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pendence has long attracted the earnest gaze of admiring millions, and becomes more sacred as time advances.
Upon the tablet of enduring fame, stands the name of RICHARD HENRY LEE, in bold relievo. He was the son of Thomas Lee, and born in Westmoreland county, Virginia, on the 20th of January, 1732. His ancestors were among the early settlers of the Old Dominion, and ainong those who guided the concerns and directed the destinies of the colony. They were the friends of liberal principles, and at all times resisted every encroachment upon their rights. The arbitrary power exercised by Charles the first over his European subjects, which hurled him from his throne, was successfully resisted by the Lees of Virginia. When Cromwell assumed the crown, his power was not recognised by this colony, and the mandate that first proclaimed the second Charles king, originated with Lee and Berkley of the Old Dominion.
The plan of ultimate independence seems to have been long cherished and nursed by the elder Lees. Through the bright vista of the future they contemplated the millennium of freedom in America. So strongly impressed was the father of the present subject with this idea, that he fixed in his mind the location of the seat of government, and in view of this, purchased lands in the vicinity of Washington. By some historians this is called a paradox which philosophy has been perplexed to explain. To my mind the solution is involved in no mysterious perplexity. A man of deep reflection does not draw his conclusions from present appearances alone. He compares the past with the present, from which he makes deductions for the future. The historic map
of the old world is covered with the rise, progress, and downfall of kingdoms and nations. Judging from the causes that produced them, and the results that followed, it was the natural conclusion of a penetrating mind, that the expansive territory we now possess, with all the bounties of nature lavished upon it, and with intelligent and enterprising immigrants pouring in upon it, must eventually be so densely populated that its physical force would become too strong for any European power to maintain a dominion over it. Its geographical centre, with reference to the settlements then in progress, was equally plain. The “prophecy," as it has been termed, was the result of deep thought, arriving at conclusions drawn from the laws of nature, and shows that Mr. Lee possessed an analyzing mind that moved in a broad circumference.
Richard Henry Lee commenced his education at Wakefield, Yorkshire, England, and remained in that kingdom until he completed it. He returned a finished scholar and an accomplished gentleman, with a reputation untarnished by folly or vice. From his youth his integrity and morality were of the purest order; he delighted in reposing under the ethic mantle. During his absence his innate republicanism did not become tinctured with the farina of European courts, or the etiquette of aristocracy. In classic history he found the true dignity of man portrayed, and his inalienable rights delineated. In the philosophy of Locke he saw the rays of light reflected upon human nature, and the avenues of the immortal mind opened to his enraptured view. In the elements of Euclid the laws of demonstration were exhibited to his understanding, and aided in maturing his logical powers. He was prepared to enter upon the great theatre of public action, and to adorn the circle of private life. Endowed with these qualifications, his services were naturally required by his country, His first public act was to raise a body of troops and tender his services to General Braddock. That proud Briton considered the provincials puerile, and declined the proffered aid. His fate is a matter of history. In 1757, Mr. Lee was appointed a justice of the peace and president of the court. Shortly after, he was elected to the house of burgesses, where he made himself thoroughly acquainted with the laws of legislation, the ramifications of the government, the various interests and policy of the colony, and with the rules of parliamentary proceedings.
Retarded by an almost unconquerable diffidence, he took very little part in debate at first, and it was not until he became excited by a subject in which he felt a deep interest, that his Ciceronean powers became developed. A bill was before the house imposing a duty upon the importation of slaves into Virginia, so heavy as to virtually amount to a prohibition. It met with strong opposition, and then it was that Richard Henry Lee became roused, and poured upon
his astonished audience a flood of eloquence against the importing traffic of human beings, that raised him at once to the pinnacle of fame as an eloquent orator. He was proclaimed the Cicero of America. He painted, in vivid colours, the cruelties of Cortes in South America, of the Saracens in Spain, and then pointed his colleagues to the darker and more barbarous practices that marked and branded with lasting infamy the unhallowed slave trade. He also pointed them to the bloody scenes of other times, when the physical force of those held in bondage had enabled them to rise in their might and crush their masters at one bold effort. By stopping the traffic the evil already entailed upon them might be provided for, and the certain and dreadful consequences of a constant influx from Africa be warded
off. His eloquence was applauded, but his doctrines of philanthropy were voted down. The trade was then sanctioned by the government of Great Britain, now so loud in complaints against us, for not providing for an evil entailed upon America by the mother country.
