United States Senate
113th United States Congress
Coat of arms or logo
Flag of the United States Senate
Flag of the U.S. Senate
Term limits
New session started
January 3, 2013 (2013-01-03)
Joe Biden (D)
since January 20, 2009
Patrick Leahy (D)
since December 17, 2012
Harry Reid (D)
since January 4, 2007
Mitch McConnell (R)
since January 4, 2007
113th United States Senate Structure.svg
Political groups
Length of term
6 years
Last election
November 6, 2012
Next election
November 4, 2014
Meeting place
111th US Senate class photo.jpg
Senate Chamber
United States Capitol
Washington, D.C.
United States

The United States Senate is a legislative chamber in the bicameral legislature of the United States of America, and together with the U.S. House of Representatives makes up the U.S. Congress. First convened in 1789, the composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution.[1] Each U.S. state is represented by two senators, regardless of population, who serve staggered six-year terms. The chamber of the United States Senate is located in the north wing of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C., the national capital. The House of Representatives convenes in the south wing of the same building.

The Senate has several exclusive powers not granted to the House, including consenting to treaties as a precondition to their ratification and consenting to or confirming appointments of Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, other federal executive officials, military officers, regulatory officials, ambassadors, and other federal uniformed officers,[2][3] as well as trial of federal officials impeached by the House. The Senate is both a more deliberative[4] and more prestigious[5][6][7] body than the House of Representatives, due to its longer terms, smaller size, and statewide constituencies, which historically led to a more collegial and less partisan atmosphere.[8]


The framers of the Constitution created a bicameral Congress primarily as a compromise between those who felt that each state, since it was sovereign, should be equally represented, and those who felt the legislature must directly represent the people, as the House of Commons did in Britain. There was also a desire to have two Houses that could act as an internal check on each other. One was intended to be a "People's House" directly elected by the people, and with short terms obliging the representatives to remain close to their constituents. The other was intended to represent the states to such extent as they retained their sovereignty except for the powers expressly delegated to the national government. The Senate was thus not intended to represent the people of the United States equally. The Constitution provides that the approval of both chambers is necessary for the passage of legislation.[9]

The Senate of the United States was formed on the example of the ancient Roman Senate. The name is derived from the senatus, Latin for council of elders (from senex meaning old man in Latin).[10]

James Madison made the following comment about the Senate:

In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.[11]

The Constitution stipulates that no constitutional amendment may be created to deprive a state of its equal suffrage in the Senate without that state's consent. The District of Columbia and all other territories are not entitled to representation in either House of the Congress. The District of Columbia elects two shadow senators, but they are officials of the D.C. city government and not members of the U.S. Senate.[12] The United States has had 50 states since 1959,[13] thus the Senate has had 100 senators since 1959.[14]

The disparity between the most and least populous states has grown since the Connecticut Compromise, which granted each state two members of the Senate and at least one member of the House of Representatives, for a total minimum of three presidential Electors, regardless of population. In 1787, Virginia had roughly 10 times the population of Rhode Island, whereas today California has roughly 70 times the population of Wyoming, based on the 1790 and 2000 censuses. This means some citizens are effectively two orders of magnitude better represented in the Senate than those in other states. Seats in the House of Representatives are approximately proportionate to the population of each state, reducing the disparity of representation.

Historical graph of party control of the Senate and House as well as the Presidency


Before the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, senators were elected by the individual state legislatures.[16] However, problems with repeated vacant seats due to the inability of a legislature to elect senators, intrastate political struggles, and even bribery and intimidation gradually led to a growing movement to amend the Constitution to allow for the direct election of senators.[17]



Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for senators: 1) they must be at least 30 years old, 2) they must have been citizens of the United States for at least the past nine years, and 3) they must be inhabitants of the states they seek to represent at the time of their election. The age and citizenship qualifications for senators are more stringent than those for representatives. In Federalist No. 62, James Madison justified this arrangement by arguing that the "senatorial trust" called for a "greater extent of information and stability of character."

The Senate (not the judiciary) is the sole judge of a senator's qualifications. During its early years, however, the Senate did not closely scrutinize the qualifications of its members. As a result, three senators who failed to meet the age qualification were nevertheless admitted to the Senate: Henry Clay (aged 29 in 1806), Armistead Thomson Mason (aged 28 in 1816), and John Eaton (aged 28 in 1818). Such an occurrence, however, has not been repeated since.[18] In 1934, Rush D. Holt, Sr. was elected to the Senate at the age of 29; he waited until he turned 30 (on the following June 19) to take the oath of office. In November 1972, Joe Biden was elected to the Senate at the age of 29, but he reached his 30th birthday before the swearing-in ceremony for incoming senators in January 1973.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution disqualifies from the Senate any federal or state officers who had taken the requisite oath to support the Constitution, but later engaged in rebellion or aided the enemies of the United States. This provision, which came into force soon after the end of the Civil War, was intended to prevent those who had sided with the Confederacy from serving. That Amendment, however, also provides a method to remove that disqualification: a two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress.

Elections and termEdit

Originally, senators were selected by the state legislatures, not by popular elections. By the early years of the 20th century, the legislatures of as many as 29 states had provided for popular election of senators by referendums.[19] Popular election to the Senate was standardized nationally in 1913 by the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment.


Senators serve terms of six years each; the terms are staggered so that approximately one-third of the seats are up for election every two years. This was achieved by dividing the senators of the 1st Congress into thirds (called classes), where the terms of one-third expired after two years, the terms of another third expired after four, and the terms of the last third expired after six years. This arrangement was also followed after the admission of new states into the union. The staggering of terms has been arranged such that both seats from a given state are not contested in the same general election, except when a mid-term vacancy is being filled. Current senators whose six-year terms expire on January 3, 2015, belong to Class II.

The Constitution set the date for Congress to convene—Article 1, Section 4, Clause 2 originally set that date for the third day of December. The Twentieth Amendment, however, changed the opening date for sessions to noon on the third day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day. The Twentieth Amendment also states that Congress shall assemble at least once in every year and allows Congress to determine its convening and adjournment dates and other dates and schedules as it desires. Article 1, Section 3 provides that the President has the power to convene Congress on extraordinary occasions at his discretion.

A member who has been elected, but not yet seated, is called a "senator-elect"; a member who has been appointed to a seat, but not yet seated, is called a "senator-designate".


Elections to the Senate are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years, Election Day, and coincide with elections for the House of Representatives.[20] Senators are elected by their state as a whole. In most states (since 1970), a primary election is held first for the Republican and Democratic parties, with the general election following a few months later. Ballot access rules for independent and minor party candidates vary from state to state. The winner is the candidate who receives a plurality of the popular vote. In some states, runoffs are held if no candidate wins a majority.

Mid-term vacanciesEdit

The Seventeenth Amendment requires mid-term vacancies in the Senate to be filled by special election. If a special election for one seat happens to coincide with a general election for the state's other seat, each seat is contested separately. A senator elected in a special election takes office as soon as possible after the election and serves until the original six-year term expires (i.e. not for a full term).

The Seventeenth Amendment also allows state legislatures to give their governors the power to appoint temporary senators until the special election takes place. The official wording provides that "the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct."

As of 2009, forty-six states permit their governors to make such appointments. In thirty-seven of these states, the special election to permanently fill the U.S. Senate seat is customarily held at the next biennial congressional election. The other nine states require that special elections be held outside of the normal two-year election cycle in some or all circumstances. In four states (Arizona, Hawaii, Utah, and Wyoming), the governor must appoint someone of the same political party as the previous incumbent.

Oregon and Wisconsin require special elections for vacancies with no interim appointment, and Oklahoma permits the governor to appoint only the winner of a special election.[21] In September 2009, Massachusetts changed its law to enable the governor to appoint a temporary replacement for the late Senator Kennedy until the special election in January 2010.[22][23] In 2004, Alaska enacted legislation and a separate ballot referendum that took effect on the same day, but that conflicted with each other. The effect of the ballot-approved law is to withhold from the governor authority to appoint a senator.[24] Because the 17th Amendment vests the power to grant that authority to the legislature – not the people or the state generally – it is unclear whether the ballot measure supplants the legislature's statute granting that authority.[24] As a result, it is uncertain whether an Alaska governor may appoint an interim senator to serve until a special election is held to fill the vacancy.

The temporary appointee may run in the special election in his or her own right.


The Constitution requires that senators take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution.[25] Congress has prescribed the following oath for new senators:

I, ___ ___, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.[26]

Salary and benefitsEdit

The annual salary of each senator, as of 2013, is $174,000;[27] the president pro tempore and party leaders receive $193,400.[27][28] In June 2003, at least 40 of the then-senators were millionaires.[29]

Along with earning salaries, senators receive retirement and health benefits that are identical to other federal employees, and are fully vested after five years of service.[28] Senators are covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). As it is for federal employees, congressional retirement is funded through taxes and the participants' contributions. Under FERS, senators contribute 1.3% of their salary into the FERS retirement plan and pay 6.2% of their salary in Social Security taxes. The amount of a senator's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of their salary. The starting amount of a senator's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of their final salary. In 2006, the average annual pension for retired senators and representatives under CSRS was $60,972, while those who retired under FERS, or in combination with CSRS, was $35,952.[28]

Political prominenceEdit

Senators are regarded as more prominent political figures than members of the House of Representatives because there are fewer of them, and because they serve for longer terms, usually represent larger constituencies (the exception being House at-large districts, which similarly comprise entire states), sit on more committees, and have more staffers. Far more senators have been nominees for the presidency than representatives. Furthermore, three senators (Warren Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama) have been elected president while serving in the Senate, while only one Representative (James Garfield) has been elected president while serving in the House, though Garfield was also a Senator-elect at the time of his election to the Presidency, having been chosen by the Ohio Legislature to fill a Senate vacancy.


According to the convention of Senate seniority, the senator with the longer tenure in each state is known as the "senior senator"; the other is the "junior senator". This convention does not have official significance, though it is a factor in the selection of physical offices.[30] In the 113th Congress, the most-senior "junior senator" is Tom Harkin of Iowa, who was sworn in on January 3, 1985 and is currently 7th in seniority, behind Chuck Grassley who was sworn in on January 3, 1981 and is currently 6th in seniority. With the resignation of John Kerry, the most-junior "senior senator" is Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was sworn in January 3, 2013, and is currently 95th in seniority, ahead of senator Ed Markey who was sworn in July 16, 2013 and is currently 98th in seniority.

Expulsion and other disciplinary actionsEdit

The Senate may expel a senator by a two-thirds vote. Fifteen senators have been expelled in the history of the Senate: William Blount, for treason, in 1797, and fourteen in 1861 and 1862 for supporting the Confederate secession. Although no senator has been expelled since 1862, many senators have chosen to resign when faced with expulsion proceedings – for example, Bob Packwood in 1995. The Senate has also censured and condemned senators; censure requires only a simple majority and does not remove a senator from office. Some senators have opted to withdraw from their re-election races rather than face certain censure or expulsion, such as Robert Torricelli in 2002.

Majority and minority partiesEdit

The "Majority party" is the political party that either has a majority of seats or can form a coalition or caucus with a majority of seats; if two or more parties are tied, the vice president's affiliation determines which party is the majority party. The next-largest party is known as the minority party. The president pro tempore, committee chairs, and some other officials are generally from the majority party; they have counterparts (for instance, the "ranking members" of committees) in the minority party. Independents and members of third parties (so long as they do not caucus with or support either of the larger parties) are not considered in determining which is the majority party.


