About the Virginia House of Delegates
The Virginia House of Delegates is the oldest governing body in the United States, celebrating 400 years in 2019 from its early days as the House of Burgesses. The current House of Delegates consists of 100 seats with each Delegate representing approximately 80,000 citizens.
History of the House of Delegates
The House of Delegates, formerly known as the House of Burgesses, was established July 30, 1619, in Jamestown and met in the church on Jamestown Island. It is considered the oldest continuous legislative body in the Americas, and has kept the tradition of elected representatives serving in a part-time capacity to meet full-time responsibilities for nearly 400 years.
For the first 90 years, the House of Burgesses met in Jamestown, the capital of the Virginia Colony, but moved to Middle Plantation, which was later renamed Williamsburg, in 1699. From 1700-1704, the Burgesses met in the Great Hall of what is now called the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary until the Capitol was constructed.
In 1747, the Capitol burned down and the House of Burgesses moved back into the College until the reconstruction was complete. It took 10 years before it was rebuilt.
In 1776, with the institution of the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Colony became the Independent Commonwealth of Virginia. The Constitution of Virginia was created and with it a General Assembly comprised of an elected Senate and House of Delegates was instituted.
In 1779, the House of Delegates moved to Richmond during the American Revolutionary War for safety reasons and remains there today.
The General Assembly consists of a lower house – Virginia House of Delegates (100 members) and an upper house – Senate of Virginia (40 members). The House of Delegates is presided over by the Speaker of the House, while the Senate is presided over by the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Each elect a clerk and sergeant-at-arms.
Under the Constitution of Virginia, Senators and Delegates must be at least 21 years of age at the time of the election, reside in the district they represent, and be qualified to vote for members of the General Assembly. If a member moves their residence from the District they were elected, they are required to vacate their office.
The governing body meets once every year. On even-numbered years they meet for 60 days and on odd-numbered years they only meet for 45 days, unless extended by a two-thirds vote of both houses. The Governor also has the authority to convene a special session when it is necessary.
What's a Burgess? The word “Burgess” comes from the British meaning for a parliamentary representative of a borough, which was considered at the time an organized and fortified town with some powers as an independent country.
Fun Fact: Members of the General Assembly may not hold any other elected public office during their term.
Keeping Tradition Alive: Every four years the Virginia General Assembly traditionally leaves the Capitol and meets for one day in the restored Capitol building in Colonial Williamsburg. This building is a reconstruction of the original building after both the original and reconstructed buildings burned down. The next commemorative session will be held in January 2020.
Compensation: The annual salary for a Delegate is only $17,640. State Senators enjoy a slightly higher salary of $18,000 a year.
Virginia General Assembly: Capitol History. Retrieved December 9, 2017, from http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/virginiaStateCapitol.php?secid=7&activesec=1#!hb=1&mainContentTabs=0&content=0,includes/contentTemplate.php%3Ftid%3D5%26ctype%3Db%26cid%3D61
Historic Jamestowne: History: The First General Assembly. Retrieved December 9, 2017, from http://historicjamestowne.org/history/the-first-general-assembly/
Hodges, Ty. Colonial Williamsburg's Capitol Building to Host General Assembly on Saturday. January 27, 2016. Retrieved December 9, 2017, from https://wydaily.com/2016/01/27/local-news-colonial-williamsburgs-capitol-building-to-host-general-assembly-on-saturday/