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Virginia House of Burgesses—Pic of the Week

Spring may be the best time of year to take a break and visit Virginia’s historic triangle and Williamsburg, Virginia, especially the Virginia House of Burgesses. Spring is the anniversary time of so many historic revolutionary moments in Virginia.

The House of Burgesses is the oldest English-speaking representative assembly in the New World, dating back to its establishment in Jamestown in 1619. The assembly originally met in an Anglican church as a unicameral body including the governor, governor’s council, and the elected burgesses. In 1641, the assembly separated into the governor’s council and the house of burgesses, and moved to a statehouse complex in Jamestown. Burgess originally meant a member of parliament in a town or borough; however,  in the colonies, it came to mean an elected representative in the colonies of Maryland and Virginia. The king appointed the governor of Virginia, and the governor’s council and the burgesses were elected representatives of Virginia.  It should be noted that only white male landowners over the age of 21 could vote. After King James I revoked the Virginia Company’s charter, in 1624, and made Virginia a crown colony, the king gained the authority to dissolve the house of burgesses at will, a power that came to bear greater importance when Virginians were opposing the various taxes imposed by the Crown prior to the Revolutionary War (the Sugar Act, the Quartering Act, the Townshend Act, the Stamp Act, etc.).

House of Burgesses, facing end of Duke of Gloucester Street [photo by Rebecca Raupach]

The Jamestown statehouse burned down on three separate occasions.  After the last time it burned, in 1698, the assembly voted to move to the colonial capitol to Middle Plantation, which was then renamed Williamsburg after King William III. Until the new capitol was built, the burgesses gathered in the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary. In 1704, the burgesses first used the newly built house of burgesses, the Virginia colonial capitol at Williamsburg. The House of Burgesses continued as the legislative body of Virginia until 1775, when the burgesses voted to reform as the Virginia House of Delegates.

The first capitol was built by Henry Cary and was used until it burned in 1747. On November 1, 1753, the burgesses met in the rebuilt capitol for the first time. After the capitol had moved to Richmond for safety in 1779, the bricks from the west wing were sold.  In 1832, the east wing burned down, with only some of the foundation remaining. The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities deeded the grounds to Colonial Williamsburg in 1928. Colonial Williamsburg arranged for the site to be reconstructed most closely following the drawings of the first capitol as built by Henry Cary, although the new building takes some creative license with the original design. The Virginia General Assembly meets ceremonially in Williamsburg for one session every other year. The capitol building was the flashpoint of some of the more fiery moments in the history of the founding of the United States such as Patrick Henry’s Caesar-Brutus speech and the defiant resolutions of the Virginia House of Burgesses. Some of our best-known founding fathers—Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, George Wythe, Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, and Francis Lightfoot Lee—practiced part of their legislative careers there. The building is a memory palace for students of early American history.

House of Burgesses on the Nicholson Street side, facing the gaol [photo by Rebecca Raupach]

House of Burgesses, Williamsburg, VA  facing Francis Street [photo by Rebecca Raupach]

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The following is a guest post by Supreetha Sampath Kumar, a foreign law intern at the Law Library of Congress. On November 8, 2016, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced the “notebandi” initiative, declaring that the use of all Rupees (Rs.) 500 and Rs. 1,000 banknotes (equal to about US$7.60 and US$15.30) of […]

Changes to the Law on Sexual Offenses in Japan

This following is a guest post by Sayuri Umeda, a foreign law specialist who covers Japan and various other countries in East and Southeast Asia. She has previously written posts for In Custodia Legis on various topics, including testing of older drivers in Japan, English translations of post-World War II South Korean laws, laws and regulations passed […]

Download Search Results and Advanced Search Enhancements – Congress.gov 2017 Spring Cleaning

Spring is a beautiful time of year in Washington, D.C.  The temperature warms up; the cherry blossoms are out; and we frequently have an update of Congress.gov to share. In 2015 we added treaties and web-friendly bill text, and in 2016 we expanded the quick search feature. Today there is another round of enhancements to […]

Judge Crazy Walking—Pic of the Week

In preparing the Law Library’s various products, there’s often an element of creativity.  Recently, my colleague Carla and I have been brainstorming some visual ideas for the Indigenous Law Portal. As I was looking for images, I chanced upon this image of Judge Crazy Walking. I, like many folks, often wonder who someone in a […]

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Today is the deadline for filing returns for personal income taxes for 2016. The current federal income tax can be traced back to the Revenue Act of 1913, which was passed after the ratification, by the states, of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution. The act provided that taxes on individual taxpayers would be imposed beginning […]

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The North German Confederation (Norddeutscher Bund) is generally considered the first modern German Federation. Before that time, there were 39 different sovereign states, varying in size, that were loosely associated in the German Confederation (Deutscher Bund). The North German Federation came into existence with the adoption of the Constitution of the North German Confederation by the German Reichstag […]

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This post is coauthored by Nathan Dorn, rare book curator, and Robert Brammer, senior legal information specialist. Our latest video comes to you from the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room of the Library of Congress. To help us commemorate the Appomattox Campaign that took place 152 years ago and concluded on April 9, 1865 with Robert E. Lee’s […]