The Democratic Party traditionally sits to the presiding officer's right, and the Republican Party traditionally sits to the presiding officer's left, regardless which party has a majority of seats.[31] In this respect, the Senate differs from the House of Commons of the United Kingdom and other parliamentary bodies in the Commonwealth of Nations and elsewhere.


The Senate side of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The Vice President of the United States presides over the Senate,[1] but the party leaders have the real power and they control procedure. Many non-member officers are also hired to run the day-to-day functions of the Senate.

Presiding over the SenateEdit

The Vice President of the United States is the ex officio President of the Senate, with authority to preside over the Senate's sessions, although he can vote only to break a tie.[1] For decades the task of presiding over Senate sessions was one of the vice president's principal duties. Since the 1950s, vice presidents have presided over few Senate debates. Instead, they have usually presided only on ceremonial occasions, such as joint sessions, or at times when a tie vote on an important issue is anticipated. The Constitution authorizes the Senate to elect a president pro tempore (Latin for "president for a time") to preside in the vice president's absence; the most senior senator of the majority party is customarily chosen to serve in this position.[1] Like the vice president, the president pro tempore does not normally preside over the Senate, but typically delegates the responsibility of presiding to junior senators of the majority party, usually in blocks of one hour on a rotating basis. Frequently, freshmen senators (newly elected members) are asked to preside so that they may become accustomed to the rules and procedures of the body.

The presiding officer sits in a chair in the front of the Senate chamber. The powers of the presiding officer of the Senate are far less extensive than those of the Speaker of the House. The presiding officer calls on senators to speak (by the rules of the Senate, the first senator who rises is recognized); ruling on points of order (objections by senators that a rule has been breached, subject to appeal to the whole chamber); and announcing the results of votes.

Party leadersEdit

Each party elects Senate party leaders. Floor leaders act as the party chief spokespeople. The Senate Majority Leader is responsible for controlling the agenda of the chamber by scheduling debates and votes. Each party elects an assistant leader (whip) who works to ensure that their party's senators vote as the party leadership desires.

Non-member officersEdit

The Senate is served by several officials who are not members. The Senate's chief administrative officer is the Secretary of the Senate, who maintains public records, disburses salaries, monitors the acquisition of stationery and supplies, and oversees clerks. The Assistant Secretary of the Senate aids the secretary in his or her work. Another official is the Sergeant at Arms who, as the Senate's chief law enforcement officer, maintains order and security on the Senate premises. The Capitol Police handle routine police work, with the sergeant at arms primarily responsible for general oversight. Other employees include the Chaplain, who is elected by the Senate, and Pages, who are appointed.


Daily sessionsEdit

A typical Senate desk

The Senate uses Standing Rules of the Senate for operation. Like the House of Representatives, the Senate meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. At one end of the chamber of the Senate is a dais from which the presiding officer presides. The lower tier of the dais is used by clerks and other officials. One hundred desks are arranged in the chamber in a semicircular pattern and are divided by a wide central aisle. By tradition, Republicans sit to the right of the center aisle and Democrats to the left, facing the presiding officer.[32] Each senator chooses a desk based on seniority within the party. By custom, the leader of each party sits in the front row along the center aisle. Sessions of the Senate are opened with a special prayer or invocation and typically convene on weekdays. Sessions of the Senate are generally open to the public and are broadcast live on television, usually by C-SPAN 2.

Senate procedure depends not only on the rules, but also on a variety of customs and traditions. The Senate commonly waives some of its stricter rules by unanimous consent. Unanimous consent agreements are typically negotiated beforehand by party leaders. A senator may block such an agreement, but in practice, objections are rare. The presiding officer enforces the rules of the Senate, and may warn members who deviate from them. The presiding officer sometimes uses the gavel of the Senate to maintain order.

A "hold" is placed when the leader's office is notified that a senator intends to object to a request for unanimous consent from the Senate to consider or pass a measure. A hold may be placed for any reason and can be lifted by a senator at any time. A senator may place a hold simply to review a bill, to negotiate changes to the bill, or to kill the bill. A bill can be held for as long as the senator who objects to the bill wishes to block its consideration.

Holds can be overcome, but require time-consuming procedures such as filing cloture. Holds are considered private communications between a senator and the Leader, and are sometimes referred to as "secret holds". A senator may disclose that he or she has placed a hold.

The Constitution provides that a majority of the Senate constitutes a quorum to do business. Under the rules and customs of the Senate, a quorum is always assumed present unless a quorum call explicitly demonstrates otherwise. A senator may request a quorum call by "suggesting the absence of a quorum"; a clerk then calls the roll of the Senate and notes which members are present. In practice, senators rarely request quorum calls to establish the presence of a quorum. Instead, quorum calls are generally used to temporarily delay proceedings; usually such delays are used while waiting for a senator to reach the floor to speak or to give leaders time to negotiate. Once the need for a delay has ended, a senator may request unanimous consent to rescind the quorum call.


Debate, like most other matters governing the internal functioning of the Senate, is governed by internal rules adopted by the Senate. During debate, senators may only speak if called upon by the presiding officer, but the presiding officer is required to recognize the first senator who rises to speak. Thus, the presiding officer has little control over the course of debate. Customarily, the Majority Leader and Minority Leader are accorded priority during debates even if another senator rises first. All speeches must be addressed to the presiding officer, who is addressed as "Mr. President" or "Madam President", and not to another member; other Members must be referred to in the third person. In most cases, senators do not refer to each other by name, but by state or position, using forms such as "the senior senator from Virginia", "the gentlewoman from California", or "my distinguished friend the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee". Senators address the Senate standing next to their desk.[33]

Apart from rules governing civility, there are few restrictions on the content of speeches; there is no requirement that speeches be germane to the matter before the Senate.

The rules of the Senate provide that no senator may make more than two speeches on a motion or bill on the same legislative day. A legislative day begins when the Senate convenes and ends with adjournment; hence, it does not necessarily coincide with the calendar day. The length of these speeches is not limited by the rules; thus, in most cases, senators may speak for as long as they please. Often, the Senate adopts unanimous consent agreements imposing time limits. In other cases (for example, for the budget process), limits are imposed by statute. However, the right to unlimited debate is generally preserved.

Filibuster and clotureEdit

The filibuster is a tactic used to defeat bills and motions by prolonging debate indefinitely. A filibuster may entail long speeches, dilatory motions, and an extensive series of proposed amendments. The Senate may end a filibuster by invoking cloture. In most cases, cloture requires the support of three-fifths of the Senate; however, if the matter before the Senate involves changing the rules of the body – this includes amending provisions regarding the filibuster – a two-thirds majority is required. In current practice, the threat of filibuster is more important than its use; almost any motion that does not have the support of three-fifths of the Senate effectively fails. This means that 41 senators, which could represent as little as 12.3% of the U.S. population, can make a filibuster happen. Historically, cloture has rarely been invoked because bipartisan support is usually necessary to obtain the required supermajority, so a bill that already has bipartisan support is rarely subject to threats of filibuster. However, motions for cloture have increased significantly in recent years.

If the Senate invokes cloture, debate does not end immediately; instead, it is limited to 2 additional hours unless increased by another three-fifths vote. The longest filibuster speech in the history of the Senate was delivered by Strom Thurmond, who spoke for over 24 hours in an unsuccessful attempt to block the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.[34]

Under certain circumstances, the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 provides for a process called "reconciliation" by which Congress can pass bills related to the budget without those bills being subject to a filibuster. This is accomplished by limiting all Senate floor debate to 20 hours.[35]


When debate concludes, the motion in question is put to a vote. The Senate often votes by voice vote. The presiding officer puts the question, and Members respond either "Yea" (in favor of the motion) or "Nay" (against the motion). The presiding officer then announces the result of the voice vote. A senator, however, may challenge the presiding officer's assessment and request a recorded vote. The request may be granted only if it is seconded by one-fifth of the senators present. In practice, however, senators second requests for recorded votes as a matter of courtesy. When a recorded vote is held, the clerk calls the roll of the Senate in alphabetical order; senators respond when their name is called. Senators who were not in the chamber when their name was called may still cast a vote so long as the voting remains open. The vote is closed at the discretion of the presiding officer, but must remain open for a minimum of 15 minutes. If the vote is tied, the vice president, if present, is entitled to cast a tie-breaking vote. If the vice president is not present, the motion fails.[36]

Bills which are filibustered require a three fifth majority to overcome the cloture vote (which usually means 60 votes) and get to the normal vote where a simple majority (usually 51 votes) will approve the bill. This has caused some news media to confuse the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster with the 51 votes needed to approve a bill, with for example USA Today erroneously stating "The vote was 58-39 in favor of the provision establishing concealed carry permit reciprocity in the 48 states that have concealed weapons laws. That fell two votes short of the 60 needed to approve the measure".[37]

Closed sessionEdit

On occasion, the Senate may go into what is called a secret or closed session. During a closed session, the chamber doors are closed, cameras are turned off, and the galleries are completely cleared of anyone not sworn to secrecy, not instructed in the rules of the closed session, or not essential to the session. Closed sessions are rare and usually held only when the Senate is discussing sensitive subject matter such as information critical to national security, private communications from the president, or deliberations during impeachment trials. A senator may call for and force a closed session if the motion is seconded by at least one other member, but an agreement usually occurs beforehand.[38] If the Senate does not approve release of a secret transcript, the transcript is stored in the Office of Senate Security and ultimately sent to the national archives. The proceedings remain sealed indefinitely until the Senate votes to remove the injunction of secrecy.[39]


The Senate maintains a Senate Calendar and an Executive Calendar.[40] The former identifies bills and resolutions awaiting Senate floor actions. The latter identifies executive resolutions, treaties, and nominations reported out by Senate committee(s) and awaiting Senate floor action. Both are updated each day the Senate is in session.


Dirksen Senate Office Building Committee Room 226 is used for hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate uses committees (and their subcommittees) for a variety of purposes, including the review of bills and the oversight of the executive branch. Formally, the whole Senate appoints committee members. In practice, however, the choice of members is made by the political parties. Generally, each party honors the preferences of individual senators, giving priority based on seniority. Each party is allocated seats on committees in proportion to its overall strength.

Most committee work is performed by 16 standing committees, each of which has jurisdiction over a field such as finance or foreign relations. Each standing committee may consider, amend, and report bills that fall under its jurisdiction. Furthermore, each standing committee considers presidential nominations to offices related to its jurisdiction. (For instance, the Judiciary Committee considers nominees for judgeships, and the Foreign Relations Committee considers nominees for positions in the Department of State.) Committees may block nominees and impede bills from reaching the floor of the Senate. Standing committees also oversee the departments and agencies of the executive branch. In discharging their duties, standing committees have the power to hold hearings and to subpoena witnesses and evidence.

The Senate also has several committees that are not considered standing committees. Such bodies are generally known as select or special committees; examples include the Select Committee on Ethics and the Special Committee on Aging. Legislation is referred to some of these committees, although the bulk of legislative work is performed by the standing committees. Committees may be established on an ad hoc basis for specific purposes; for instance, the Senate Watergate Committee was a special committee created to investigate the Watergate scandal. Such temporary committees cease to exist after fulfilling their tasks.

The Congress includes joint committees, which include members from both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Some joint committees oversee independent government bodies; for instance, the Joint Committee on the Library oversees the Library of Congress. Other joint committees serve to make advisory reports; for example, there exists a Joint Committee on Taxation. Bills and nominees are not referred to joint committees. Hence, the power of joint committees is considerably lower than those of standing committees.

