Introduction: The Enduring Relevance of the State Assemblies

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PS: Political Science & Politics

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On July 30, 1619, 22 elected representatives convened in a small wooden church along the marshy banks of the James River to consider the laws governing the Virginia Colony. It was unbearably hot and humid during the six days that the assembly was in session and many of those attending were ill, including the colony’s governor and the assembly speaker. One burgess died mid-session. Despite these obstacles, the assembly was successful in ratifying the colony’s new charter, converting past instructions from the company’s leaders in England into law, and adopting several new laws that the burgesses themselves wanted to see enacted. Before adjourning, the assembly passed one final measure: approval of the first tax ever proposed by an American legislature, which required adult colonists to pay one pound of their best tobacco to the colonial government (Kammen 1969, 92–101).


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