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Virginia is one of the original 13 states of the United States that revolted against British rule in the American Revolution and is generally classified as part of the South. Its official name is the Commonwealth of Virginia; it is one of four Commonwealths out of the fifty United States.
Kentucky and West Virginia were part of Virginia at the time of the founding of the United States, but the former was admitted to the Union as a separate state in 1792 while the latter broke away from Virginia during the American Civil War.
Virginia is known as the "Mother of Presidents", as more U.S. Presidents (8) were born in this state than in any other. Five of them were re-elected to a second term: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Woodrow Wilson. William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and Zachary Taylor round out the list of American Presidents from the Commonwealth of Virginia. (Historical footnote: both Harrison and Taylor died while in office.)
At the end of the 16th century when England began to colonize North America, "Virginia" was the name Queen Elizabeth I of England (who was known as the "Virgin Queen" because she never married) gave to the whole area explored by the 1584 expedition of Sir Walter Raleigh along the coast of North America, eventually applying to the whole coast from South Carolina to Maine. The London Virginia Company became incorporated as a joint stock company by a royal charter drawn up on April 10, 1606. It swiftly financed the first permanent English settlement in the New World which was at Jamestown in the Virginia Colony in 1607. Its Second Charter was officially ratified on May 23, 1609.
Virginia was given its nickname "The Old Dominion" by King Charles II of England at the time of the Restoration for remaining loyal to the crown during the English Civil War. Patrick Henry served as the first Governor of Virginia, from 1776 to 1779, and again from 1784 to 1786. On June 12, 1776, the Virginia Convention adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a document that influenced the Bill of Rights added later to the United States Constitution. On June 29, 1776, the convention adopted a constitution that established Virginia as a commonwealth independent of the British Empire. In 1790 both Virginia and Maryland ceded territory to form the new District of Columbia, but in an Act of the U.S. Congress dated July 9, 1846, the territory that had been ceded by Virginia was returned, and is now Arlington County and part of the City of Alexandria.
Virginia is one of the states that seceded from the Union to become the Confederacy during the Civil War. When it did, some counties were separated as Kanawha (later renamed West Virginia), an act which was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 1870.
Law and government
The capital is Richmond: the current Governor is Mark Warner, a Democrat. Previous capitals included Jamestown (1609-1699) and Williamsburg (1699-1780). The Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond was designed by Thomas Jefferson and the cornerstone was laid by Governor Patrick Henry in 1785.
In colonial Virginia, the lower house of the legislature was called the House of Burgesses. Together with the Governor's Council, the House of Burgesses made up the General Assembly. The Governor's Council was composed of 12 men appointed by the British Monarch to advise the Governor. The Council also served as the General Court of the colony, a colonial equivalent of a Supreme Court. Members of the House of Burgesses were chosen by all those who could vote in the colony. Each county chose two people or burgesses to represent it, while the College of William and Mary and the cities of Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Jamestown each chose one burgess. The Burgesses met to make laws for the colony and set the direction for its future growth; the Council would then review the laws and either approve or disapprove them. The approval of the Burgesses, the Council, and the Governor was needed to pass a law. The idea of electing burgesses was important and new. It gave Virginians a chance to control their own government for the first time. At first the burgesses were elected by all free men in the colony. Women, indentured servants, and Native Americans could not vote. Later the rules for voting changed, making it necessary for men to own at least fifty acres (200,000 m²) of land in order to vote. Founded in 1619, the Virginia General Assembly is still in existence as the oldest legislature in the Western Hemisphere. Today, the General Assembly is made up of the Senate and the House of Delegates.
Like many other states, by the 1850s Virginia featured a state legislature, several executive officers, and an independent judiciary. By the time of the Constitution of 1901, which lasted longer than any other state constitution, the General Assembly continued as the legislature, the Supreme Court of Appeals acted as the judiciary, and the eight elected executive officers were the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of the Commonwealth, State Treasurer, Auditor of Public Accounts, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Commissioner of Agriculture and Immigration. The Constitution of 1901 was amended many times, notably in the 1930s and 1950s, before it was abandoned in favour of more modern government, with fewer elected officials, reformed local governments, and a more streamlined judiciary.
Virginia currently functions under the 1971 Constitution of Virginia. It is the state's ninth constitution. Under the Constitution, the State Government is composed of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.