Each Senate committee and subcommittee is led by a chair (usually a member of the majority party). Formerly, committee chairs were determined purely by seniority; as a result, several elderly senators continued to serve as chair despite severe physical infirmity or even senility.[41] Committee chairs are elected, but, in practice, seniority is rarely bypassed. The chairs hold extensive powers: they control the committee's agenda, and so decide how much, if any, time to devote to the consideration of a bill; they act with the power of the committee in disapproving or delaying a bill or a nomination by the president; they manage on the floor of the full Senate the consideration of those bills the committee reports. This last role was particularly important in mid-century, when floor amendments were thought not to be collegial. They also have considerable influence: senators who cooperate with their committee chairs are likely to accomplish more good for their states than those who do not. The Senate rules and customs were reformed in the twentieth century, largely in the 1970s. Committee chairmen have less power and are generally more moderate and collegial in exercising it, than they were before reform.[42] The second-highest member, the spokesperson on the committee for the minority party, is known in most cases as the ranking member.[43] In the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Select Committee on Ethics, however, the senior minority member is known as the vice chair.

Recent criticisms of the Senate's operations object to what the critics argue is obsolescence as a result of partisan paralysis and a preponderance of arcane rules.[44][45]



Bills may be introduced in either chamber of Congress. However, the Constitution's Origination Clause provides that "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives".[46] As a result, the Senate does not have the power to initiate bills imposing taxes. Furthermore, the House of Representatives holds that the Senate does not have the power to originate appropriation bills, or bills authorizing the expenditure of federal funds.[47][48][49] Historically, the Senate has disputed the interpretation advocated by the House. However, when the Senate originates an appropriations bill, the House simply refuses to consider it, thereby settling the dispute in practice.[citation needed] The constitutional provision barring the Senate from introducing revenue bills is based on the practice of the British Parliament, in which only the House of Commons may originate such measures.[50]

Although the Constitution gave the House the power to initiate revenue bills, in practice the Senate is equal to the House in the respect of spending. As Woodrow Wilson wrote:[51]

The approval of both houses is required for any bill, including a revenue bill, to become law. Both Houses must pass the same version of the bill; if there are differences, they may be resolved by sending amendments back and forth or by a conference committee, which includes members of both bodies.

Checks and balancesEdit

The Constitution provides several unique functions for the Senate that form its ability to "check and balance" the powers of other elements of the Federal Government. These include the requirement that the Senate may advise and must consent to some of the president's government appointments; also the Senate must consent to all treaties with foreign governments; it tries all impeachments, and it elects the vice president in the event no person gets a majority of the electoral votes.

The Senate has the power to try impeachments; shown above is Theodore R. Davis's drawing of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, 1868.

The president can make certain appointments only with the advice and consent of the Senate. Officials whose appointments require the Senate's approval include members of the Cabinet, heads of most federal executive agencies, ambassadors, Justices of the Supreme Court, and other federal judges. Under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, a large number of government appointments are subject to potential confirmation; however, Congress has passed legislation to authorize the appointment of many officials without the Senate's consent (usually, confirmation requirements are reserved for those officials with the most significant final decision-making authority). Typically, a nominee is first subject to a hearing before a Senate committee. Thereafter, the nomination is considered by the full Senate. The majority of nominees are confirmed, but in a small number of cases each year, Senate Committees will purposely fail to act on a nomination to block it. In addition, the president sometimes withdraws nominations when they appear unlikely to be confirmed. Because of this, outright rejections of nominees on the Senate floor are infrequent (there have been only nine Cabinet nominees rejected outright in the history of the United States).[citation needed]

The powers of the Senate concerning nominations are, however, subject to some constraints. For instance, the Constitution provides that the president may make an appointment during a congressional recess without the Senate's advice and consent. The recess appointment remains valid only temporarily; the office becomes vacant again at the end of the next congressional session. Nevertheless, presidents have frequently used recess appointments to circumvent the possibility that the Senate may reject the nominee. Furthermore, as the Supreme Court held in Myers v. United States, although the Senate's advice and consent is required for the appointment of certain executive branch officials, it is not necessary for their removal.[52]

The Senate also has a role in ratifying treaties. The Constitution provides that the president may only "make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." However, not all international agreements are considered treaties under US domestic law, even if they are considered treaties under international law. Congress has passed laws authorizing the president to conclude executive agreements without action by the Senate. Similarly, the president may make congressional-executive agreements with the approval of a simple majority in each House of Congress, rather than a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Neither executive agreements nor congressional-executive agreements are mentioned in the Constitution, leading some scholars such as Laurence Tribe and John Yoo[53] to suggest that they unconstitutionally circumvent the treaty-ratification process. However, courts have upheld the validity of such agreements.[54]

The Constitution empowers the House of Representatives to impeach federal officials for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors" and empowers the Senate to try such impeachments. If the sitting President of the United States is being tried, the Chief Justice of the United States presides over the trial. During an impeachment trial, senators are constitutionally required to sit on oath or affirmation. Conviction requires a two-thirds majority of the senators present. A convicted official is automatically removed from office; in addition, the Senate may stipulate that the defendant be banned from holding office. No further punishment is permitted during the impeachment proceedings; however, the party may face criminal penalties in a normal court of law.

In the history of the United States, the House of Representatives has impeached sixteen officials, of whom seven were convicted. (One resigned before the Senate could complete the trial.)[55] Only two presidents of the United States have ever been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Both trials ended in acquittal; in Johnson's case, the Senate fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction.

Under the Twelfth Amendment, the Senate has the power to elect the vice president if no vice presidential candidate receives a majority of votes in the Electoral College. The Twelfth Amendment requires the Senate to choose from the two candidates with the highest numbers of electoral votes. Electoral College deadlocks are rare. In the history of the United States, the Senate has only broken a deadlock once. In 1837, it elected Richard Mentor Johnson. The House elects the president if the Electoral College deadlocks on that choice.

Current composition and election resultsEdit

Party membership by state for the 113th Congress
  2 Democrats
  1 Democrat and 1 Republican
  2 Republicans
    1 Independent and 1 Democrat
    1 Independent and 1 Republican

Current party standingsEdit

The party composition of the Senate during the 113th Congress (since the October 31, 2013 swearing-in of Democratic Sen. Cory Booker):

Affiliation Members
Democratic Party 53
Republican Party 45
Independent 2[56]
Total 100

113th CongressEdit

The 113th United States Congress will run from January 3, 2013 to January 3, 2015.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Constitution of the United States". Senate.gov. March 26, 2009. Retrieved October 4, 2010.
  2. ^ "Constitution of the United States". Senate.gov. March 26, 2009. Retrieved October 4, 2010.
  3. ^ Senate Confirmation Process: A Brief Overview
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ Richard L. Berke (September 12, 1999). "In Fight for Control of Congress, Tough Skirmishes Within Parties". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Joseph S. Friedman (March 30, 2009). "The Rapid Sequence of Events Forcing the Senate's Hand: A Reappraisal of the Seventeenth Amendment, 1890–1913". University of Pennsylvania.
  8. ^ "Agreeing to Disagree: Agenda Content and Senate Partisanship, 198". Ingentaconnect.com. June 16, 2006. doi:10.3162/036298008784311000. Retrieved October 4, 2010.
  9. ^ "U.S. Constitution: article 1, Section 1".
  10. ^ "Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary: senate". Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  11. ^ See Notes of the Secret Debates of the Federal Convention of 1787 by Robert Yates
  12. ^ "Non-voting members of Congress". Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  13. ^ "Hawaii becomes 50th state". Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  14. ^ "U.S. Constitution: article 1, Section 1". Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  15. ^ "Party In Power - Congress and Presidency - A Visual Guide To The Balance of Power In Congress, 1945-2008". Uspolitics.about.com. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
  16. ^ Article I, Section 3: "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years; and each senator shall have one vote."
  17. ^ "U.S. Senate: Art & History Home > Origins & Development > Institutional Development > Direct Election of Senators". Senate.gov. March 26, 2009. Retrieved October 4, 2010.
  18. ^ 1801–1850, November 16, 1818: Youngest Senator. United States Senate. Retrieved November 17, 2007.
  19. ^ "Direct Election of Senators". U.S. Senate official website.
  20. ^ 2 U.S.C. § 1
  21. ^ Neale, Thomas H. (March 10, 2009). "Filling U.S. Senate Vacancies: Perspectives and Contemporary Developments" (PDF). Congressional Research Service. p. 8.
  22. ^ DeLeo, Robert A. (September 17, 2009). "Temporary Appointment of US Senator". Massachusetts Great and General Court.
  23. ^ DeLeo, Robert A. (September 17, 2009). "Temporary Appointment of US Senator Shall not be a candidate in special election" (PDF). Massachusetts Great and General Court.
  24. ^ a b "Stevens could keep seat in Senate". Anchorage Daily News. October 28, 2009.
  25. ^ United States Constitution, Article VI
  26. ^ See: 5 U.S.C. § 3331; see also: U.S. Senate Oath of Office
  27. ^ a b Salaries. United States Senate. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  28. ^ a b c "US Congress Salaries and Benefits". Usgovinfo.about.com. Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  29. ^ Sean Loughlin and Robert Yoon (June 13, 2003). "Millionaires populate U.S. Senate". CNN. Retrieved June 19, 2006.
  30. ^ Baker, Richard A. "Traditions of the United States Senate" (PDF). Page 4.
  31. ^ "Seating Arrangement". Senate Chamber Desks. Retrieved July 11, 2012.
  32. ^ CRS Report for Congress, "Guide to Individuals Seated on the Senate Dais" (updated May 6, 2008). Retrieved January 6, 2009.
  33. ^ Martin B. Gold, Senate Procedure and Practice, p.39: Every member, when he speaks, shall address the chair, standing in his place, and when he has finished, shall sit down.
  34. ^ Quinton, Jeff. "Thurmond's Filibuster". Backcountry Conservative. July 27, 2003. Retrieved June 19, 2006.
  35. ^ Reconciliation, 2 U.S.C. § 641(e) (Procedure in the Senate).
  36. ^ "Yea or Nay? Voting in the Senate". Senate.gov. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  37. ^ "How majority rule works in the U.S. Senate". Nieman Watchdog. July 31, 2009.
  38. ^ http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RS20145.pdf
  39. ^ http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/98-718.pdf
  40. ^ "Calendars & Schedules" via Senate.gov
  41. ^ See, for examples, American Dictionary of National Biography on John Sherman and Carter Glass; in general, Ritchie, Congress, p. 209
  42. ^ Ritchie, Congress, p. 44. Zelizer, On Capitol Hill describes this process; one of the reforms is that seniority within the majority party can now be bypassed, so that chairs do run the risk of being deposed by their colleagues. See in particular p. 17, for the unreformed Congress, and pp.188–9, for the Stevenson reforms of 1977.
  43. ^ Ritchie, Congress, pp .44, 175, 209
  44. ^ Mark Murray (August 2, 2010). "The inefficient Senate". Firstread.msnbc.msn.com. Retrieved October 4, 2010.
  45. ^ Packer, George (January 7, 2009). "Filibusters and arcane obstructions in the Senate". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 4, 2010.
  46. ^ "Constitution of the United States". Senate.gov. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
  47. ^ Saturno, James. "The Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution: Interpretation and Enforcement", CRS Report for Congress (Mar-15-2011).
  48. ^ Wirls, Daniel and Wirls, Stephen. The Invention of the United States Senate, p. 188 (Taylor & Francis 2004).
  49. ^ Woodrow Wilson wrote that the Senate has extremely broad amendment authority with regard to appropriations bills, as distinguished from bills that levy taxes. See Wilson, Woodrow. Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics, pp. 155-156 (Transaction Publishers 2002). According to the Library of Congress, the Constitution provides the origination requirement for revenue bills, whereas tradition provides the origination requirement for appropriation bills. See Sullivan, John. "How Our Laws Are Made", Library of Congress (accessed August 26, 2013).
  50. ^ Sargent, Noel. "Bills for Raising Revenue Under the Federal and State Constitutions", Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 4, p. 330 (1919).
  51. ^ Wilson Congressional Government, Chapter III: "Revenue and Supply". Text common to all printings or "editions"; in Papers of Woodrow Wilson it is Vol.4 (1968), p.91; for unchanged text, see p. 13, ibid.
  52. ^ Recess Appointments FAQ (PDF). US Senate, Congressional Research Service. Retrieved November 20, 2007; Ritchie, Congress p. 178.
  53. ^ Bolton, John R. (January 5, 2009). "Restore the Senate's Treaty Power". The New York Times.
  54. ^ For an example, and a discussion of the literature, see Laurence Tribe, "Taking Text and Structure Seriously: Reflections on Free-Form Method in Constitutional Interpretation", Harvard Law Review, Vol. 108, No. 6. (Apr. 1995), pp. 1221–1303.
  55. ^ Complete list of impeachment trials. United States Senate. Retrieved November 20, 2007
  56. ^ Angus King and Bernie Sanders caucus with the Democrats.


