Jamestown at 400: “The American Experiment: A Wild and Very Improbable Dream”
This week marks the 400th anniversary of the first meeting of the then newly elected members of the House of Burgesses in Jamestown, Virginia. The House of Burgesses evolved into today’s Virginia General Assembly, the longest continuously operating legislative body in North America. This fateful gathering of lawmakers 400 years ago is recognized as the birth of representative democracy and federalism in the colonies that would transform themselves into the United States of America.
President Trump, the first sitting president to address a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly, delivered the keynote address and recognized those who had “struggled … suffered … and … sacrificed … in pursuit of one wild and very improbable dream.” See a video with the President’s remarks here.
Indeed, in 1619, America was a wild and improbable dream and its success was hardly assured. However, through missteps and misadventures, wrong turns and U-turns, triumphs and tragedies, acts of unspeakable cruelty and acts of unvarnished righteousness the dream materialized and lives today. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also delivered remarks to commemorate the occasion. He, like the President, remembered those who had been excluded from the colony’s democratic institutions 400 years ago. Northam astutely observed, “That’s the paradox of Virginia and America and our representative democracy.”
Despite limited protests – one on full display during the celebration – the day was an opportunity to remember what unites us and what has led to the success of the American experiment – representative democracy rooted in federalism. The President cautioned that “Our hard-won culture of self-government must be nourished, protected and constantly preserved. That is why we must speak out strongly against anyone who takes power away from citizens, individuals and state governments…” (Emphasis added.)
The United States has shared the best parts of our national vision and has been viewed as a beacon of democracy, guardian of rule of law and endowed with a constitution that has been emulated by nations around the world. As I’ve written before, Our Constitutional Principles Are America’s Greatest Export. Liberty-minded individuals across the planet have historically looked to America to uphold liberal democratic principles, and we must never forget our legacy and the burdens that go along with it. While we must assiduously guard our freedoms at home, it is incumbent upon us to speak out when freedom is under attack abroad.
Like the original members of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, ALEC members have a longstanding commitment to representative government and are focused on mastering issue areas so that they can develop the best possible policies for their states. With Congressional gridlock and dysfunction becoming a permanent feature of the US political landscape, strong leadership at the state level is increasingly important. As presidential historian Jon Meacham observed at the Jamestown festivities, “Reflexive partisanship is the order of the day. … Our politics rewards the clenched fist and harsh demand more than the open hand and welcoming word.” ALEC provides a forum for America’s citizen legislators to come together to seek information and to exchange ideas to create the best solutions for their constituents – an inclusive version of the tradition established in Jamestown 400 years ago. Unlike politics inside the Beltway, ALEC does reward “the open hand and welcoming word” and most of all, ALEC rewards innovative concepts! If you haven’t yet registered for the ALEC Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas August 14-16, access the link here. We look forward to welcoming you!