The legislative branch or state legislature is the Virginia General Assembly, a bicameral body whose 140 members make all state laws. Members of the Virginia House of Delegates serve two-year terms, while members of the Virginia Senate serve four-year terms. The General Assembly also selects the state's Auditor of Public Accounts
The executive branch comprises the Governor of Virginia, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, and the state Attorney General. All three officers are separately elected to four-year terms in years following Presidential elections (1997, 2001, 2005, etc).
The Governor serves as chief executive officer of the Commonwealth and as Commander-in-Chief of the State Militia. The Lieutenant Governor serves as President of the Senate of Virginia and is first in the line of succession to the Governor. The Attorney General is chief legal advisor to the Governor and the General Assembly, chief prosecutor of the state, and the head of the Department of Law. The Attorney General is second in the line of succession to the Governor.
The Office of the Governor's Secretaries helps manage the Governor's Cabinet, comprised of the following individuals, all appointed by the Governor:
- Governor's Chief of Staff
- Secretary of Administration
- Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry
- Secretary of Commerce and Trade
- Secretary of the Commonwealth
- Secretary of Education
- Secretary of Finance
- Secretary of Health and Human Resources
- Secretary of Natural Resources
- Secretary of Public Safety
- Secretary of Technology
- Secretary of Transportation
- Assistant to the Governor for Commonwealth Preparedness
The judicial branch comprehends the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Virginia Court of Appeals , the General District Courts and the Circuit Courts. The Virginia Supreme Court, composed of the chief justice and six other judges is the highest court in the Commonwealth (although, as with all the states, the U.S. Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over decisions by the Virginia Supreme Court involving substantial questions of U.S. Constitution law or constitutional rights). The Chief Justice and the Virginia Supreme Court also serve as the administrative body for the entire Virginia court system.
The 95 counties and the 39 independent cities all have their own governments, usually a county board of supervisors or city council which choose a city manager or county administrator to serve as a professional, non-political chief administrator under the council-manager form of government. There are exceptions, notably Richmond, Virginia, which has a popularly-elected Mayor who serves as chief executive separate from the city council.
Virginia is bordered by West Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia (across the Potomac River) to the north, by Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, by North Carolina and Tennessee to the south, and by Kentucky and West Virginia to the west.
Virginia is divided into the following 5 regions:
- Tidewater - Stretching from the Atlantic coast to the fall line
- Piedmont - East of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Tidewater Region
- Blue Ridge Mountains - East of the Appalachian Mountains to the Blue Ridge Mountain Region
- Valley and Ridge - Appalachian Mountains and Shenandoah Valley Region
- Appalachian Plateau - West of the Appalachian Mountains
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2003, Virginia's population was estimated at 7,386,330 people.
The racial makeup of the state is:
6.5% of Virginia's population were reported as under 5, 24.6% under 18, and 11.2% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 51% of the population.
Virginia's economy has long been regarded as one of the better-balanced in the United States with diverse sources of income, including military installations concentrated in the Hampton Roads area, tobacco and peanut farming all through Southside Virginia, manufacturing and transportation, and the location of Northern Virginia as a bedroom community for the federal government and its vendors. Much of Virginia is located within 11 Metropolitan Statistical Areas.
The religious affiliations of the citizens of Virginia are:
- Protestant – 74%
- Roman Catholic – 12%
- Other Christian – 2%
- Other Religions – 2%
- Non-Religious – 7%
Important cities and towns
Under the laws in effect in Virginia, all municipalities incorporated as cities are independent of any county. Of the 43 independent cities in the United States, 39 are in Virginia. The complete list of Virginia independent cities follows:
Some other municipalities incorporated as towns, which are not independent of a county, include:
Colleges and universities
Professional sports teams
The Minor League Baseball Teams are:
The minor league soccer teams are:
- USL First Division
- USL Second Division
- Northern Virginia Majestics
- Hampton Roads Piranhas
- State motto: "Sic semper tyrannis." (Thus always to tyrants.)
- State bird: Cardinal
- State dog: American Foxhound
- State flower: Dogwood
- State tree: Dogwood
- State insect: Tiger swallowtail
- State song: none; the former state song, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," was retired in 1997 because some found its lyrics to be racially offensive
USS Virginia was named in honor of this state.
- State Government website
- Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh : 1584
- The First Charter of Virginia; April 10, 1606
- The Second Charter of Virginia; May 23, 1609
- The Third Charter of Virginia; March 12, 1611
- U.S. Census Bureau
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