The exposure of base corruptions practised by Mr. Robinson, then treasurer of the colony, was the next important service rendered by Mr. Lee. As this was participated in by the aristocracy of the house it required much boldness, energy, and persevering sagacity to introduce the probe successfully. This he effected in a masterly manner, and proved clearly that the treasurer had repeatedly re-issued reclaimed treasury bills to his favourite friends to support them in their extravagance, by which means the colony, in paying them a second time, was robbed of the amount. This act placed Mr. Lee on a high eminence in view of every honest man.
When Charles Townshend laid before the British parliament the odious and more extensive plan of taxing the American colonies, which was seized upon as a philosopher's stone by Mr. Grenville,
Mr. Lee was among the first to sound the alarm to his countrymen. Within one month after the passage of the preliminary act in parliament followed by a revolting catalogue of unconstitutional and oppressive laws, Mr. Lee furnished a list of arguments against it to his London friends, that were sufficient to convince every man of the injustice and ruinous policy of the measure proposed, who was not blind to the dictates of reason and madly bent on enslaving his fellow men.
When Patrick Henry proposed his resolutions in 1765, against the stamp act, which brought out the full force of his gigantic mind for the first time, Mr. Lee gave them the powerful aid of his eloquent and unanswerable logic. * Associations began now to be organized to resist the oppressions of the crown of which he was prominent and efficient member. The collector of stamps was compelled to relinquish his office and deliver up his commission and the odious paper, and the people were advised not to use it on any occasion.
The pen of Mr. Lee was also ably used and produced many keen, withering, logical, patriotic and sarcastic essays, that contributed largely in producing a proper tone of enthusiastic patriotism in the public mind. He also corresponded with the patriots of New York and New England, and was the first one according to the testimony of Colonel Gadsden, of South Carolina, and the public documents of that eventful era, who proposed the independence of the colonies, which tends to strengthen the allusion to his ancestors, who had for a century before predicted this event. The idea had probably been handed down from sire to son. In a letter from Richard Henry Lee to Mr. Dickinson, dated July 25th, 1768, connected with the statement of Colonel Gadsden, he proposes upon all seasonable occasions to impress upon the minds of the people the necessity of a struggle with Great Britain for the ultimate establishment of independence," and that a private correspondence should be conducted by the lovers of liberty in every province.” His early proposition in Congress to sever the maternal ties, was considered by most of the friends of liberty premature and rash; but he had long nursed this favourite project in his own bosom and was anxious to transplant its vigorous scions to the congenial hearts of his fellow patriots.
Soon after the house of burgesses convened in 1769, Mr. Lee, as chairman of the judiciary committee, introduced resolutions so highly charged with liberal principles, sapping the foundation of the Grenville superstructure, that they caused a dissolution of the house, and concentrated the wrath of the British ministry and its servile creatures against him. The fruits of their persecution were the formation of non-importation associations, committees of correspondence, committees of safety, and the disaffection of the English merchants towards the ministers, in consequence of their impolitic measures, which were calculated to prostrate the exporting trade to America.
Lord North now assumed the management of the grand drama of oppression, and laid more deeply the revenue plan. By causing a
* See them at large in the life of Henry.
repeal of the most offensive acts, he hoped to lull the storm of opposition that was gathering, disarm the colonists of the spirit of resistance, and, in the meantime, prepare for more efficient action. Had the Boston port bill been omitted, his dark designing treachery might have had a more triumphant reign. This roused the indignation of the people and fanned the burning flame of patriotic resentment to a white heat.
The Philadelphia Congress of 1774 was now planned, in which Mr. Lee took his seat. At that memorable meeting he acted a conspicuous part. After Patrick Henry had broken the great seal that appeared to rest on the lips of the members as they sat in deep and solemn silence, he was followed by Richard Henry Lee in a strain of belles lettres eloquence and persuasive reasoning that took the minds of his audience captive, and restored to a calm
the boiling agitation that shook their manly frames as the mountain torrent of the Demosthenean Henry rushed upon them.
