In 1619 a group of 22 men met in Jamestown, Va., to begin what would become a legacy of representative democracy in the British colonies and eventually, the United States.
"Virginia's significant impact on American history and culture can be traced back to the beginning of our ongoing experiment in representative self-government. Four centuries later, it continues to motivate and empower us to take an active role in shaping the commonwealth's future," says G. Paul Nardo, clerk of the House.
In 1617, the Virginia Company of London received word of much unrest among the exhausted colonists. To appease them, the British monarchy via the Virginia Company gave 22 burgesses a chance to sit at the table. Their first meeting--the first such gathering in the Western Hemisphere--was a unicameral session on Friday, July 30, 1619. In later years, they separated into two chambers, the lower of them being the House of Burgesses. Their world was very different from ours, of course, but the issues they discussed in that brief first session are still debated today: taxes, race relations, what qualifications a burgess must have.
"What began during that blisteringly hot summer in 1619 with little fanfare or formality was actually the forerunner of all our American representative government institutions,"...