  • Baker, Richard A. The Senate of the United States: A Bicentennial History Krieger, 1988.
  • Baker, Richard A., ed., First Among Equals: Outstanding Senate Leaders of the Twentieth Century Congressional Quarterly, 1991.
  • Barone, Michael, and Grant Ujifusa, The Almanac of American Politics 1976: The Senators, the Representatives and the Governors: Their Records and Election Results, Their States and Districts (1975); new edition every 2 years
  • David W. Brady and Mathew D. McCubbins. Party, Process, and Political Change in Congress: New Perspectives on the History of Congress (2002)
  • Caro, Robert A. The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Vol. 3: Master of the Senate. Knopf, 2002.
  • Comiskey, Michael. Seeking Justices: The Judging of Supreme Court Nominees U. Press of Kansas, 2004.
  • Congressional Quarterly Congress and the Nation XII: 2005-2008: Politics and Policy in the 109th and 110th Congresses (2010); massive, highly detailed summary of Congressional activity, as well as major executive and judicial decisions; based on Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report and the annual CQ almanac. The Congress and the Nation 2009-2012 vol XIII has been announced for September 2014 publication.
    • Congressional Quarterly Congress and the Nation: 2001–2004 (2005);
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1997–2001 (2002)
    • Congressional Quarterly. Congress and the Nation: 1993–1996 (1998)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1989–1992 (1993)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1985–1988 (1989)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1981–1984 (1985)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1977–1980 (1981)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1973–1976 (1977)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1969–1972 (1973)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1965–1968 (1969)
    • Congressional Quarterly, Congress and the Nation: 1945–1964 (1965), the first of the series
  • Cooper, John Milton, Jr. Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations. Cambridge U. Press, 2001.
  • Davidson, Roger H., and Walter J. Oleszek, eds. (1998). Congress and Its Members, 6th ed. Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly. (Legislative procedure, informal practices, and member information)
  • Gould, Lewis L. The Most Exclusive Club: A History Of The Modern United States Senate (2005)
  • Hernon, Joseph Martin. Profiles in Character: Hubris and Heroism in the U.S. Senate, 1789–1990 Sharpe, 1997.
  • Hoebeke, C. H. The Road to Mass Democracy: Original Intent and the Seventeenth Amendment. Transaction Books, 1995. (Popular elections of senators)
  • Lee, Frances E. and Oppenheimer, Bruce I. Sizing Up the Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation. U. of Chicago Press 1999. 304 pp.
  • McFarland, Ernest W. The Ernest W. McFarland Papers: The United States Senate Years, 1940–1952. Prescott, Ariz.: Sharlot Hall Museum, 1995 (Democratic majority leader 1950–52)
  • Malsberger, John W. From Obstruction to Moderation: The Transformation of Senate Conservatism, 1938–1952. Susquehanna U. Press 2000
  • Mann, Robert. The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell and the Struggle for Civil Rights. Harcourt Brace, 1996
  • Ritchie, Donald A. (1991). Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents. Harvard University Press.
  • Ritchie, Donald A. (2001). The Congress of the United States: A Student Companion (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.
  • Ritchie, Donald A. (2010). The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
  • Rothman, David. Politics and Power the United States Senate 1869–1901 (1966)
  • Swift, Elaine K. The Making of an American Senate: Reconstitutive Change in Congress, 1787–1841. U. of Michigan Press, 1996
  • Valeo, Frank. Mike Mansfield, Majority Leader: A Different Kind of Senate, 1961–1976 Sharpe, 1999 (Senate Democratic leader)
  • VanBeek, Stephen D. Post-Passage Politics: Bicameral Resolution in Congress. U. of Pittsburgh Press 1995
  • Weller, Cecil Edward, Jr. Joe T. Robinson: Always a Loyal Democrat. U. of Arkansas Press, 1998. (Arkansas Democrat who was Majority leader in 1930s)
  • Wilson, Woodrow. Congressional Government. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1885; also 15th ed. 1900, repr. by photoreprint, Transaction books, 2002.
  • Wirls, Daniel and Wirls, Stephen. The Invention of the United States Senate Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2004. (Early history)
  • Zelizer, Julian E. On Capitol Hill : The Struggle to Reform Congress and its Consequences, 1948–2000 (2006)
  • Zelizer, Julian E., ed. The American Congress: The Building of Democracy (2004) (overview)

Official Senate historiesEdit

The following are published by the Senate Historical Office.

  • Robert Byrd. The Senate, 1789–1989. Four volumes.
    • Vol. I, a chronological series of addresses on the history of the Senate
    • Vol. II, a topical series of addresses on various aspects of the Senate's operation and powers
    • Vol. III, Classic Speeches, 1830–1993
    • Vol. IV, Historical Statistics, 1789–1992
  • Dole, Bob. Historical Almanac of the United States Senate
  • Hatfield, Mark O., with the Senate Historical Office. Vice Presidents of the United States, 1789–1993 (essays reprinted online)
  • Frumin, Alan S. Riddick's Senate Procedure. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1992.

External linksEdit

virgina senateEdit

CountryUnited States
Before statehoodColony of Virginia
Admitted to the UnionJune 25, 1788 (10th)
Largest cityVirginia Beach
Largest metroNorthern Virginia
 • GovernorTerry McAuliffe (D)
 • Lieutenant GovernorRalph Northam (D)
LegislatureGeneral Assembly
 • Upper houseSenate
 • Lower houseHouse of Delegates
U.S. senatorsMark Warner (D)
Tim Kaine (D)
U.S. House delegation8 Republicans,
3 Democrats (list)
 • Total8,260,405 (2,013 est)[1]
 • Density206.7/sq mi (79.8/km2)
 • Median household income
 • Income rank
 • Official languageEnglish
 • Spoken languageEnglish 94.6%, Spanish 5.4%
Latitude36° 32′ N to 39° 28′ N
Longitude75° 15′ W to 83° 41′ W

Virginia (/vərˈɪnjə/ ( listen)), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a U.S. state located in the South Atlantic region of the United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" due to its status as a former dominion of the English Crown,[2] and "Mother of Presidents" due to the most U.S. presidents having been born there. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2013 is over 8.2 million.[1]

The area's history begins with several indigenous groups, including the Powhatan. In 1607 the London Company established the Colony of Virginia as the first permanent New World English colony. Slave labor and the land acquired from displaced Native American tribes each played a significant role in the colony's early politics and plantation economy. Virginia was one of the 13 Colonies in the American Revolution and joined the Confederacy in the American Civil War, during which Richmond was made the Confederate capital and Virginia's northwestern counties seceded to form the state of West Virginia. Although the Commonwealth was under single-party rule for nearly a century following Reconstruction, both major national parties are competitive in modern Virginia.[3]

The Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World.[4] The state government has been repeatedly ranked most effective by the Pew Center on the States.[5] It is unique in how it treats cities and counties equally, manages local roads, and prohibits its governors from serving consecutive terms. Virginia's economy has many sectors: agriculture in the Shenandoah Valley; federal agencies in Northern Virginia, including the headquarters of the Department of Defense and CIA; and military facilities in Hampton Roads, the site of the region's main seaport. Virginia's economy transitioned from primarily agricultural to industrial during the 1960s and 1970s, and in 2002 computer chips became the state's leading export.[6]


Virginia has a total area of 42,774.2 square miles (110,784.7 km2), including 3,180.13 square miles (8,236.5 km2) of water, making it the 35th-largest state by area.[7] Virginia is bordered by Maryland and Washington, D.C. to the north and east; by the Atlantic Ocean to the east; by North Carolina and Tennessee to the south; by Kentucky to the west; and by West Virginia to the north and west. Virginia's boundary with Maryland and Washington, D.C. extends to the low-water mark of the south shore of the Potomac River.[8] The southern border is defined as the 36° 30′ parallel north, though surveyor error led to deviations of as much as three arcminutes.[9] The border with Tennessee was not settled until 1893, when their dispute was brought to the U.S. Supreme Court.[10]

Geology and terrainEdit

Virginia is divided into five geographic regions.

The Chesapeake Bay separates the contiguous portion of the Commonwealth from the two-county peninsula of Virginia's Eastern Shore. The bay was formed after the drowned river valleys of the Susquehanna River and the James River.[11] Many of Virginia's rivers flow into the Chesapeake Bay, including the Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James, which create three peninsulas in the bay.[12][13] Geographically and geologically, Virginia is divided into five regions from east to west: Tidewater, Piedmont, Blue Ridge Mountains, Ridge and Valley, and Cumberland Plateau.[14]

The Tidewater is a coastal plain between the Atlantic coast and the fall line. It includes the Eastern Shore and major estuaries of Chesapeake Bay. The Piedmont is a series of sedimentary and igneous rock-based foothills east of the mountains which were formed in the Mesozoic.[15] The region, known for its heavy clay soil, includes the Southwest Mountains.[16] The Blue Ridge Mountains are a physiographic province of the chain of Appalachian Mountains with the highest points in the state, the tallest being Mount Rogers at 5,729 feet (1,746 m).[17] The Ridge and Valley region is west of the mountains, and includes the Great Appalachian Valley. The region is carbonate rock based, and includes Massanutten Mountain.[18] The Cumberland Plateau and the Cumberland Mountains are in the south-west corner of Virginia, below the Allegheny Plateau. In this region, rivers flow northwest, with a dendritic drainage system, into the Ohio River basin.[19]

Deciduous and evergreen trees give the Blue Ridge Mountains their distinct color[20]

The state's carbonate rock is filled with more than 4,000 caves, ten of which are open for tourism.[21] The Virginia seismic zone has not had a history of regular earthquake activity. Earthquakes are rarely above 4.5 in magnitude because Virginia is located away from the edges of the North American Plate. The largest earthquake, at an estimated 5.9 magnitude, was in 1897 near Blacksburg.[22] A 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck central Virginia on August 23, 2011, near Mineral. The earthquake was reportedly felt as far away as Toronto, Canada, Atlanta, Georgia and Florida.[23] Coal mining takes place in the three mountainous regions at 45 distinct coal beds near Mesozoic basins.[24] Over 62 million tons of other non-fuel resources, such as slate, kyanite, sand, or gravel, were also mined in Virginia in 2012.[25]


Virginia state-wide averages
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches
Source: University of Virginia data 1895–1998

