The House of Burgesses was the Lower Chamber of the Virginia General Assembly, the first legislative representative of the Virginia colony. Since its initiation in 1642, the House has been a public administration tool that has some independence and existed separately from the Governor and the Council appointed by the Crown. The historical importance of the House of Burgesses is the participation of its members in the proclamation of independence from the British Crown in 1776.
The House of Burgesses was created twenty-three years after the creation of the Virginia General Assembly. It was its appearance that turned the Assembly into a bicameral institution. Despite the official establishment of the Lower House of the Assembly only in 1642, its origins can be traced back to 1619.
The first legislative body in America wasn’t fully representative, because, in addition to the twenty-two locally elected members, it included the Governor appointed by the Crown and the Council appointed by the Virginia Company in 1624, London was fed up with Virginia’s problems, so the Crown abolished the charter of the Virginia Company.
Virginia became a royal colony; thus, the Crown gained the right to designate not only the Governor but also the Council. With the transformation of the Assembly into a bicameral institution, the established order remained, but the representative part of the Assembly was finally allocated into a separate institution. Thus, we can conclude that the House of Burgesses actually existed since 1619 as a representative part of the legislative body, and in 1642 it was officially created as a separate chamber.
Members of the House were elected representatives of all the counties of the colony, of which there were 15 by 1643. Among the burgesses, there were many famous personalities, such as, for example, Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Pendleton. It was these politicians who perpetuated the House of Burgesses in history with their movement towards independence.
However, this movement did not begin immediately, and Virginia maintained its loyalty to the Crown until 1775. Members of the Lower House of the Assembly for a long time tried to protest against the King peacefully, sending him formal letters and collecting one convention after another.
These conventions were meetings of the House of Burgesses without the participation of the Governor and the Council, and they put forward documents stating disagreement with the official policy of the Crown. However, after four conventions, it became clear that the creation of resolutions and bills did not affect the current situation, and practical, perhaps, radical measures were needed. Thus, in 1775 the burgesses formed the Committee of Safety intending to seize power in the absence of the royal Governor.
The end of The House of Burgesses came in 1776 with the fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention meeting. During this convention, its members voted for independence from the royal government, and thus the colony became the Commonwealth of Virginia.
At the same meeting, former burgesses created the Virginia Constitution and the new General Assembly consisting of two elected chambers, the Senate and the House of Delegates. The latter took on the role of the dissolved The House of Burgesses and became his successor. Thus, the House of Delegates is the oldest legislative body in the United States, which has not stopped its work since its commencement.