Photo Credit: Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
11:39 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Please, make yourselves comfortable.
I want to thank you, Speaker Cox. It’s a true privilege to be back in the great Commonwealth of Virginia. (Applause.) And it’s a tremendous honor to stand on these historic grounds, as the first President to address a joint session of the oldest lawmaking body in all of the Western Hemisphere, the Virginia General Assembly. Congratulations. (Applause.)
On this day 400 years ago, here on the shores of the James River, the first representative legislative assembly in the New World convened. By the devotion of generations of patriots, it has flourished throughout the ages. And, now, that proud tradition continues with all of you.
To every Virginian and every legislator with us today, congratulations on four incredible centuries of history, heritage, and commitment to the righteous cause of American self-government. This is truly a momentous occasion. (Applause.)
I want to thank the Governor of Virginia for inviting me to speak at this very important event. And with us this morning are many distinguished guests and officials from across the Commonwealth, including Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Speaker Kirk Cox. Thank you, Kirk. (Applause.) Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment. Thank you. Tommy, thank you. (Applause.) And members of the host and other federal, state, local, and tribal leaders all with us today. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
We’re also very thankful as well to have with us Secretary Ben Carson. Ben, thank you very much, wherever you may be. (Applause.) Thank you, Ben. And Acting Director — a person that you know very well — Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. (Applause.) Spent a lot of time with you folks and has a lot of respect for you. And the terrific people at the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. I want to thank you all for being here with us. It’s a great honor. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize everyone at American Evolution, and the Jamestown Settlement, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, the Jamestown Rediscovery Project, and Preservation Virginia. Thank you very much. What a great job you do. Thank you. (Applause.) The fact is that each of you has helped protect and preserve our national treasures here at Jamestown, and it’s a great debt. We owe you a great, great debt. Thank you. What a job.
On this day in 1619, just a mile south of where we are gathered now, 22 newly elected members of the House of Burgesses assembled in a small wooden church. They were adventurers and explorers, farmers and planters, soldiers, scholars, and clergymen. All had struggled, all had suffered, and all had sacrificed in pursuit of one wild and very improbable dream. They called that dream “Virginia.” (Applause.)
It had been only 13 years since three small ships — the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery — set sail across a vast ocean. They carried 104 settlers to carve out a home on the edge of this uncharted continent. They came from [for] God and country. They came in search of opportunity and fortune. And they journeyed into the unknown with only meager supplies, long odds, and the power of their Christian faith.
Upon reaching Cape Henry, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in 1607, a long time ago, the first men of the Virginia Company erected a cross upon the shore. They gave thanks to God and they asked His blessing for their great undertaking. In the months and years ahead, they would dearly need it. The dangers were unparalleled.
The Jamestown settlers arrived in America amid one of the worst droughts in over seven centuries. Of 104 original colonists, 66 died by the year’s end. During the third winter, known as the “Starving Time,” a population of up to 500 settlers was reduced to 60.
By spring, those who remained were in search of whatever they could get to survive, and they were in dire trouble. They left Jamestown deserted. They just sailed away, never to come back. But they had not gone far down the James River when they encountered the answer to their prayers: ships bearing a year’s worth of supplies and more than 300 new settlers. As we can see today on this great anniversary, it would not be the last time that God looked out for Virginia.
Together, the settlers forged what would become the timeless traits of the American character. They worked hard. They had courage in abundance and a wealth of self-reliance. They strived mightily to turn a profit. They experimented with producing silk, corn, tobacco, and the very first Virginia wines.
At a prior settlement at Roanoke, there had been no survivors — none at all. But where others had typically perished, the Virginians were determined to succeed. They endured by the sweat of their labor, the aid of the Powhatan Indians, and the leadership of Captain John Smith.
As the years passed, ships bearing supplies and settlers from England also brought a culture and a way of life that would define the New World. It all began here. In time, dozens of brave, strong women made the journey and joined the colony.
And in 1618, the Great Charter and other reforms established a system based on English common law. For the first time, Virginia allowed private land ownership. It created a basic judicial system. Finally, it gave the colonists a say in their own future: the right to elect representatives by popular vote.
With us today, in tribute to that English legal inheritance, is the former Clerk of the British House of Commons, Sir David Natzler. Thank you, David. (Applause.) Sir David, we are thrilled to have you with us. Thank you very much for being here. Thank you very much, David.
At that first American assembly in 1619, the weather was so hot that one legislator actually died. Mercifully, the session was cut very short. But before adjourning, the assembly passed laws on taxation, agriculture, and trade with the Indians.
With true American optimism, the assembly even endorsed a plan to build a world-class university in the still rugged wilderness. It was a vision that would one day be fulfilled just miles from here at one of America’s earliest educational institutions, the esteemed College of William and Mary. Great place. (Applause.) Great place.
As we mark the first representative legislature at Jamestown, our nation also reflects upon an anniversary from that same summer four centuries ago. In August 1619, the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies arrived in Virginia. It was the beginning of a barbaric trade in human lives. Today, in honor, we remember every sacred soul who suffered the horrors of slavery and the anguish of bondage.
