When the founders of the National Civic League first convened in Philadelphia on January 25, 1894, the condition of America’s local government weighed heavily on their minds. America’s democracy at the local level was broken. Local government was corrupt. Nepotism, favoritism, and payoffs were taking place in cities all across the country. These practices hindered the ability of local governments to address the challenges facing them. The trust citizens held in governmental leaders was damaged, creating a distrust between citizens and the government that was meant to serve them.
NCL was founded to bridge the disconnect between local government and its constituents which was critical to rebuilding America’s democracy. NCL’s founders focused on two critical topics: finding ways to professionalize local government and advocating what Teddy Roosevelt called self government, where citizens play a key part in making communities work.