The climate of Virginia becomes increasingly warmer and more humid farther south and east.[26] Seasonal extremes vary from average lows of 26 °F (−3 °C) in January to average highs of 86 °F (30 °C) in July. The Atlantic ocean has a strong effect on eastern and southeastern coastal areas of the state. Influenced by the Gulf Stream, coastal weather is subject to hurricanes, most pronouncedly near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.[27]

Virginia has an annual average of 35–45 days of thunderstorm activity, particularly in the western part of the state,[28] and an average annual precipitation of 42.7 inches (108 cm).[27] Cold air masses arriving over the mountains in winter can lead to significant snowfalls, such as the Blizzard of 1996 and winter storms of 2009–2010. The interaction of these elements with the state's topography creates distinct microclimates in the Shenandoah Valley, the mountainous southwest, and the coastal plains.[29] Virginia averages seven tornadoes annually, most F2 or lower on the Fujita scale.[30]

In recent years, the expansion of the southern suburbs of Washington, D.C. into Northern Virginia has introduced an urban heat island primarily caused by increased absorption of solar radiation in more densely populated areas.[31] In the American Lung Association's 2011 report, 11 counties received failing grades for air quality, with Fairfax County having the worst in the state, due to automobile pollution.[32][33] Haze in the mountains is caused in part by coal power plants.[34]

Flora and faunaEdit

Forests cover 65% of the state, primarily with deciduous, broad leaf trees.[35] Lower altitudes are more likely to have small but dense stands of moisture-loving hemlocks and mosses in abundance, with hickory and oak in the Blue Ridge.[26] However since the early 1990s, Gypsy moth infestations have eroded the dominance of oak forests.[36] In the lowland tidewater yellow pines tend to dominate, with bald cypress wetland forests in the Great Dismal and Nottoway swamps. Other common trees and plants include chestnut, maple, tulip poplar, mountain laurel, milkweed, daisies, and many species of ferns. The largest areas of wilderness are along the Atlantic coast and in the western mountains, where the largest populations of trillium wildflowers in North America are found.[26][37] The Atlantic coast regions are host to flora commonly associated with the South Atlantic pine forests and lower Southeast Coastal Plain maritime flora, the latter found primarily in southeastern Virginia.

White-tailed deer, also known as Virginia deer, graze at Tanner Ridge in Shenandoah National Park

Mammals include White-tailed deer, black bear, beaver, bobcat, coyote, raccoon, skunk, groundhog, Virginia Opossum, gray fox, red fox, and eastern cottontail rabbit.[38] Other mammals include: nutria, fox squirrel, gray squirrel, flying squirrel, chipmunk, brown bat, and weasel. Birds include cardinals (the State Bird), barred owls, Carolina chickadees, Red-tailed Hawks, Ospreys, Brown Pelicans, Quail, Sea gulls, Bald Eagles, and Wild Turkeys. Virginia is also home to both the large and small pileated woodpecker as well as the common woodpecker. The Peregrine Falcon was reintroduced into Shenandoah National Park in the mid-1990s.[39] Walleye, brook trout, Roanoke bass, and blue catfish are among the 210 known species of freshwater fish.[40] Running brooks with rocky bottoms are often inhabited by plentiful amounts of crayfish and salamanders.[26] The Chesapeake Bay is host to many species, including blue crabs, clams, oysters, and rockfish (also known as striped bass).[41]

Virginia has 30 National Park Service units, such as Great Falls Park and the Appalachian Trail, and one national park, the Shenandoah National Park.[42] Shenandoah was established in 1935 and encompasses the scenic Skyline Drive. Almost 40% of the park's area (79,579 acres/322 km2) has been designated as wilderness under the National Wilderness Preservation System.[43] Additionally, there are 34 Virginia state parks and 17 state forests, run by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Department of Forestry.[35][44] The Chesapeake Bay, while not a national park, is protected by both state and federal legislation, and the jointly run Chesapeake Bay Program which conducts restoration on the bay and its watershed. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge extends into North Carolina, as does the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which marks the beginning of the Outer Banks.[45]


The story of Pocahontas, an ancestress of many of the First Families of Virginia, was romanticized by later artists.

Jamestown 2007 marked Virginia's quadricentennial year, celebrating 400 years since the establishment of the Jamestown Colony. The celebrations highlighted contributions from Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans, each of which had a significant part in shaping Virginia's history.[46][47] Warfare, including among these groups, has also had an important role. Virginia was a focal point in conflicts from the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the Civil War, to the Cold War and the War on Terrorism.[48] Stories about historic figures, such as those surrounding Pocahontas and John Smith, George Washington's childhood, or the plantation elite in the slave society of the antebellum period, have also created potent myths of state history, and have served as rationales for Virginia's ideology.[49]


The first people are estimated to have arrived in Virginia over 12,000 years ago.[50] By 5,000 years ago more permanent settlements emerged, and farming began by 900 AD. By 1500, the Algonquian peoples had founded towns such as Werowocomoco in the Tidewater region, which they referred to as Tsenacommacah. The other major language groups in the area were the Siouan to the west, and the Iroquoians, who included the Nottoway and Meherrin, to the north and south. After 1570, the Algonquians consolidated under Chief Powhatan in response to threats from these other groups on their trade network.[51] Powhatan controlled more than 30 smaller tribes and over 150 settlements, who shared a common Virginia Algonquian language. In 1607, the native Tidewater population was between 13,000 and 14,000.[52]

Several European expeditions, including a group of Spanish Jesuits, explored the Chesapeake Bay during the 16th century.[53] In 1583, Queen Elizabeth I of England granted Walter Raleigh a charter to plant a colony north of Spanish Florida.[54] In 1584, Raleigh sent an expedition to the Atlantic coast of North America.[55] The name "Virginia" may have been suggested then by Raleigh or Elizabeth, perhaps noting her status as the "Virgin Queen," and may also be related to a native phrase, "Wingandacoa," or name, "Wingina."[56] Initially the name applied to the entire coastal region from South Carolina to Maine, plus the island of Bermuda.[57] The London Company was incorporated as a joint stock company by the proprietary Charter of 1606, which granted land rights to this area. The Company financed the first permanent English settlement in the "New World", Jamestown. Named for King James I, it was founded in May 1607 by Christopher Newport.[58] In 1619, colonists took greater control with an elected legislature called the House of Burgesses. With the bankruptcy of the London Company in 1624, the settlement was taken into royal authority as an English crown colony.[59]

Williamsburg was Virginia's capital from 1699 to 1780.

Life in the colony was perilous, and many died during the Starving Time in 1609 and the Anglo-Powhatan Wars, including the Indian massacre of 1622, which fostered the colonists' negative view of all tribes.[60][61] By 1624, only 3,400 of the 6,000 early settlers had survived.[62] However, European demand for tobacco fueled the arrival of more settlers and servants.[63] The headright system tried to solve the labor shortage by providing colonists with land for each indentured servant they transported to Virginia.[64] African workers were first imported to Jamestown in 1619 initially under the rules of indentured servitude. The shift to a system of African slavery in Virginia was propelled by the legal cases of John Punch, who was sentenced to lifetime slavery in 1640 for attempting to run away,[65] and of John Casor, who was claimed by Anthony Johnson as his servant for life in 1655.[66] Slavery first appears in Virginia statutes in 1661 and 1662, when a law made it hereditary based on the mother's status.[67]

Tensions and the geographic differences between the working and ruling classes led to Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, by which time current and former indentured servants made up as much as 80% of the population.[68] Rebels, largely from the colony's frontier, were also opposed to the conciliatory policy towards native tribes, and one result of the rebellion was the signing at Middle Plantation of the Treaty of 1677, which made the signatory tribes tributary states and was part of a pattern of appropriating tribal land by force and treaty. Middle Plantation saw the founding of The College of William & Mary in 1693 and was renamed Williamsburg as it became the colonial capital in 1699.[69] In 1747, a group of Virginian speculators formed the Ohio Company, with the backing of the British crown, to start English settlement and trade in the Ohio Country west of the Appalachian Mountains.[70] France, which claimed this area as part of their colony of New France, viewed this as a threat, and the ensuing French and Indian War became part of the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). A militia from several British colonies, called the Virginia Regiment, was led by then-Lieutenant Colonel George Washington.[71]


1851 painting of Patrick Henry's speech before the House of Burgesses on the Virginia Resolves against the Stamp Act of 1765

The British Parliament's efforts to levy new taxes following the French and Indian War were deeply unpopular in the colonies. In the House of Burgesses, opposition to taxation without representation was led by Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, among others.[72] Virginians began to coordinate their actions with other colonies in 1773, and sent delegates to the Continental Congress the following year.[73] After the House of Burgesses was dissolved by the royal governor in 1774, Virginia's revolutionary leaders continued to govern via the Virginia Conventions. On May 15, 1776, the Convention declared Virginia's independence from the British Empire and adopted George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was then included in a new constitution.[74] Another Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, drew upon Mason's work in drafting the national Declaration of Independence.[75]

When the American Revolutionary War began, George Washington was selected to head the colonial army. During the war, the capital was moved to Richmond at the urging of Governor Thomas Jefferson, who feared that Williamsburg's coastal location would make it vulnerable to British attack.[76] In 1781, the combined action of Continental and French land and naval forces trapped the British army on the Virginia Peninsula, where troops under George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau defeated British General Cornwallis in the Siege of Yorktown. His surrender on October 19, 1781 led to peace negotiations in Paris and secured the independence of the colonies.[77]

Virginians were instrumental in writing the United States Constitution. James Madison drafted the Virginia Plan in 1787 and the Bill of Rights in 1789.[75] Virginia ratified the Constitution on June 25, 1788. The three-fifths compromise ensured that Virginia, with its large number of slaves, initially had the largest bloc in the House of Representatives. Together with the Virginia dynasty of presidents, this gave the Commonwealth national importance. In 1790, both Virginia and Maryland ceded territory to form the new District of Columbia, though the Virginian area was retroceded in 1846.[78] Virginia is called "Mother of States" because of its role in being carved into states like Kentucky, which became the 15th state in 1792, and for the numbers of American pioneers born in Virginia.[79]

Civil War and aftermathEdit

Union soldiers before Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg in May 1863

In addition to agriculture, slave labor was increasingly used in mining, shipbuilding and other industries.[80] The execution of Gabriel Prosser in 1800, Nat Turner's slave rebellion in 1831 and John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 marked the growing social discontent over slavery and its role in the plantation economy. By 1860, almost half a million people, roughly 31% of the total population of Virginia, were enslaved.[81][82] This division contributed to the start of the American Civil War.

Virginia voted to secede from the United States on April 17, 1861, after the Battle of Fort Sumter and Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers. On April 24, Virginia joined the Confederate States of America, which chose Richmond as its capital.[79] After the 1861 Wheeling Convention, 48 counties in the northwest separated to form a new state of West Virginia, which chose to remain loyal to the Union. Virginian general Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862, and led invasions into Union territory, ultimately becoming commander of all Confederate forces. During the war, more battles were fought in Virginia than anywhere else, including Bull Run, the Seven Days Battles, Chancellorsville, and the concluding Battle of Appomattox Court House.[83] After the capture of Richmond in April 1865, the state capital was briefly moved to Lynchburg,[84] while the Confederate leadership fled to Danville.[85] Virginia was formally restored to the United States in 1870, due to the work of the Committee of Nine.[86]

During the post-war Reconstruction era, Virginia adopted a constitution which provided for free public schools, and guaranteed political, civil, and voting rights.[87] The populist Readjuster Party ran an inclusive coalition until the conservative white Democratic Party gained power after 1883.[88] It passed segregationist Jim Crow laws and in 1902 rewrote the Constitution of Virginia to include a poll tax and other voter registration measures that effectively disfranchised most African Americans and many poor whites.[89] Though their schools and public services were segregated and underfunded due to a lack of political representation, African Americans were able to unite in communities and take a greater role in Virginia society.[90]

Modern eraEdit

Many Pre-Dreadnought and World War I-era warships were built in Newport News, including the USS Virginia.