He was a member of the committee appointed to prepare an address to the king, the people of Great Britain, and to the colonies. That document was written by him and adopted with a few amendments. He was also upon the committee that prepared the address to the people of Quebec, and upon the committee of rights and grievances, and of non-intercourse with the mother country. In the warmth of his ardour, he proposed several resolutions that were considered premature at that time, and were rejected; not because his purity of purpose was doubted, but because many of the members still hoped that peace might be restored by a timely redress of the grievances they had strongly and clearly set forth in their petition and address to the king and his advisers, and were not willing then to take any action to widen the breach between the two countries. The proceedings of this Congress were highly applauded by Lord Chatham, as being without a parallel for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity and wisdom of conclusion.
In 1775, Mr. Lee was unanimously elected to the Virginia legislature and continued to act with undiminished zeal. He received a vote of thanks from that body "for his cheerful undertaking and faithful discharge of the trust reposed in him during the last Congress," and was immediately appointed a delegate to the next. A more congenial field was now opened for the ardent spirit of this devoted patriot. Temporizing was no longer the order of the day. Vigorous action had become necessary, and the zeal and industry of Mr. Lee had ample scope. With all his might he entered upon the good work. Upon committees, in the house, every where, he was all activity. In 1776, he was again a member of the national legislature, and in obedience to the instructions of the Virginia legislature and of his own conscience, on the 7th of June of that year, he offered the resolution for the adoption of a Declaration of Independence, and enforced it by one of the most brilliant and powerful displays of refined and forcible eloquence ever exhibited by man. On the 10th of the same month he was called home by the illness of his family, which prevented him from taking his place as chairman of the committee upon
his resolution agreeably to parliamentary rules. Mr. Jefferson was selected in his stead. The wrath of British power was now roused against him. During his short stay at home, an armed force broke into his house in the night, and by threats and bribes endeavoured to induce his servants to inform them where their master could be found. They persisted in affirming that he had started for Philadelphia. He was not in his house at the time, but a few miles from it with a friend.
In August he returned to Congress and most cheerfully affixed his name to that instrument which his imagination had dwelt upon
for years. He served until June, 1777, when he returned to Virginia in order to confute a base slander, charging him with unfaithfulness to the American cause, in consequence of his having received rents in kind instead of continental money. He was honourably acquitted by the assembly and a vote of thanks for his valuable services was passed by that body. During the two ensuing years his health did not permit him to sit in Congress but a part of the time, but in all the vast concerns that occupied the attention of that body he took a deep interest and aided by his counsel.
The portals of military fame were now opened to Mr. Lee. The enemy, defeated in the north, made a rush upon the southern states, He was appointed to the command of the militia of his native county, and proved as competent to wield the sword and lead his men to the field of epic glory, as he was to command the admiration of his audience by his eloquence. He annoyed the operations of the enemy in his vicinity whenever they approached, and made admirable arrangements for the defence of the country under his charge. In 1780-1-2, he served in the legislature of Virginia. The propositions of making paper money a legal tender, of paying debts due to the mother country, and of raising a tax to support the clergy, o general assessment to support the christian religion, were then before the house and excited great interest. Mr. Lee advocated them, Mr. Henry opposed them. Upon the sacredness of contracts he based his arguments in support of the two first; from the principles of ethics he drew conclusions in favour of the last. He considered good faith in the former necessary to secure peace and respect, and an adherence to the latter necessary to correct vice and purge the body politic from moral corruptions, the bane of any government. He remarked, “Refiners may weave reason into as fine a web as they please, but the experience of all times shows religion to be the guardian of morals." He contended that the declaration of rights was aimed against restrictions in the form and mode of worship, and not against the legal compulsory support of it.
In 1784, Mr. Lee was again elected to Congress and chosen president of that body. At the close of the session he received a vote of thanks for the faithful and able performance of his duty, and retired to the bosom of his family to rest from his long and arduous public toils. Under the federal constitution he was elected to the first senate of the United States, and fully sustained the high reputation he had before acquired. Infirmity at length compelled him to bid a final farewell the public arena, and, with the honours of a most flatter