Friday, August 14, 2009

The House of Burgesses

Congress Voting Independence, a depiction of t...Image via Wikipedia

The House of Burgesses

The House of Burgesses was the first representative legislative body in America, and the first in any English colony. It first met at Jamestown, then the capital of Virginia, on July 30, 1619. Governor Sir George Yeardley called the meeting. The session included two citizens, or burgesses, from each of the seven boroughs (subdivisions) of Virginia. Shortly after, the House admitted burgesses from four new boroughs.

The first act of the body was to approve an official great seal for the colony. The house also claimed the right to act on all tax laws. In 1621, the House received the authority to make all legislation, but the governor and his council had the right of veto. The House conformed to English law and used the same procedure as the English Parliament.

After the death of King James I in 1625, the English government became occupied with its internal affairs and paid little attention to the House of Burgesses. England neither approved nor disapproved of the House. From then on, the House managed the affairs of the colony. The failure of Governor Sir William Berkeley to call a new election to the House was one of the many grievances that led to the Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676.

The House of Burgesses was not completely democratic. But it was the first appearance of republican government. When it was dissolved in 1774, its members met in the first revolutionary convention of Virginia. There they elected delegates to the First Continental Congress. Some of the burgesses became leaders of the Revolutionary War.

Related Notable People, Places, and Events

Bacon’s Rebellion

Yeardley, George

Berkeley, William

First Continental Congress

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