ALDERMAN (from A.-S. ealdorman, compounded of the comparative degree of the adjective eald, old, and man), a term implying the possession of an office of rank or dignity, and, in modern times, applied to an office-bearer in the municipal corporations and county councils of England and Wales,and in the municipal corporations of Ireland and the United States. Among the Anglo-Saxons, earls, governors of provinces and other persons of distinction received this title. Thus we read of the aldermannus totius Angliae, who seems to have corresponded to the officer afterwards styled capitalis justiciarius Angliae, or chief-justice of England; the aldermannus regis, probably an occasional magistrate, answering to the modern justice of assize, or perhaps an officer whose duty it was to prosecute for the crown; and aldermannus comitatus, a magistrate with a middle rank between what was afterwards called the earl and the sheriff, who sat at the trial of causes with the bishop and declared the common law, while the bishop proceeded according to ecclesiastical law. Besides these, we meet with the titles of aldermannus civitatis, burgi, castelli, hundredi sive wapentachii, etc. In England, before the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act, their functions varied according to the charters of the different boroughs. By the Municipal Corporations Act 1835, and other acts, consolidated by the Municipal Corporations Act 1882, the aldermen are elected by the councillors for six years, one-half going out every three years. The number of councillors in each borough varies according to its magnitude. One-fourth of the municipal council consists of aldermen and three-fourths of councillors. In the counties, too, the number of aldermen is one-third of the number of councillors, except in London, where it is one-sixth. In the municipal corporations of Scotland there is no such title as alderman, the office-bearers of corresponding rank there being termed bailies. The corporation of the city of London was not included in the Borough Reform Act, and the antiquated system remains there in full force. The court of aldermen consists of twenty-six, twenty-five of whom are elected for life by the freemen of the respective wards, who return two persons, one of whom the court of aldermen elect to supply the vacancy. The city is divided into twenty-six wards; twenty-four of these send up one alderman each, the other two combine to choose a twenty-fifth. The twenty-sixth alderman serves for the independent borough of Southwark (q.v.) and is appointed by the other aldermen, who generally select the senior from among themselves when a vacancy occurs. The lord mayor is elected from such of the aldermen as have served the office of sheriff; of these the Common Hall, which consists of the freemen of the different wards, select two, and the aldermen elect one of these to the mayoralty. The court of aldermen has the power of appointment to certain offices, exercises judicial functions in regard to licensing and in disputes connected with the ward election, has some power of disposal over the city cash and possesses magisterial control over the city, each alderman being a judge and magistrate for the whole city, and by virtue of his office exercising the functions of a justice of the peace. The aldermen are members of the court of common council, the legislative body of the corporation, which consists in all of 232 members, the remainder being elected annually by the freemen. In the United States aldermen form as a rule a legislative rather than a judicial body, although in some cities they hold courts and possess very considerable magisterial powers.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)