This document is a photograph of a monument erected on Jamestown Island in 1907. It recognizes the first meeting of the General Assembly of the Virginia colony, which met from July 30 to August 4, 1619 in a church building close to the monument’s location. This particular photograph was one of several displayed at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, one of the nation’s largest world’s fairs of all time.
The General Assembly’s meeting marked the start of what the state of Virginia considers to be the oldest continuous law-making body of the New World. The assembly allowed colonists the ability to be represented by people within their colony, who would be able to voice their concerns and help influence the laws and guidelines that ruled their daily lives. It was their hope that this group, called the House of Burgesses, would help ensure that the colonies ran smoothly, thus making it more enticing to potential investors and people looking to move to the colonies. The tenacity of the blossoming governmental body would continually be tested over time as America and England went through a series of revolutions and changes.
Since its inception, the General Assembly has continued to meet every year to discuss important matters and to approve – or decline – the passing of bills into law or to strike down existing laws. The general public is welcome to attend and even speak or otherwise submit testimony during the legislative sessions to speak on pending legislation, giving them the opportunity to influence the outcome.
The General Assembly is bicameral, meaning that it is comprised of two parts, the lower house – or the House of Delegates – and the upper house, the Senate. Both parts share legislative power and both were formed in 1776 when the Virginia Constitution was first enacted, although the House of Delegates is an immediate successor to the House of Burgesses. Terms and numbers for both groups differ, as the Senate is comprised of 40 Senators who serve four year terms while the House of Delegates have 100 members that serve for two year terms.
Citation: Monument Listing Names of the Members of the First Legislative Assembly in America, 1939 World's Fair Photograph Collection. Library of Virginia Special Collections Prints and Photographs. In Virginia Memory. Retrieved From http://www.virginiamemory.com/reading_room/this_day_in_virginia_history/july/30 [viewed 26 October 2016]
Current Connections: What do you think that current members of the General Assembly are discussing today? Were any of these topics discussed at the more modern Assemblies?
In Your Own Words: If you could create your own bill, what laws would you introduce? What existing laws would you amend or otherwise remove?
In Your Own Words: If you were to testify on a bill or amendment currently at the General Assembly, what types of arguments would you use to make your case? Can you think of any current or recent bills or amendments that you could speak about?