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[Fr., comté,=domain of a count], division of local governmentlocal government,
political administration of the smallest subdivisions of a country's territory and population. Characteristics and Types

Although there are special-purpose local government bodies (e.g.
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 in the United States, Great Britain, and many Commonwealth countries. The county developed in England from the shire, a unit of local government that originated in the Saxon settlements of the 5th cent. By the 11th cent. the shire system was fully established throughout most of England, with each shire being ruled by a shire-reeve, or sheriff, appointed by the crown. By the 14th cent. the office of justice of the peace had developed; in each county a court of three or four justices, also appointed by the king, assisted the sheriff in the administration of local affairs. With the passage of the Local Government Act of 1888, power passed from the king's appointed officials to the newly created county councils, elected by local residents. The county system of government was adopted in most of the nations settled by the British.

In the United States there are some 3,100 counties (254 in Texas alone); most are rural or suburban, but except where, as in Virginia, a city may be independent (not part of a county), every part of a state is also part of a county. Some cities, like New York (where the five boroughs are also counties) comprise more than one county. Louisiana, influenced by the French, has instead parishes, which are essentially similar to counties; Alaska has boroughs. The major functions of county government in the United States include law enforcement, the recording of deeds and other documents, and the provision and maintenance of public works such as roads and parks. Some states, though, notably Connecticut, have abolished almost all county governmental functions.


See H. S. Duncombe, County Government in America (1966); J. C. Bollens, American County Government (1969).



(1) In the feudal period, a hereditary feudal possession headed by a count.

(2) An administrative-territorial unit in several bourgeois countries. In the USA, 47 states are divided into counties (a total of more than 3,000 counties). Counties are governed by elected county councils. In Great Britain there are administrative counties and county boroughs. The administration of counties is directed by elected councils, including so-called aldermen, who are co-opted by the council. The administration of counties also includes representatives of the central government—for example, the lord lieutenant and sheriff. The Australian Commonwealth, some Canadian provinces, and New Zealand also have counties.



a. any of the administrative or geographic subdivisions of certain states, esp any of the major units into which England and Wales are or have been divided for purposes of local government
b. (as modifier): county cricket
2. NZ an electoral division in a rural area
3. Obsolete the lands under the jurisdiction of a count or earl
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