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Episode 1 | Virginia: America's First Startup

We begin our series in 1619 Jamestown, Va., where British settlers persevered through disease, infighting, famine and sweltering heat to not only survive but to establish a governing body and founding principles that are directly reflected in today’s legislatures. If you think this also sounds like America’s first soap opera, you would be right.


  • G. Paul Nardo, former clerk of the house and keeper of the roles of the commonwealth of Virginia | Bio
  • Mary Elliott, curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture | Bio
  • Jim Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation | Bio

Episode Resources


Episode 2 | The Story of Legislatures Through the Revolution

In today’s political discussions, taxes are often at the forefront and quite contentious. But has it always been this way? The answer is yes and thank goodness or we might still be governed by the British!

In Episode 2 of this special NCSL podcast series, we explore how the slogan turned battle cry, "No taxation without representation," came to be. Hint: It started with the British imposing steep taxes to recoup the cost of defending the North American colonies during the Seven Years' War (1754-1763). Hint #2: The Stamps Act had nothing to do with the post office but everything to do with lighting the fire of rebellion.

Join expert guests, including legal counsel with the South Carolina House Clerk’s office, Richard Pearce; Professor Peverill Squire; and Professor Alexander Keyssar for an inside look at representative democracy amid the American Revolution.

Episode Resources


Episode 3 | Westward Expansion

In this installment of NCSL’s six-episode podcast series, “Building Democracy: The Story of Legislatures,” we explore how the states and their legislatures expanded west, split apart, and came together again.

The era of American history between 1803-1877 was one of massive territorial growth, conflict, and social and economic change. The U.S. evolved from a small grouping of former colonies and newly formed states on the East Coast to exponentially expanding territories across the South, Midwest and the wilderness of the West. Legislatures were the main venue for shaping these territories into states of diverse populations and environments. After the Civil War, state legislatures became the main setting for enforcing reconstruction policies and resistance to them. The struggle to integrate a huge population of formerly enslaved people into the citizenry led to incredible victories for the expansion of civil rights, only to see them shrink again, continuing the push and pull we continue to experience as a nation today.


  • Bob Davidson, former director, Mississippi Senate Legislative Services Office
  • Mark Hirsch, historian, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian │ BioBlog
  • Burdett Loomis, professor emeritus, University of Kansas
  • Kercheik Sims-Alvarado, assistant professor of Africana Studies, Morehouse College │ BioBook

Special Guest Voice

  • Representative Billy Mitchell, Georgia │ Bio

Episode Resources

Episode 4 | Women's Suffrage in Western States and Territories

In this installment of NCSL’s six-episode podcast series, “Building Democracy: The Story of Legislatures,” we travel west to see how women fought and won their right to vote, as well as how they shaped state legislatures and life on the frontier well before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

The story of the 19th Amendment and its dramatic ninth-hour ratification on the floor of the Tennessee House is well known and often told. Yet, momentous events in the history of women in the American West are overlooked. While their sisters fought in the salons, houses of worship and halls of government in the urban “civilized” East, women strode ahead helping to form governments in the rough and yet malleable West. Women in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado (to name only a few) fought against stereotypes and social expectations to win the recognition of their rights as American citizens. Each state’s suffrage movement had unique motivations and avenues to success. One common thread to their strategies? State legislatures.


  • Sen. Affie Ellis, Wyoming │ Bio
  • Rep. Meg Froelich, Colorado │ Bio
  • Rebekah Clark, historical research associate, Better Days 2020Bio

Episode Resources


Episode 5 | The Modern Legislature

The fifth installment of NCSL’s six-episode podcast series takes place in the not-too-distant past. The work of legislating changed dramatically between the 1960s and the 1990s, resulting in more responsive and representative legislatures.

By the early 1900s, legislatures had become increasingly dependent upon the executive branch, decreasing their coequal status in state government. Beginning in the late ’50s and early ’60s, demands on legislatures grew and lawmakers and their constituencies became more diverse.

In response to 20th-century challenges, lawmakers began to spend more time on the job, with sessions getting longer and more frequent, often including interim work. These changes, along with exponential increases in the number of legislative staff, brought the work of legislators and the mission of legislative institutions into a new age.

Delve into the characters, stories and organizations that believed in representative democracy and the legislative institution enough to come together and study, innovate and create stronger legislatures.


  • Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Texas | Bio
  • Former Sen. Fred Risser, Wisconsin
  • E. Dotson Wilson, former chief clerk, California State Assembly | Bio
  • Speaker Bryan Cutler, Pennsylvania | Bio
  • Bill Pound, former executive director, NCSL

Episode Resources


Episode 6 | 21st Century Legislatures

Our special podcast miniseries concludes by looking to the future of legislatures and how—in this centuries long relay of representative democracy—those currently serving will pass the baton to those who will lead these institutions into the future. With an exemplary lineup of guests, we examine possible challenges and future successes and explore how legislatures can honor long-held traditions and processes while building stronger, more effective and more representative 21st-century bodies. 


  • Speaker Scott Bedke, Idaho House of Representatives
  • Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, Nevada Senate
  • Speaker Jason Frierson, Nevada Assembly
  • Secretary Margaret O’Brien, Michigan Senate 
  • Tim Storey, CEO, NCSL

Related Resources

Mason's Manual 2020 Edition

Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure is a premier parliamentary authority for state legislatures. NCSL follows Paul Mason's tradition of updating and reprinting the book approximately every 10 years.
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