Land of the Brave

House of Burgesses

King James I

Colonial America - King James I

The House of Burgesses
The House of Burgesses Definition: The House of Burgesses was where elected representatives of English colonists first assembled to debate and solve common problems and pass laws in the new colony of Virginia. The House of Burgesses was established in 1619, it was split into two chambers in 1650, creating the House of Burgesses and the Governors Council and eventually disbanded in 1776.

It was succeeded by the Virginia House of Delegates. The House of Burgesses was a bicameral legislature that was a model for congress and the first representative governmental body in America.

The Establishment of the House of Burgesses
When the colonization of America began King James I of England issued a charter to the Virginia Company establishing a seven-man council in Virginia to carry out Company directives (refer to the Charter of Virginia). The experiences of the first colonists were extremely difficult, most of the first colonists perished during the period of history called the Starving Time. Sir Thomas Dale was appointed by the Virginia Company of London as the Virginia colony's marshal to take charge of discipline and order and strong disciplinary measures were introduced in the colony about the time John Rolfe arrived in the Virginia colony. News of the harsh military regime and conditions in the Virginia reached England and, not surprisingly, people were not keen on immigrating.

The House of Burgesses - the Great Charter
The Virginia Company, and England, needed some good publicity to encourage private investment and immigration to America. On November 18, 1618 King James I issued the Great Charter of 1618. The Great Charter replaced the military government with a Crown appointed governor and advisory council and authorized the governor to summon a General Assembly to legislate (make laws) as appropriate.

The House of Burgesses - Self-Government in the Virginia Colony
The leadership of the Virginia Company issued a new set of instructions in 1618, based on the provisions of the Great Charter, which was designed to encourage private investment and immigration and make conditions more agreeable to the existing inhabitants. Virginia Company officials adopted English Common Law as the basis of their system in the Virginia colony. The provisions included a system of self government which included the capacity for the colonists to select representatives to govern in a legislative assembly. This arrangement allowed the Virginia Company to retain corporate control over the colony whilst giving the colonists some measure of self government and the ability to pass their own laws. The colony would be represented by the people, its members being directly elected. This assembly of colonists was called the House of Burgesses.

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