The Virginia House of Burgesses, 1750-1774

The Virginia House of Burgesses, 1750-1774

The Virginia House of Burgesses, 1750-1774

The Virginia House of Burgesses, 1750-1774

Excerpt

History, Thomas Carlyle once said, is but the essence of innumerable biographies. Working on that premise, the doughty Scotsman wrote at length on many historical subjects. His History of the French Revolution, for example, is fundamentally a series of thumbnail sketches and longer biographies held together by the central theme of the revolution. History to him was no aimless meandering of impersonal fate but the substance of the lives of the men who lived and moved within the matrix of world events.

That people rather than abstractions have made history has long been recognized by historians. For all his belief in divine determinism and his concern with oracles and prophecies, the Father of History himself gave much attention to the role men played in the affairs of the world. Herodotus even says in the very first lines of The Persian Wars that, in publishing his researches, he hopes to preserve "from decay the remembrance of what men have done...." For Thucydides, causes exist inside the human sphere and it is the historian's business to find them and relate them to events. The pages of his account of the war between his native Athens and Sparta are sprinkled with the exploits of men like Themistocles, Cleon, Demosthenes, and hosts of others. He makes his history even more personal by interjecting numerous orations into the narrative. In our century, Charles A. Beard gave historical scholarship an impetus when he published An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution . Although many of Professor Beard's conclusions have since been challenged, his method of examining the personnel of a body like the constitutional convention has been accepted as valid. In more recent years, two British historians, Sir Lewis B. Namier and Professor J. E. Neale, have used the biographical approach with great success in studying the English Parliament. As a result, we have new insights into the structure of politics and the composition of society in the Elizabethan and Georgian periods. We know who the members of Parliament were, to what classes of society they belonged, and the means by which they rose to places of eminence.

The present study of the House of Burgesses is an attempt to apply a similar method to a colonial legislature. We are seeking answers to some of the same questions Namier and Neale asked of England. Under what kind of laws, for example, did Virginians vote? How did election laws operate in actual practice? Who voted? What kind of men were elected burgesses?

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.