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Stay free govern yourself
Stay free govern yourself

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America’s proud tradition of republican government began in July of 1619, when the newly elected Virginians gathered in their House of Burgesses for the first time. Outside the weather was sweltering and humid, and the legislative session would be cut short on account of malaria. But the tradition itself had been set. The House of Burgesses, America’s oldest body of elected lawmakers, would continue to meet until 1769, when the British royal governor finally dissolved the treasonous cluster of rebels.

That the members of the Burgesses, among whom would include Patrick Henry and George Washington, would choose freedom over loyalty to the crown is only fitting. The name Burgesses, an odd word to our ears, is descended from the Saxon burgh, originally meaning the stalwart German castles. Over time it evolved to mean town or community, and thus it often appears at the tail end of city names like Pittsburgh. Burghers were the citizens that dwelled within them, freely joining the community in exchange for the promise of physical protection. In this society of mutual cooperation, every man had committed to hold himself to the law, for any man was free to leave if the laws did not suit him. This was freedom as the Virginians saw it, the freedom to join or leave a community at will, and obedience to a charter of law rather than a man. It is a pity that the House was dissolved, but the spirit was stronger than royal tyranny. That same royal governor was eventually forced to flee Virginia for his life, and the ‘burghers’ would go on to shape the course of American freedom. They stayed free by governing themselves. We should all be lucky enough to follow their example.