New economic forces also changed the Commonwealth. Virginian James Albert Bonsack invented the tobacco cigarette rolling machine in 1880 leading to new industrial scale production centered around Richmond. In 1886, railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington founded Newport News Shipbuilding, which was responsible for building six major World War I-era battleships for the U.S. Navy from 1907–1923.[91] During the war, German submarines like U-151 attacked ships outside the port.[92] In 1926, Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Williamsburg's Bruton Parish Church, began restoration of colonial-era buildings in the historic district with financial backing of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.[93] Though their project, like others in the state, had to contend with the Great Depression and World War II, work continued as Colonial Williamsburg became a major tourist attraction.[94]

Protests started by Barbara Rose Johns in 1951 in Farmville against segregated schools led to the lawsuit Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. This case, filed by Richmond natives Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill, was decided in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education, which rejected the segregationist doctrine of "separate but equal". But, in 1958, under the policy of "massive resistance" led by the influential segregationist Senator Harry F. Byrd and his Byrd Organization, the Commonwealth prohibited desegregated local schools from receiving state funding.[95]

The Civil Rights Movement gained many participants in the 1960s. It achieved the moral force and support to gain passage of national legislation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1964 the United States Supreme Court ordered Prince Edward County and others to integrate schools.[96] In 1967, the Court also struck down the state's ban on interracial marriage with Loving v. Virginia. From 1969 to 1971, state legislators under Governor Mills Godwin rewrote the constitution, after goals such as the repeal of Jim Crow laws had been achieved. In 1989, Douglas Wilder became the first African American elected as governor in the United States.[97]

The Cold War led to the expansion of national defense government programs housed in offices in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., and correlative population growth.[98] The Central Intelligence Agency in Langley was involved in various Cold War events, including as the target of Soviet espionage activities. Also among the federal developments was the Pentagon, built during World War II as the headquarters for the Department of Defense. It was one of the targets of the September 11 attacks; 189 people died at the site when a jet passenger plane was crashed into the building.[99]

Cities and townsEdit

Virginia metropolitan areas located throughout the state.

Virginia is divided into 95 counties and 38 independent cities, which both operate the same way since independent cities are considered to be county-equivalent.[100] This method of treating cities and counties equally is unique to Virginia, with only three other independent cities in the United States outside Virginia.[101] Virginia limits the authority of cities and counties to countermand laws expressly allowed by the Virginia General Assembly under what is known as Dillon's Rule.[102] In addition to independent cities, there are also incorporated towns which operate under their own governments, but are part of a county. Finally there are hundreds of unincorporated communities within the counties. Virginia does not have any further political subdivisions, such as villages or townships.

Virginia has 11 Metropolitan Statistical Areas; Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Richmond-Petersburg are the three most populous. Richmond is the capital of Virginia, and its metropolitan area has a population of over 1.2 million.[103] As of 2010, Virginia Beach is the most populous city in the Commonwealth, with Norfolk and Chesapeake second and third, respectively.[104] Norfolk forms the urban core of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, which has a population over 1.6 million people and is the site of the world's largest naval base, Naval Station Norfolk.[103][105] Suffolk, which includes a portion of the Great Dismal Swamp, is the largest city by area at 429.1 square miles (1,111 km2).[106]

Fairfax County is the most populous locality in Virginia, with over one million residents, although that does not include its county seat Fairfax, which is one of the independent cities.[107] Fairfax County has a major urban business and shopping center in Tysons Corner, Virginia's largest office market.[108] Neighboring Loudoun County, with the county seat at Leesburg, is both the fastest-growing county in Virginia and has the highest median household income ($114,204) in the country as of 2010.[109] Arlington County, the smallest self-governing county in the United States by land area, is an urban community organized as a county.[110] The Roanoke area, with an estimated population of 300,399, is the largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in western Virginia.[111]


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 20138,260,4053.2%
Source: 1910–2010[112]
The population of the Hampton Roads area is over 1.7 million.

The United States Census Bureau estimates that the state population was 8,260,405 on July 1, 2013, a 3.2% increase since the 2010 United States Census.[1] This includes an increase from net migration of 314,832 people into the Commonwealth since the 2000 census. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 159,627 people, and migration within the country produced a net increase of 155,205 people.[113] The center of population is located in Louisa County outside of Richmond.[114]


The state's most populous ethnic group, Non-Hispanic White, has declined from 76% in 1990 to 64.0% in 2012.[115][116] In 2011, non-Hispanic Whites were involved in 50.9% of all the births.[117] People of English heritage settled throughout the Commonwealth during the colonial period, and others of British and Irish heritage have since immigrated.[118] Those who self-identify as having "American ethnicity" are predominantly of English descent, but have ancestry that has been in North America for so long that they choose to identify simply as American.[119][120] Of the English immigrants to Virginia in the 1600s, 75% came as indentured servants.[121] The western mountains have many settlements that were founded by Scots-Irish immigrants before the American Revolution.[122][123] There are also sizable numbers of people of German descent in the northwestern mountains and Shenandoah Valley,[124] and German ancestry was the most popular response on the 2010 American Community Survey, with 11.7%.[125] 2.9% of Virginians also describe themselves as biracial.[126]

The largest minority group in Virginia is African American, at 19.7% as of 2012.[116] Most African American Virginians have been descendants of enslaved Africans who worked on tobacco, cotton, and hemp plantations. These men, women and children were brought from west-central Africa, primarily from Angola and the Bight of Biafra. The Igbo ethnic group of what is now southern Nigeria were the single largest African group among slaves in Virginia.[127][128] Though the black population was reduced by the Great Migration, since 1965 there has been a reverse migration of blacks returning south.[129] According to the Pew Research Center, the state has the highest concentration of black and white interracial marriages.[130]

More recent immigration in the late 20th century and early 21st century has fueled new communities of Hispanics and Asians. As of 2012, 8.4% of Virginians are Hispanic or Latino (of any race), and 6.0% are Asian.[116] The state's Hispanic population rose by 92% from 2000 to 2010, with two-thirds of Hispanics living in Northern Virginia.[126] Hispanic citizens in Virginia have higher median household incomes and educational attainment than the general Virginia population.[131] Northern Virginia also has a significant population of Vietnamese Americans, whose major wave of immigration followed the Vietnam War,[132] and Korean Americans, whose migration has been more recent and was induced in part by the quality school system.[133] The Filipino American community has about 45,000 in the Hampton Roads area, many of whom have ties to the U.S. Navy and armed forces.[134]

Additionally, 0.5% of Virginians are American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.1% are Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.[116] Virginia has extended state recognition to eight Native American tribes resident in the state, though all lack federal recognition status. Most Native American groups are located in the Tidewater region.[135]

Ethnicity (2012)   Largest Ancestries by County Ancestry (2010)
Non-Hispanic White 64.0%  
American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate
German 11.7%
Black or African American 19.7%
English 10.7%
Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 8.4%
Irish 9.8%
Asian 6.0%
American 9.7%
American Indian and Alaska Native  0.5%
Subsaharan African  1.7%


The Piedmont region is known for its dialect's strong influence on Southern American English. While a more homogenized American English is found in urban areas, various accents are also used, including the Tidewater accent, the Old Virginia accent, and the anachronistic Elizabethan of Tangier Island.[136][137]

As of 2010, 85.87% (6,299,127) of Virginia residents age 5 and older spoke English at home as a primary language, while 6.41% (470,058) spoke Spanish, 0.77% (56,518) Korean, 0.63% (45,881) Vietnamese, 0.57% (42,418) Chinese (which includes Mandarin), and Tagalog was spoken as a main language by 0.56% (40,724) of the population over the age of five. In total, 14.13% (1,036,442) of Virginia's population age 5 and older spoke a mother language other than English.[138] English was passed as the Commonwealth's official language by statutes in 1981 and again in 1996, though the status is not mandated by the Constitution of Virginia.[139]


Religion (2008)
Christian[140] 76%
Baptist 27%
Roman Catholic  11%
Methodist 8%
Presbyterian 3%
Lutheran 2%
Other Christian 28%
Buddhism 1%
Hinduism 1%
Judaism 1%
Islam 0.5%
Unaffiliated 18%

Virginia is predominantly Christian and Protestant; Baptists are the largest single group with 27% of the population as of 2008.[140] Baptist congregations in Virginia have 763,655 members.[141] Baptist denominational groups in Virginia include the Baptist General Association of Virginia, with about 1,400 member churches, which supports both the Southern Baptist Convention and the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia with more than 500 affiliated churches, which supports the Southern Baptist Convention.[142][143] Roman Catholics are the second-largest religious group with 673,853 members.[141] The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington includes most of Northern Virginia's Catholic churches, while the Diocese of Richmond covers the rest.

The Virginia Conference is the regional body of the United Methodist Church and the Virginia Synod is responsible for the congregations of the Lutheran Church. Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Congregationalist, and Episcopalian adherents each composed less than 2% of the population as of 2010.[141] The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Southern Virginia, and Southwestern Virginia support the various Episcopal churches.

In November 2006, 15 conservative Episcopal churches voted to split from the Diocese of Virginia over the ordination of openly gay bishops and clergy in other dioceses of the Episcopal Church; these churches continue to claim affiliation with the larger Anglican Communion through other bodies outside the United States. Though Virginia law allows parishioners to determine their church's affiliation, the diocese claimed the secessionist churches' buildings and properties. The resulting property law case, ultimately decided in favor of the mainline diocese, was a test for Episcopal churches nationwide.[144]

Among other religions, adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints constitute 1% of the population, with 197 congregations in Virginia as of March 2014.[145] Fairfax Station is the site of the Ekoji Buddhist Temple, of the Jodo Shinshu school, and the Hindu Durga Temple. While the state's Jewish population is small, organized Jewish sites date to 1789 with Congregation Beth Ahabah.[146] Muslims are a growing religious group throughout the Commonwealth through immigration.[147] Megachurches in the Commonwealth include Thomas Road Baptist Church, Immanuel Bible Church, and McLean Bible Church.[148] Several Christian universities are also based in the state, including Regent University, Liberty University, and Lynchburg College.


Ocean tourism is an important sector of Virginia Beach's economy.

