Every US local government

Neil Freeman, 2016

This map divides the United States into the most local subset of government. Every local government jurisdiction visible on the map is shown in a different color. A wide variety of forms of government are visible on the map: counties, cities, towns, villages, American Indian reservations, one federal district and the state of Alaska, which directly administers most of the state.

The most eye-catching thing about this map is that the Northeast and Midwest are administered very differently from the South and West. Counties in the Midwest are divided into townships, which generally evolved from the "survey townships" of the Public Land Survey System. Since the PLSS was meant to enable self-sufficient, yeoman farmers, it included a provision to create these small local governments to run schools (and other basic services) for the five or six hundred farmers in the township. This followed the pattern set in New England, where towns were originally centered around (and governed by) a single church.

Halfway across the Great Plains, moist Gulf air peters out, and smallholding becomes impractical, a fact recorded in the disappearance of townships. Meanwhile in the South, small farming and small government weren't a thing. The southern economy was dominated by large farms operated with slave labor, and plantation owners didn't demand or desire local government.

In the Southwest, several large reservations, including the Navajo and Hopi Nations, are clearly visible even at this tiny scale, a reminder that the process of laying out counties and townships was preceded by rounds of conquest and ethnic cleansing.

I'm considering printing this as a poster. Email me if you would be interested in having one.

map of the united states by local government