The Concept and Historical Significance of Virtual Representation

Geeta Dhavale May 13, 2019
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Virtual representation is a crucial concept that is now widely used in politics and legislature. To know more about this interesting concept, which has great historical significance, read on.
Virtual representation is a concept by which a group of people who cannot or do not vote are represented in the legislature or parliament by other voters. It means that a group of people is spoken for in the government by a third person who is not elected by that group.
It involved choosing the representative for a particular region without considering the opinion of the people from that region. When people are forced to accept a representative who is not elected by them but who would still take the decisions for them. This concept has been widely used by many countries for different political and administration purposes.
Historically, it was used to establish control over vassal countries and populations. Virtual representation allows the ruling power to decide what it deems as appropriate, and what is in the best interest of the population, without providing them with legitimate legislative or executive authority.
A simple virtual representation definition is as follows―It is a political process that a class of persons is represented in a lawmaking body without direct vote.

Virtual Representation Vs. Actual Representation

Actual representation is a concept exactly opposite to virtual representation. Actual representation demands that every person from the group votes to determine the person who will be representing the group. This elected person would represent the group and speak on their behalf and participate in the decision-making process.
This process is like electing a President, where each citizen votes for the leader who they think is capable of representing them. This kind of political system prevents leadership abuse, where the ruling body decides what is good for the subjugated population without even knowing their problems and issues.
As someone rightly described, virtual representation is like when a group of shoemakers is represented by a shoemaker. On the other hand actual representation is one of the ideal ways to select the representative.

History Of Virtual Representation

The concept of virtual representation originated in 1765. The thirteen colonies expressed their grievance against British Colonists for denying direct representation in the British parliament to these colonies, the British government argued and defended their decisions and taxes by saying that the colonists were virtually represented in the parliament.
According to British constitution, taxes could be levied on British subjects with their consent. But the thirteen colonies argued that the representative was not elected by them, and hence, they would not be binding for any taxes.
Therefore, by denying the actual representation, the British parliament was acting illegally, unconstitutionally, and was depriving the thirteen colonies of their right as Englishmen. This event played a major role in triggering the American Revolution and remained one of the most influential and major causes of the Revolution.
Well, Britain was not the only country who used this concept to leverage and maintain the control and power structure. There are many other major empires and powers who used virtual representation to create laws and regulations to control the population which probably did not want to accept their rule.
The women of many countries can be a classic example of virtual representation, where women are not allowed to suffrage or participate in the decision-making process and instead, power holders decide what is good for women and dominate the political and social lives of women. You must got an idea of virtual representation and also the power of voting!