The NCSL Blog


By Megan McClure

For the last 25 years, archaeologists with the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation in Virginia have been digging and sifting through the topsoil of historic Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.

Podcast host John MahoneyMeanwhile, the state of Virginia spent the late-summer of 2019 commemorating the 400th anniversary of an event that took place in Jamestown in 1619: the inaugural session of English North America’s original representative democratic body.

Podcast host Megan McClureThat first session was the opening chapter in the history of American representative democracy, state legislatures and the federalist system crucial to our government.

NCSL’s "Our American States" podcast presents a special new six-part series, “Building Democracy: The Story of Legislatures.” Debuting today (Jan. 23), it covers the history, characters and stories of state legislatures in America, from the beginnings in Jamestown, to the present day and into the future.

Building Democracy logoJoin NCSL staffers and "Building Democracy" hosts John Mahoney (left) and Megan McClure (right) along with a roster of expert guests as they explore this history—the good and the bad—and how the first meeting of these colonial representatives was the starting point in the story of America’s state legislatures.

Each episode in the series will contain interviews with experts from inside and outside the legislative world to provide a comprehensive view of historical events and their legacy in today’s legislatures. Extras will include extended guest interview clips, articles in NCSL’s State Legislatures magazine, blogs and resources for those who want to dive deeper into topics covered in the podcast.

The opening episode, "Virginia: America's First Startup," examines life on the Jamestown colony. Featured expert guests include G. Paul Nardo, former Virginia clerk of the House; Mary Elliott, curator of American Slavery at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture; and Jim Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation.

It introduces Sir Edwin Sandys (pronounced "Sands"), "one of the most influential characters in the history of the American colonies that no one ever heard of." A businessman charged with establishing a successful colony in America, Sandys' aspiration was to establish a society that was fairer than society in England.

He helped write the "Great Charter," which called for the election of representatives or “burgesses” to serve alongside appointed officials in a “General Assembly” and was a direct DNA ancestor of today's legislatures. 

Life in the colony was challenging and messy, chock full of scandals, corruption and infighting. Human beings became an early commodity through slave trade from Africa.

New episodes will be released bimonthly along with extra features and content being added between each episode.

Megan McClure is a research analyst in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services Progam.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.