Every human institution had a beginning, and civil government is a product of progressive evolution just as much as are marriage, industry, and religion. From the early clans and primitive tribes there gradually developed the successive orders of human government which have come and gone right on down to those forms of social and civil regulation that characterize the second third of the twentieth century.
With the gradual emergence of the family units the foundations of government were established in the clan organization, the grouping of consanguineous families. The first real governmental body was the council of the elders. This regulative group was composed of old men who had distinguished themselves in some efficient manner. Wisdom and experience were early appreciated even by barbaric man, and there ensued a long age of the domination of the elders. This reign of the oligarchy of age gradually grew into the patriarchal idea.
In the early council of the elders there resided the potential of all governmental functions: executive, legislative, and judicial. When the council interpreted the current mores, it was a court; when establishing new modes of social usage, it was a legislature; to the extent that such decrees and enactments were enforced, it was the executive. The chairman of the council was one of the forerunners of the later tribal chief.
Some tribes had female councils, and from time to time many tribes had women rulers. Certain tribes of the red man preserved the teaching of Onamonalonton in following the unanimous rule of the “council of seven.”
It has been hard for mankind to learn that neither peace nor war can be run by a debating society. The primitive “palavers” were seldom useful. The race early learned that an army commanded by a group of clan heads had no chance against a strong one-man army. War has always been a kingmaker.
At first the war chiefs were chosen only for military service, and they would relinquish some of their authority during peacetimes, when their duties were of a more social nature. But gradually they began to encroach upon the peace intervals, tending to continue to rule from one war on through to the next. They often saw to it that one war was not too long in following another. These early war lords were not fond of peace.
In later times some chiefs were chosen for other than military service, being selected because of unusual physique or outstanding personal abilities. The red men often had two sets of chiefs—the sachems, or peace chiefs, and the hereditary war chiefs. The peace rulers were also judges and teachers.
Some early communities were ruled by medicine men, who often acted as chiefs. One man would act as priest, physician, and chief executive. Quite often the early royal insignias had originally been the symbols or emblems of priestly dress.
And it was by these steps that the executive branch of government gradually came into existence. The clan and tribal councils continued in an advisory capacity and as forerunners of the later appearing legislative and judicial branches. In Africa, today, all these forms of primitive government are in actual existence among the various tribes.