Events in Virginia mark beginnings of American democracy

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Academics, lawmakers, dignitaries and maybe even the president will gather in Virginia this week for events celebrating the beginnings of American democracy four centuries ago …

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Academics, lawmakers, dignitaries and President Donald Trump will gather in Virginia this week for events celebrating the beginnings of American democracy four centuries ago.

Tuesday marks the 400th anniversary of the first meeting of the House of Burgesses — the first representative legislative assembly in the Western Hemisphere — at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in North America.

Here’s a look at what to expect.

What’s the importance of the anniversary?

The first meeting of the House of Burgesses, which took place at a church in Jamestown, laid the foundation for representative government in what would become the United States. Beginning as a group of 22 men — two chosen by the white male residents of each of the eleven major settlement areas — the body eventually evolved into a two-house form of government.

Today’s Virginia General Assembly is considered the oldest continuously operating legislative body in North America.

“The Commonwealth is honored to have the President of the United States join for this historic occasion, as the General Assembly convenes on the same ground where the seeds of our system of democratic government were sowed four centuries ago,” Kirk Cox, the Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, said in a statement.

Tuesday’s events are just one part of a yearlong commemoration called American Evolution meant to honor key milestones in the state’s colonial history, including the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans’ arrival in English North America.

Another series of events is planned Aug. 23-25 at Fort Monroe to recognize that anniversary.


Who will be there?

Event organizers say descendants of Jamestown colonists and Virginia Indians will be in attendance, along with members of Congress — including U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine — state lawmakers and dignitaries from other states.

On Friday, a White House spokesman confirmed earlier news reports that President Donald Trump will also be attending. A press release from organizers said he will give remarks.


What’s planned?

Special programming open to the public is planned at several historical sites around Jamestown in the days surrounding the July 30 anniversary.

On Tuesday, lawmakers, members of Congress and other guests will gather at historic Jamestown for ceremonies to commemorate the meeting of the burgesses.

Gov. Ralph Northam is scheduled to give an address at an early morning event. The president is expected to attend a second event, a commemorative session of the General Assembly. That private event is not open to the public but will be livestreamed online.


Wasn’t there some political drama?

The event comes at a time of heightened election-year partisanship in Virginia, and when word broke earlier in the month that Trump was expected to be in attendance, some Democratic lawmakers to threaten to boycott the event.

“The current President does not represent the values that we would celebrate at the 400th anniversary of the oldest democratic body in the western world,” leaders of the Virginia House and Senate Democratic caucuses said in a statement at the time.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment called their decision “disappointing and embarrassing.”

Organizers released a statement noting that Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were invited last year by Northam, a Democrat, and Republicans Cox and Norment.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax — a descendant of slaves and the second African-American to ever win statewide office — has broken with fellow Democrats and said he will attend.

“I want to be there in order to give voice to those enslaved Africans and to commemorate and celebrate the birth of representative democracy here in Virginia,” Fairfax told the AP.

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