400 years of uninterrupted lawmaking

The Virginia House of Delegates has gaveled in the 2019 General Assembly Session, reaching a historic milestone of 400 years of uninterrupted lawmaking for the people of Virginia. Formally the House of Burgesses, the House of Delegates is the the oldest continuously elected lawmaking body in the New World, established in 1619.

Marking this historic milestone, Speaker Kirk Cox addressed the 100 members of the House. His remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

“As we start the 2019 Regular Session, I would like to take a moment to reflect on this special occasion — visually highlighted by the presence of the Jamestown Settlement Honor Guard alongside our Capitol Police Honor Guard.

Assembling here today, we inaugurate our quadricentennial, 400 years of lawmaking for the people of Virginia and showcasing to the world the durability of our ongoing experiment in representative self-government.

This an exceptional moment.

When our predecessors first assembled at Jamestown Island all those years ago, they changed everything. Those first citizen servants forged a path we continue on today, four centuries later.

Patrick Henry gives his “If this be treason, make the most of it!” speech against the Stamp Act of 1765 in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Painting by Peter Frederick Rothermel

This path has been one both of triumph and trial. It is a journey in representative democracy where our dreams and aspirations remain in dialogue with the reality of human nature.

But even with this honest assessment, our path has impressively endured uninterrupted from Jamestown in 1619, through Williamsburg to Richmond since 1785.

And, though we have the distinct privilege of sitting here today we must know that the journey will continue for longer still.

This is a legacy project always under construction and renewal.

400 years is an unparalleled record and the clear distinction as America’s first.

If you think about that for a moment, that distinction comes with incredible responsibility: our duty to serve and improve the livelihoods of all Virginians as we continue building our Commonwealth’s future is an example to the nation older than even our nation’s founding documents.

While our ideals, principles, norms, traditions, and forms of self- governance are espoused in those documents, this institution is the living, breathing embodiment of them.

That is remarkable.

We stand on the shoulders of the nearly 10,000 House of Burgesses and Delegates who preceded our tenure. We cannot take for granted the historical traditions that we honor and continue here in this Chamber.

For me personally, it is an immense privilege to be associated with this historic body in 2019, and a personal honor to hold the title of Speaker which dates to its founding.

It is truly a remarkable vantage point to look out at each of you and take-in the composition of this body at 400 years: All of you, including the Delegate from Fairfax and the first female caucus leader in our history, are sharp… seasoned… passionate… dedicated… and ambitious; leaders.

This story – OUR story – that of Virginia, is one we will continue shaping today and in the weeks to come as “keepers of the flame.” The bold, bright promise of democracy, diversity and opportunity that first came to light in 1619 shines today uninterrupted for the nation and the world to see.”

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