More than 150 years later, at America’s founding, our Declaration of Independence recognized the immortal truth that “all men are created equal.” (Applause.) Yet, it would ultimately take a Civil War, 85 years after that document was signed, to abolish the evil of slavery. It would take more than another century for our nation, in the words of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., to live out “the true meaning of its creed” and extend the blessings of freedom to all Americans. (Applause.)
In the face of grave oppression and grave injustice, African Americans have built, strengthened, inspired, uplifted, protected, defended, and sustained our nation from its very earliest days. Last year, I was privileged to sign the law establishing a commission to commemorate the arrival of the first Africans to the English colonies, and the 400 years of African American history that have followed. That was an incredible day. That was an incredible event.
Today, we are grateful to be joined by that commission’s chairman, Dr. Joseph Green. Thank you, Dr. Green. Please. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much, Dr. Green.
In the decades that followed that first legislative assembly, the democratic tradition established here laid deep roots all across Virginia. It spread up and down the Atlantic Coast. One fact was quickly established for all time: In America, we are not ruled from afar. Americans govern ourselves, and so help us God, we always will. (Applause.)
Right here in Virginia, your predecessors —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mr. President, you can’t send us back! Virginia is our home! Mr. President, you cannot send us back! Virginia is our home!
AUDIENCE: Booo —
Trump! Trump! Trump!
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Right here in Virginia, your predecessors came to Williamsburg from places you all know very well. They were names such as George Washington from Fairfax County; Thomas Jefferson from Albemarle County; James Madison from Orange County; James Monroe from Spotsylvania County; Patrick Henry from Louisa County; George Mason from Fairfax County; George With [Wythe] — W-I-T-H [sic] — it’s a great name — from Williamsburg; and Richard Henry Lee from Westmoreland County. Incredible names. Incredible names. (Applause.)
Self-government in Virginia did not just give us a state we love. In a very true sense, it gave us the country we love: the United States of America. So true. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
When Madison drafted the First Amendment to our Constitution, he drew inspiration from Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom.
As John Adams wrote in Philadelphia just before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, “We all look up to Virginia for examples.” Great. It’s great. (Applause.)
And when Patrick Henry rose to speak his famous words at St. John’s Church in Richmond, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” he spoke in defense of a tradition that began more than 150 years before at Jamestown. Right here. (Applause.) It was a heritage those patriots would fight a long war of independence to defend. And it is a heritage that countless Americans have fought and died for to secure in all of those centuries since.
In our time, we must vigorously defend those cherished democratic traditions that have made our beloved republic the envy of the entire world — and it still is, as much as ever before, and maybe more. 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 would take power away from citizens, individuals, and state governments such as yours. (Applause.)
In America, the people will forever rule, the people will forever reign, and the people will forever be sovereign. (Applause.)
From the first legislative assembly down to today, America has been the story of citizens who take ownership of their future and their control of their destiny. That is what self-rule is all about: everyday Americans coming together to take action, to build, to create, to seize opportunities, to pursue the common good, and to never stop striving for greatness. (Applause.)
Four centuries ago, one early voyager to Jamestown captured the spirit of confidence and daring that has always powered our great experiment in self-government. He wrote, “We hope to plant a nation where none before hath stood.” That was something.
In that hope, the men and women of Jamestown achieved success beyond anything they could possibly have imagined. They started the nation that settled the wilderness, won our independence, tamed the Wild West, ended slavery, secured civil rights, invented the airplane, vanquished the Nazis, brought communism to its knees, and placed our great American flag on the face of the moon. (Applause.)
And in a program that has just started, someday very soon, American astronauts will plant our beautiful Stars and Stripes on the surface of Mars. (Applause.)
But among all of America’s towering achievements, none exceeds the triumph that we are here to celebrate today: our nation’s priceless culture of freedom, independence, equality, justice, and self-determination under God. (Applause.) That culture is the source of who we are. It is our prized inheritance. It is our proudest legacy. It is among the greatest human accomplishments in the history of the world. What you have done is the greatest accomplishment in the history of the world, and I congratulate you. It started right here. (Applause.)
Now, we must go bravely into the future, just as those bold explorers first ventured into this majestic land. We must call upon the same scale of imagination, the same thirst for knowledge, the same love of adventure, the same unrelenting courage, and the same total determination to prevail.
Above all, we must be proud of our heritage, united in our purpose, and filled with confidence in our shared, great, great, great American destiny. (Applause.)
For, in America, no challenge is too great, no journey is too tough, no task is too large, no dream is beyond our reach. When we set our sights on the summit, nothing can stand in our way. America always gets the job done. America always wins. (Applause.)
That is why, after 400 years of glorious American democracy, we have returned here to this place to declare to all the world that the United States of America and the great Commonwealth of Virginia are just getting started. (Applause.) Our future is bigger, bolder, better, and brighter than ever before. (Applause.)
It’s been a great honor for me to be with you this morning. I’d like to thank you. God bless you, God bless Virginia, and God bless America. Thank you very much everybody. Thank you. (Applause.)
12:01 P.M. EDT