Virginia is an employment-at-will state;[149] its economy has diverse sources of income, including local and federal government, military, farming and business. Virginia has 4.1 million civilian workers, and one-third of the jobs are in the service sector.[150][151] The unemployment rate in Virginia is among the lowest in the nation, at 5.2%, as of April 2013.[152] The second fastest job growth town in the nation is Leesburg, as of 2011.[153] The Gross Domestic Product of Virginia was $424 billion in 2010.[154] According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Virginia had the most counties in the top 100 wealthiest in the United States based upon median income in 2007.[155] Northern Virginia is the highest-income region in Virginia, having six of the twenty highest-income counties in the United States, including the three highest as of 2011.[156] According to CNN Money Magazine the highest-income town in the nation is Great Falls, as of 2011.[157] According to a 2013 study by Phoenix Marketing International, Virginia had the seventh-largest number of millionaires per capita in the United States, with a ratio of 6.64%.[158]


The Department of Defense is headquartered in Arlington at The Pentagon, the world's largest office building.[159]

Virginia has the highest defense spending of any state per capita, providing the Commonwealth with around 900,000 jobs.[160][161] 12% of all U.S. federal procurement money is spent in Virginia, the second-highest amount after California.[161][162] Many Virginians work for federal agencies in Northern Virginia, which include the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense, as well as the National Science Foundation, the United States Geological Survey and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Many others work for government contractors, including defense and security firms, which hold more than 15,000 federal contracts.[163]

Virginia has one of the highest concentrations of veterans of any state,[164] and is second to California in total Department of Defense employees.[162][165] The Hampton Roads area has the largest concentration of military personnel and assets of any metropolitan area in the world,[166] including the largest naval base in the world, Naval Station Norfolk.[105] In its state government, Virginia employes 106,143 public employees, who combined have a median income of $44,656 as of 2013.[167]


Virginia has the highest concentration of technology workers of any state,[168] and the fourth-highest number of technology workers after California, Texas, and New York.[169] Computer chips became the state's highest-grossing export in 2006, surpassing its traditional top exports of coal and tobacco combined.[6] Northern Virginia, once considered the state's dairy capital, now hosts software, communication technology, defense contracting companies, particularly in the Dulles Technology Corridor. As of 2013, the state had one of the highest average Internet speeds in the world,[170] and Northern Virginia's data centers carried 70% of the nation's internet traffic, using 2% Dominion Power's electricity for Northern Virginia.[171]

Virginia companies received the fourth-highest amount of venture capital funding in the first half of 2011 after California, Massachusetts, and New York.[172] In 2009, Forbes Magazine named Virginia the best state in the nation for business for the fourth year in a row,[173] while CNBC named it the top state for business in 2007, 2009, and 2011.[174] Virginia has 20 Fortune 500 companies, ranking the state eighth nationwide.[175] Tourism in Virginia supported an estimated 210,000 jobs and generated $21.2 billion in 2012.[176] Arlington County is the top tourist destination in the state by domestic spending, followed by Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and Virginia Beach.[177] Tysons Corner is one of the largest business districts in the nation.


Rockingham County is Virginia's leading county in agriculture.[178]

Agriculture occupies 32% of the land in Virginia. As of 2012, about 357,000 Virginian jobs were in agriculture, with over 47,000 farms, averaging 171 acres (0.27 sq mi; 0.69 km2), in a total farmland area of 8.1 million acres (12,656 sq mi; 32,780 km2). Though agriculture has declined significantly since 1960 when there were twice as many farms, it remains the largest single industry in Virginia.[179] Tomatoes surpassed soy as the most profitable crop in Virginia in 2006, with peanuts and hay as other agricultural products.[180] Although it is no longer the primary crop, Virginia is still the fifth-largest producer of tobacco nationwide.[181] Eastern oyster harvests are an important part of the Chesapeake Bay economy, but declining oyster populations from disease, pollution, and overfishing have diminished catches.[182] Wineries and vineyards in the Northern Neck and along the Blue Ridge Mountains also have begun to generate income and attract tourists.[183]


Virginia collects personal income tax in five income brackets, ranging from 3.0% to 5.75%. The state sales and use tax rate is 4%, while the tax rate on food is 1.5%. There is an additional 1% local tax, for a total of a 5% combined sales tax on most Virginia purchases and 2.5% on most food.[184] Virginia's property tax is set and collected at the local government level and varies throughout the Commonwealth. Real estate is also taxed at the local level based on 100% of fair market value. Tangible personal property also is taxed at the local level and is based on a percentage or percentages of original cost.[185]


Colonial Virginian culture, language, and style are reenacted in Williamsburg.

Virginia's culture was popularized and spread across America and the South by figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert E. Lee. Their homes in Virginia represent the birthplace of America and the South.[186] Modern Virginia culture has many sources, and is part of the culture of the Southern United States.[187] The Smithsonian Institution divides Virginia into nine cultural regions.[188]

Besides the general cuisine of the Southern United States, Virginia maintains its own particular traditions. Virginia wine is made in many parts of the state.[183] Smithfield ham, sometimes called "Virginia ham", is a type of country ham which is protected by state law, and can only be produced in the town of Smithfield.[189] Virginia furniture and architecture are typical of American colonial architecture. Thomas Jefferson and many of the state's early leaders favored the Neoclassical architecture style, leading to its use for important state buildings. The Pennsylvania Dutch and their style can also be found in parts of the state.[124]

Literature in Virginia often deals with the state's extensive and sometimes troubled past. The works of Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Glasgow often dealt with social inequalities and the role of women in her culture.[190] Glasgow's peer and close friend James Branch Cabell wrote extensively about the changing position of gentry in the Reconstruction era, and challenged its moral code with Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice.[191] William Styron approached history in works such as The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie's Choice.[192] Tom Wolfe has occasionally dealt with his southern heritage in bestsellers like I Am Charlotte Simmons.[193] Mount Vernon native Matt Bondurant received critical acclaim for his historic novel The Wettest County in the World about moonshiners in Franklin County during prohibition.[194] Virginia also names a state Poet Laureate, currently Sofia Starnes of Williamsburg, who will serve until mid-2014.[195]

Fine and performing artsEdit

The Meadow Pavilion is one of the theaters at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

Rich in cultural heritage, Virginia ranks near the bottom of U.S. states in terms of public spending on the arts, at nearly half of the national average.[196] The state government does fund some institutions, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Science Museum of Virginia. Other museums include the popular Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum and the Chrysler Museum of Art.[197] Besides these sites, many open-air museums are located in the Commonwealth, such as Colonial Williamsburg, the Frontier Culture Museum, and various historic battlefields.[198] The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities works to improve the Commonwealth's civic, cultural, and intellectual life.[199]

Theaters and venues in the Commonwealth are found both in the cities and suburbs. The Harrison Opera House, in Norfolk, is home of the Virginia Opera. The Virginia Symphony Orchestra operates in and around Hampton Roads.[200] Resident and touring theater troupes operate from the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton.[201] The Barter Theatre, designated the State Theatre of Virginia, in Abingdon won the first ever Regional Theatre Tony Award in 1948, while the Signature Theatre in Arlington won it in 2009. There's also a Children's Theater of Virginia, Theatre IV, which is the second largest touring troupe nationwide.[202]

Virginia has launched many award-winning traditional musical artists and internationally successful popular music acts, as well as Hollywood actors.[203] Virginia is known for its tradition in the music genres of old-time string and bluegrass, with groups such as the Carter Family and Stanley Brothers, as well as gospel, blues, and shout bands.[204] Contemporary Virginia is also known for folk rock artists like Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz, hip hop stars like Pharrell and Missy Elliott, as well as thrash metal groups like GWAR and Lamb of God.[205] Notable performance venues include The Birchmere, the Landmark Theater, and Jiffy Lube Live.[206] Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is located in Vienna and is the only national park intended for use as a performing arts center.[207]


The annual Chincoteague Pony Swim features over 200 wild ponies swimming across the Assateague Channel into Chincoteague.

Many counties and localities host county fairs and festivals. The Virginia State Fair is held at the Meadow Event Park every September. Also in September is the Neptune Festival in Virginia Beach, which celebrates the city, the waterfront, and regional artists. Norfolk's Harborfest, in June, features boat racing and air shows.[208] Fairfax County also sponsors Celebrate Fairfax! with popular and traditional music performances.[209] The Virginia Lake Festival is held during the third weekend in July in Clarksville.[210] Wolf Trap hosts the Wolf Trap Opera Company, which produces an opera festival every summer.[207] Each September, Bay Days celebrates the Chesapeake Bay as well as Hampton's 400 year history since 1610, and Isle of Wight County holds a County Fair on the second week of September as well. Both feature live music performances, and other unique events.

On the Eastern Shore island of Chincoteague the annual Pony Swim & Auction of feral Chincoteague ponies at the end of July is a unique local tradition expanded into a week-long carnival. The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is a six-day festival held annually in Winchester that includes parades and bluegrass concerts. The Old Time Fiddlers' Convention in Galax, begun in 1935, is one of the oldest and largest such events worldwide. Two important film festivals, the Virginia Film Festival and the VCU French Film Festival, are held annually in Charlottesville and Richmond, respectively.[211]


USA Today, the nation's most circulated newspaper, has its headquarters in McLean.

The Hampton Roads area is the 45th-largest media market in the United States as ranked by Nielsen Media Research, while the Richmond-Petersburg area is 57th and Roanoke-Lynchburg is 66th as of 2013.[212] Northern Virginia is part of the much larger Washington, D.C. media market.

There are 36 television stations in Virginia, representing each major U.S. network, part of 42 stations which serve Virginia viewers.[213] More than 720 FCC-licensed FM radio stations broadcast in Virginia, with about 300 such AM stations.[214][215] The nationally available Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is headquartered in Arlington. Independent PBS affiliates exist throughout Virginia, and the Arlington PBS member station WETA-TV produces programs such as the PBS NewsHour and Washington Week.

The most circulated native newspapers in the Commonwealth are Norfolk's The Virginian-Pilot (142,476 daily subscribers), the Richmond Times-Dispatch (108,559), and The Roanoke Times (78,663), as of 2014.[216] Several Washington, D.C. papers are based in Northern Virginia, such as The Washington Examiner and Politico. The paper with the nation's widest circulation, USA Today, with 1.83 million daily subscriptions, is headquartered in McLean.[217] Besides traditional forms of media, Virginia is the home base for telecommunication companies such as Voxant and XO Communications. In Northern Virginia, The Washington Post is the dominant newspaper, since Northern VA is located in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.


Virginia's educational system consistently ranks in the top ten states on the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress, with Virginia students outperforming the average in all subject areas and grade levels tested.[219] The 2011 Quality Counts report ranked Virginia's K–12 education fourth best in the country.[220] All school divisions must adhere to educational standards set forth by the Virginia Department of Education, which maintains an assessment and accreditation regime known as the Standards of Learning to ensure accountability.[221] In 2010, 85% of high school students graduated on-time after four years.[222] Between 2000 and 2008, school enrollment increased 5%, the number of teachers 21%.[223]

Public K–12 schools in Virginia are generally operated by the counties and cities, and not by the state. As of April 2011, a total of 1,267,063 students were enrolled in 1,873 local and regional schools in the Commonwealth, including three charter schools, and an additional 109 alternative and special education centers across 132 school divisions.[224][225] Besides the general public schools in Virginia, there are Governor's Schools and selective magnet schools. The Governor's Schools are a collection of more than 40 regional high schools and summer programs intended for gifted students.[226] The Virginia Council for Private Education oversees the regulation of 320 state accredited and 130 non-accredited private schools.[227][228] An additional 24,682 students receive homeschooling.[229]

As of 2011, there are 176 colleges and universities in Virginia.[230] In the U.S. News & World Report ranking of public colleges, the University of Virginia is second and The College of William & Mary is sixth.[231][232] Virginia Commonwealth University is ranked the top public graduate school in fine arts, while James Madison University has been recognized as the top regional public master's program in The South since 1993.[233][234] The Virginia Military Institute is the oldest state military college and a top ranked public liberal arts college.[235][236] George Mason University is the largest university in Virginia with over 32,000 students.[237] Virginia Tech and Virginia State University are the state's land-grant universities. Virginia also operates 23 community colleges on 40 campuses serving over 260,000 students.[238] There are 129 private institutions, including Washington and Lee University, Randolph College, Hampden–Sydney College, Emory & Henry College, Roanoke College, and the University of Richmond, Randolph-Macon College.[230]


The A.D. Williams Clinic and West Hospital at VCU Medical Center in Richmond

Virginia has a mixed health record, and is ranked as the 20th overall healthiest state according to the 2011 United Health Foundation's Health Rankings.[239] Virginia also ranks 21st among the states in the rate of premature deaths, 7,100 per 100,000. In 2008, Virginia reached its lowest ever rate of infant mortality, at 6.7 deaths per 1,000.[240] There are however racial and social health disparities, in 2010 African Americans experienced 28% more premature deaths than whites, while 13% of Virginians lack any health insurance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2009 survey, 26% of Virginians are obese and another 35% are overweight. 78% of residents claim to have exercised at least once in the past three months.[241][242] About 30% of Virginia's 10- to 17-year-olds are overweight or obese.[243] Virginia banned smoking in bars and restaurants in January 2010.[244] 19% of Virginians smoke tobacco.[239] Residents of Virginia's 8th congressional district share the longest average life expectancy rate in the nation, over 83 years.[245]

There are 89 hospitals in Virginia listed with the United States Department of Health and Human Services.[246] Notable examples include Inova Fairfax Hospital, the largest hospital in the Washington Metropolitan Area, and the VCU Medical Center, located on the medical campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. The University of Virginia Medical Center, part of the University of Virginia Health System, is highly ranked in endocrinology according to U.S.News & World Report.[247] Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, part of the Hampton Roads based Sentara Health System and a teaching institution of Eastern Virginia Medical School, was the site of the first successful in-vitro fertilization birth.[248][249] Virginia has a ratio of 127 primary care physicians per 10,000 residents, which is the 16th highest nationally.[239] Virginia was one of five states to receive a perfect score in disaster preparedness according to a 2008 report by the Trust for America's Health, based on criteria such as detecting pathogens and distributing vaccines and medical supplies.[250]


The Virginia Railway Express runs commuter lines in Northern Virginia.

