to search houses for offensive weapons and ammunition. The infliction of corporal punishment was also permitted if any slave was found to have left his owner's property without permission. Some maintain that the slave patrols of the south were America's first modern-style police forces (Williams and Murphy 1990). By 1837 the Charleston (South Carolina) slave patrol, about 100 officers, was possibly the country's largest single police force at that time (Wintersmith 1974).
On the national level, the first U.S. Marshals were appointed following authorization by the Judiciary Act of 1789. They were to support the federal courts and to carry out all lawful orders issued by judges, Congress, or the president. Throughout their early years, they were assigned to enforce unpopular federal laws, which included collection of taxes on whiskey. A marshal served papers on distillers in western Pennsylvania in 1794, but before the incident ended, 13,000 state militiamen had to be summoned to put down what is known as the Whiskey Rebellion. U.S. Marshals' enforced the law banning the African slave trade following its passage in 1819 and later carried out the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 (which required the return of runaway slaves to their owners). Marshals often met with local resistance, and sometimes their efforts were less than successful. Also, before the Civil War, Marshals tracked down counter-feiters (since the Secret Service did not exist until 1865). The U.S. Marshals may...