The Virginia State Capitol building, another notable architectural design by Thomas Jefferson, was completed in 1785 and inhabited by Virginia's General Assembly, America's oldest English-speaking legislature, in 1788. A fire in 1872 destroyed much of the second floor, including the Senate chamber, but it was rebuilt within a year.
The Capitol was the center of political life in Virginia until 1851, when voters approved a constitutional convention to revise the state's charter. The new constitution provided for a bicameral legislature with an elected Senate and an appointed House of Delegates. The new legislature met for the first time on January 14, 1853. Its session was adjourned sine die (without ending its term) so that the delegates could convene later in the month and select officers for the next legislative session.
The Capitol was again destroyed by fire on April 30, 1900. This time it took six hours to contain the flames that had spread throughout the building. The Senate chamber was replaced by a replica constructed at a cost of $750,000. The new Capitol was dedicated on March 4, 1902.
Thomas Jefferson was responsible for designing both the original State Capitol and the current United States Capitol. He also played a role in the design of many other public buildings across Virginia.
Virginia State Capitol, Thomas Jefferson
|Architect||Thomas Jefferson; Charles-Louis Clérisseau|
|Architectural style||Early Republic, Palladian|
|NRHP reference No.||66000911|
The existing Capitol structure was converted to Jefferson's design, but Jefferson's design was also altered over the extended period of building from 1786 to 1798. It was most likely a Richmond builder called Samuel Dobie (d. 1801) who made significant changes to Jefferson's design. Dobie is known to have worked on the capitol and is mentioned in documents related to its construction.
Jefferson was not involved in the selection of a capitol builder and did not have any input into the final product. He did, however, choose the location for the new capitol site near what is now Richmond's Union Square. The governor's mansion, which today is called the Governor's Mansion Museum, was also built by Dobie.
Dobie is said to have used parts of the former British capital of London as well as other cities in Britain and Europe in his designs for the Virginia capitol. These include parts of Brussels, France; Rheims, Paris, and Rouen, France; and Venice, Italy. Although no evidence has been found that shows that Dobie traveled to these places, he may have received inspiration from them while working in Richmond.
The capitol dome is the largest single-shell domed structure in North America and it remains so even after the construction of the U.S. Capitol in 1800.
Richmond's Virginia State Capitol is located on a hill. The daring neoclassical Virginia State Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson asserted America's independence from British architecture. The Virginia State Capitol was inspired by the Maison Carree, an old Roman temple in Nimes, France. Jefferson also borrowed ideas for his own design from the Temple of Saturn in Rome and the Pantheon in ancient Rome.
The Virginia State Capitol is one of three government buildings in Richmond that make up the capital city's legislative complex. The other two are the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. All three buildings were built between 1772 and 1858. The entire complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Richmond's government buildings are surrounded by gardens, which are important in political science classes as well as in real life. The state legislature meets annually and can last for several months at a time. Each session produces hundreds of bills, many of which become laws. The governor has a key role in deciding which bills to sign into law. He or she is responsible for overseeing the work of the legislature and can even veto bills themselves.
Virginia's government is a constitutional republic with a president who serves a four-year term and a bicameral legislature. The House of Delegates has 100 members and the Senate has 40 members. Both chambers meet annually and may last for several months at a time.