The House of Burgesses was the first elected legislative assembly in the colonies. It was part of the governing body of Virginia, consisting of 2 elected representatives from each county. To be successful on House of Burgesses APUSH questions, you should have a thorough understanding of the assembly’s role in early colonial government, as well as its lasting effect on American democracy.
What is the House of Burgesses?
In order to attract responsible, upstanding settlers to its colony, the Virginia Company drew up the Great Charter in 1618. The Great Charter established a reliable government led by a crown-appointed governor and advisory council, as well as a democratically-elected general assembly. This assembly was called the House of Burgesses. The House of Burgesses established laws and taxation, initially meeting with the governor and council in a unicameral legislature, but eventually meeting separately as part of a bicameral system.
The House of Burgesses enjoyed various levels of power throughout its history, surviving multiple attempts by the crown to limit its power or even outright dissolve the assembly. Leading up to the Revolutionary War, the House of Burgesses defended the interests of colonists in the face of England’s ever-increasing regulations, including challenging the Stamp Act and the closure of Boston Harbor. In 1774 John Murray, the royal governor of Virginia, dissolved the House of Burgesses, but the assembly continued to meet without the governor and Council until 1776, when Virginia declared independence from the throne and created a new general assembly called the House of Delegates.
Important years to note for the House of Burgesses:
- 1618: The Virginia Company establishes an elected general assembly in Virginia.
- 1619: The House of Burgesses has its first meeting with the governor and his council.
- 1774: The assembly is dissolved but continues to meet.
- 1776: The House of Burgesses ends, effectively becoming the House of Delegates.
Why is the House of Burgesses so important?
The House of Burgesses was the first elected general assembly in the colonies, paving the way for the democratic society formed during the Revolution. After a general assembly was established in Virginia, other English colonies demanded their own elected bodies of government. This helped the proliferation of democracy throughout the colonies, making their declaration of independence inevitable, and their transition into a democratic republic less traumatic. Throughout the Revolutionary period, the House of Burgesses remained a strong advocate for the rights of Virginians, and in general giving a powerful voice to the colonies. The House of Burgesses called for the Virginia Conventions, which went on to establish the Virginia Constitution. The House also called for a Continental Congress to adopt a U.S. Constitution. Many of America’s founding fathers became practiced statesmen in the House of Burgesses, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry.
What are some historical people and events related to the House of Burgesses?
- King James I: British monarch who issued the Great Charter establishing the government of Virginia Colony
- Sir George Yeardley: The first royal governor of Virginia
- John Murray: Royal governor who dissolves the House of Burgesses in 1774
- Peyton Randolph: The House of Burgesses last speaker, and the first president of the Continental Congress
What is an example House of Burgesses APUSH question?
“Very great supplies of cattle and other provisions were sent there that year, and likewise 1000 or 1200 men. They resettled all their old plantations that had been deserted, made additions to the number of the Council, and called an Assembly of Burgesses from all parts of the Country, which were to be elected by the People in their several plantations. These Burgesses met the Governor and Council at Jamestown in May 1620, and sat in consultation in the same House with them, as the method of the Scots Parliament is, debating matters for the improvement and good Government of the Country.”
-Robert Beverley, The History of Virginia in Four Parts, 1722 ()
The House of Burgesses was
A) the first elected government representing the interests of all colonies.
B) the crown’s way of checking the authority of colonial governors.
C) the first legislature in the British colonies elected by popular vote.
D) the colonial equivalent of the British Parliament’s House of Lords.
The correct answer is (C). The House of Burgesses was established by the Great Charter of Virginia Company. The charter established the government of Virginia, consisting of a royal governor and council, as well as an elected general assembly called the House of Burgesses. This assembly was the first popularly elected legislature in the New World, and created a democratic model for future British colonies.
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About Sarah Bradstreet
Sarah is an educator and writer with a Master’s degree in education from Syracuse University who has helped students succeed on standardized tests since 2008. She loves reading, theater, and chasing around her two kids.
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