What today is the House of Delegates began as the Lower House of the General Assembly in 1650, when the legislature became a bicameral body (Chapter 1, Acts of 1650). To the Lower House, freemen in each hundred elected burgesses as their representatives. From 1654, the county replaced the hundred as the local area represented.
House of Delegates Chamber, State House, Annapolis, Maryland, January 2001. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
House of Delegates Chamber, State House, Annapolis, Maryland. architectural drawing, Historic American Buildings Survey (Maryland State House Project Collection, MSA SC1773, Maryland State Archives).
In 1689, the transformation of Maryland from a proprietary to a royal colony temporarily quieted disputes between the Lower House and the governor and council. Appointed by the crown, royal governors allowed the Lower House substantial latitude with its legislative agenda. This was evident in the first assembly convened under crown rule.
The first royal assembly of 1692 was both innovative and prolific in its legislative duties, passing 85 acts in a single legislative session. As the opportunity presented itself, the Lower House ended the governor's influence over the election of delegates. For the first time, elected delegates could attend the session without the need for the governor's special writ (Chapter 76, Acts of 1692). During the same session, standing or continuing committees were established in the Lower House in 1692. These committees dealt with elections, legislation, aggrievances, and accounts. They eliminated the Lower House's reliance on ad hoc committees and created the first modern legislature in Maryland. During this active period, the Lower House became known as the House of Delegates.
18th Century. When the Maryland colony was returned to proprietary control in 1715, Charles Calvert, 5th Lord Baltimore, encountered a government which bore little resemblance to the one seized from his grandfather twenty-five years earlier. Nor was the House of Delegates willing to relinquish the political independence it had gained while under royal control. Consequently, in the restored proprietary government, the House of Delegates played a stronger role in its relations with Lord Baltimore, the governor, and the Upper House.
A major legislative accomplishment of this period was the revision and publication of the laws of the colony (Chapter 25, Acts of 1715). Three years later, the House of Delegates compiled all of the laws passed since 1692 and issued them in a single volume.
Adopted by the 9th Provincial Convention on November 8, 1776, the Constitution of 1776 established the House of Delegates (Const. 1776, secs. 1-6). As part of the reconstituted General Assembly, the new delegates met in Annapolis for their first legislative session convened by the Council of Safety on February 5, 1777.
Initially, representation was based on geography as the voters of each county elected four delegates, and two each were elected from Annapolis and Baltimore. These delegates served one-year terms.
In 1802, property qualifications for voting in local and State elections were removed by Constitutional amendment (Chapter 90, Acts of 1801, confirmed 1802). Also in 1802, viva voce voting at elections changed to voting by ballot.
Old 19th-Century House of Delegates Chamber, State House, Annapolis, Maryland, May 2017. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
Student meeting, House of Delegates Chamber, State House, Annapolis, Maryland, May 2017. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
20th Century. Not until 1922 was the present four-year term for delegates established (Chapter 227, Acts of 1922).
House Office Building, 6 Bladen St., Annapolis, Maryland, August 2010. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
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