Because of the 1932 Byrd Road Act, the state government controls most of Virginia's roads, instead of a local county authority as is usual in other states.[251] As of 2011, the Virginia Department of Transportation owns and operates 57,867 miles (93,128 km) of the total 70,105 miles (112,823 km) of roads in the state, making it the third largest state highway system in the United States.[252] Although the Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes Northern Virginia, has the second worst traffic in the nation, Virginia as a whole has the 21st-lowest congestion and the average commute time is 26.9 minutes.[253][254]

Virginia has Amtrak passenger rail service along several corridors, and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) maintains two commuter lines into Washington, D.C. from Fredericksburg and Manassas. VRE is one of the nation's fastest growing commuter rail services, handling nearly 20,000 passengers a day.[255] The Washington Metro rapid transit system serves Northern Virginia as far west as communities along I-66 in Fairfax County, with expansion plans to reach Tysons Corner by 2013, and Loudoun County by 2017.[256] Major freight railroads in Virginia include Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation. Commuter buses include the Fairfax Connector and the Shenandoah Valley Commuter Bus. The Virginia Department of Transportation operates several free ferries throughout Virginia, the most notable being the Jamestown-Scotland ferry which crosses the James River in Surry County.[257]

Virginia has five major airports: Washington Dulles International handling over 23 million passengers a year, and Reagan Washington National which both serve the Washington metropolitan area and most of Northern Virginia, Norfolk International serving the Hampton Roads area, Richmond International, and Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. Several other airports offer limited commercial passenger service, and sixty-six public airports serve the state's aviation needs.[258] The Virginia Port Authority's main seaports are those in Hampton Roads, which carried 17,726,251 short tons (16,080,984 t) of bulk cargo in 2007, the sixth most of United States ports.[259] The Eastern Shore of Virginia is the site of Wallops Flight Facility, a rocket testing center owned by NASA, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, a commercial spaceport.[260][261] Space tourism is also offered through Vienna-based Space Adventures.[262]

Law and governmentEdit

The Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson and begun by Governor Patrick Henry in 1785, is home to the Virginia General Assembly.

In colonial Virginia, free men elected the lower house of the legislature, called the House of Burgesses, which together with the Governor's Council, made the "General Assembly". Founded in 1619, the Virginia General Assembly is still in existence as the oldest legislature in the Western Hemisphere.[263] The modern government is ranked by the Pew Center on the States with an A− in terms of its efficiency, effectiveness, and infrastructure. This is the second time Virginia received the highest grade in the nation, which it shares with two others.[5]

Since 1971, the government has functioned under the seventh Constitution of Virginia, which provides for a strong legislature and a unified judicial system. Similar to the federal structure, the government is divided in three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The legislature is the General Assembly, a bicameral body whose 100-member House of Delegates and 40-member Senate write the laws for the Commonwealth. The Assembly is stronger than the executive, as it selects judges and justices. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor are elected every four years in separate elections. Incumbent governors cannot run for re-election, however the Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General can, and governors may serve non-consecutive terms.[264] The judicial system, the oldest in America, consists of a hierarchy from the Supreme Court of Virginia and the Court of Appeals of Virginia to the Circuit Courts, the trial courts of general jurisdiction, and the lower General District Courts and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Courts.[265]

The Code of Virginia is the statutory law, and consists of the codified legislation of the General Assembly. The Virginia State Police is the largest law enforcement agency in Virginia. The Virginia Capitol Police is the oldest police department in the United States.[266] The Virginia National Guard consists of 7,500 soldiers in the Virginia Army National Guard and 1,200 airmen in the Virginia Air National Guard.[267] Since the resumption of capital punishment in Virginia in 1982, 107 people have been executed, the second highest number in the nation.[268] The "total crime risk" is 28% lower than the national average.[269] Since Virginia ended prisoner parole in 1995, the rate of recidivism has fallen to 28.3%, among the lowest nationwide.[270] Virginia is an open-carry state.


Presidential elections results[271]
Year Republicans Democrats
2012 47.28% 1,822,522 51.16% 1,971,820
2008 46.33% 1,725,005 52.63% 1,959,532
2004 53.68% 1,716,959 45.48% 1,454,742
2000 52.47% 1,437,490 44.44% 1,217,290
1996 47.10% 1,138,350 45.15% 1,091,060
1992 44.97% 1,150,517 40.59% 1,038,650
1988 59.74% 1,309,162 39.23% 859,799
1984 62.29% 1,337,078 37.09% 796,250
1980 53.03% 989,609 40.31% 752,174

Over the 20th century, Virginia shifted from a largely rural, politically Southern and conservative state to a more urbanized, pluralistic, and politically moderate environment. Up until the 1970s, Virginia was a racially divided single-party state dominated by the Byrd Organization.[272] The legacy of slavery in the state effectively disfranchised African Americans until after passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.[273] Enfranchisement and immigration of other groups, especially Hispanics, have placed growing importance on minority voting,[274] while voters that identify as "white working-class" declined by three percent between 2008 and 2012.[275] Regional differences play a large part in Virginia politics.[276] Rural southern and western areas moved to support the Republican Party in response to its "southern strategy", while urban and growing suburban areas, including much of Northern Virginia, form the Democratic Party base.[277][278] Democratic support also persists in union-influenced parts of Southwest Virginia, college towns such as Charlottesville and Blacksburg, and the southeastern Black Belt Region.[279]

Political party strength in Virginia has likewise been in flux. In the 2007 state elections, Democrats regained control of the State Senate, and narrowed the Republican majority in the House of Delegates to eight seats.[280] Yet elections in 2009 resulted in the election of Republican Bob McDonnell as Governor by a seventeen point margin, the election of a Republican Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, as well as Republican gains of six seats in the House of Delegates.[281] In 2011, the Republican caucus took over two-thirds (68–32) of the seats in the House of Delegates, and a majority of the Senate based on the Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling as the tie-breaker.[282] Following the 2013 elections, Democrat Terry McAuliffe was elected Governor by two and half percentage points,[283][284] while Democrat Ralph Northam was elected Lieutenant Governor by almost double digits.[285][286] Republicans, however, maintained their super-majority (68–32) in the House of Delegates.[285][287] State election seasons traditionally start with the annual Shad Planking event in Wakefield.[288]

In federal elections since 2006, both parties have seen successes. Republican Senator George Allen lost close races in 2006, to Democratic newcomer Jim Webb, and again in 2012, to Webb's replacement, former Governor Tim Kaine.[289] In 2008, the Democrats took both U.S. Senate seats when former Governor Mark Warner was elected to replace retiring Republican John Warner.[290] Virginia, which has 13 electoral votes, was won by Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, after being won by Republican candidates in the previous ten presidential elections.[275] In the 2010 elections, Republicans picked up three House seats from Democrats. Of the state's 11 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans hold eight and Democrats hold three. Virginia is considered a "swing state" in future presidential elections.[3]


The Virginia Tech Hokies football team has the second longest bowl game streak in the nation.[291]

Virginia is the most populous U.S. state without a major professional sports league franchise.[292] The reasons for this include the lack of any dominant city or market within the state, the proximity of teams in Washington, D.C. and North Carolina, and a reluctance to publicly finance stadiums.[293][294] Norfolk is host to the two highest-level minor league teams in the state: The AAA Norfolk Tides and the AHL's Norfolk Admirals, winners of the 2012 Calder Cup.[295] The San Francisco Giants' AA team, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, began play at The Diamond in 2010, replacing the AAA Richmond Braves, who relocated after 2008.[296] Additionally, the Washington Nationals, Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, and Atlanta Braves also have Single-A and Rookie-level farm teams in Virginia.[297]

The Washington Redskins have Redskins Park, their headquarters, in Ashburn and their training facility is in Richmond,[298] and the Washington Capitals train at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston. Virginia has many professional caliber golf courses including the Greg Norman course at Lansdowne Resort and Kingsmill Resort, home of the Kingsmill Championship. NASCAR currently schedules Sprint Cup races on two tracks in Virginia: Martinsville Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. Current Virginia drivers in the series include Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, and Elliott Sadler.[299]

Virginia does not allow state appropriated funds to be used for either operational or capital expenses for intercollegiate athletics.[300] Despite this, both the Virginia Cavaliers and Virginia Tech Hokies have been able to field competitive teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference and maintain modern facilities. Their rivalry is followed statewide. Several other universities compete in NCAA Division I, particularly in the Colonial Athletic Association. Three historically black schools compete in the Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and two others compete in the Division I Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Several smaller schools compete in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and the USA South Athletic Conference of NCAA Division III. The NCAA currently holds its Division III championships in football, men's basketball, volleyball and softball in Salem.[301]

State symbolsEdit

The Virginia welcome sign at the Virginia welcome center on I-95 employs the state bird, the cardinal, and the state tree and flower, the dogwood.

The state nickname is its oldest symbol, though it has never been made official by law. Virginia was given the title "Dominion" by King Charles II of England at the time of The Restoration, because it had remained loyal to the crown during the English Civil War, and the present moniker, "Old Dominion" is a reference to that title. The other nickname, "Mother of Presidents", is also historic, as eight Virginians have served as President of the United States, including four of the first five.[203]

The state's motto, Sic Semper Tyrannis, translates from Latin as "Thus Always to Tyrants", and is used on the state seal, which is then used on the flag. While the seal was designed in 1776, and the flag was first used in the 1830s, both were made official in 1930.[203] The majority of the other symbols were made official in the late 20th century.[302] The Virginia reel is among the square dances classified as the state dance.[14] Virginia currently has no state song. In 1940, Virginia made "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" the state song, but it was retired in 1997 and reclassified as the state song emeritus.[303] Various alternatives, including a version of "Oh Shenandoah", have met with resistance in the Virginia House of Delegates.[304]

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Preceded by
New Hampshire
List of U.S. states by date of statehood
Ratified Constitution on June 25, 1788 (10th)
Succeeded by
New York

August 2014Edit


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