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400 Years and Counting.

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," Virginia House Speaker M. Kirkland Cox (R) says.

In what some call a paradox of American history, the same year those men were seeking freedom, the first documented African slaves--Kimbundu-speaking people from current-day Angola--were brought to Virginia's shores. Twenty or so arrived on the English ship White Lion followed a few days later by another 25 or so on the Treasurer. Both groups were captured from the Spanish slave ship San Juan Bautista, which departed Angola with 350 enslaved Africans, some 150 of whom died. The survivors were traded for supplies, and thus began their long struggle for freedom from slavery.

Both events of 1619 will be commemorated this year.

NCSL is working with American Evolution, an organization created by Virginia to observe the first assembly of 1619. A series of activities throughout the year will culminate with the Forum on the Future of Representative Democracy, where attendees from across the globe will reflect on democracy and offer new visions for what it may hold in the future.

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Title Annotation:ANNIVERSARIES; Virginia and the history representative democracy in the United States
Author:McClure, Megan
Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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