By Megan McClure
A piece of state legislative history has been moved into the Virginia Capitol in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Virginia General Assembly.
The original Speaker’s Chair, created in 1730, temporarily returned to the capitol (in the Old House Chamber) from Colonial Williamsburg. It will be on display through until mid-March.
The chair will be officially unveiled during a Jan. 25 reception hosted by the Virginia Capitol Foundation, which provided this description of the chair's history and symbolism:
"In the Virginia House of Delegates, the Speaker is the body’s chief presiding officer, seated before the members as he directs legislative proceedings. This armchair effuses architectural drama as its large and ornate form symbolically mirrors the height and reach of the office. Unlike many decorative arts objects of the period, it is significant that this speaker’s chair had been both designed and assembled in Williamsburg during the 1730s.
"It survived the destruction of the colonial Capitol by fire in 1747, served as backdrop to the momentous House debates of the 1760s and 1770s, survived the Revolutionary War and its removal from Williamsburg to the new capitol in Richmond in 1780 and emerged unscathed from the devastation of the American Civil War. This chair is a rare historical testament, a distinguished object with an extraordinary history that reminds us of the great continuity and remarkable durability of this 400-year old institution."
The House of Burgesses, the precursor to the Virginia House of Delegates, met for the first time late in the summer of 1619 and unknowingly became the first democratically elected representative body on what would be American soil.
Virginia is pulling out all the stops to celebrate this momentous (and often overlooked) moment in American history and the history of representative democracy.
American Evolution, the Virginia organization charged with commemorating this milestone and other historical events in 1619, is planning events that recognize and reflect on this important year in American history. This includes a commemorative ceremony of the first House of Burgess and an International Forum on the Future of Representative Democracy.
Additional resources on the significance of 1619 and 2019 commemoration:
Megan McClure is a senior staff assistant in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services Program.