A Biography of Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794)
Richard Henry Lee had the advantage in life of living during one of the most crucial times in American History. Allowing him to take part in one of the greatest events the world has witnessed, the pregnancy, birth, and childhood of the United States of America. Striving against the British Crown with such men as Patrick Henry, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, his influence has a lasting effect on the outcome of American History.
Richard's career began, like most begin, by his birth into the famed, old family of Virginia, the Lee family. Richard was born on the 20th of January 1732, at his family's plantation, near Stratford, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was the oldest of four boys, Francis Lightfoot Lee, William Lee, and Arthur Lee. He was educated early on in life by private tutoring at his family home in Virginia. Having reached the latter years of his education, his family sent him off to England to complete his studies. Finally on completing his education he returned home, from England, in 1752.
The Lees' of Virginia had a fine tradition of public service. Richard, in 1758, following in the footsteps of his family, entered the Virginia House of Burgesses at the age of twenty-five, thus, he began seventeen years of continuous services for his colony. His stanch opposition of British measures, such as the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts, centered him in the forefront of defenders of colonial rights. Openly calling the Townshed Acts, "arbitrary, unjust, and destructive of that mutual beneficial connection which every good subject would wish to see preserved." Richard was now planted firmly on the colonial side. Being more than a man of words in February of 1766 he drew the residence of his own county into the "Westmoreland Association," uniting themselves not to buy any British goods until the Stamp Act was repealed.
Richard was among the first persons to propose a system of inter-colonial committees of correspondence. These committees were set up to coordinate the efforts of the colonies against the British. The committees directly led to the forming of the First Continental Congress, with Virginia appointing Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, and George Washington. On September 5, 1774, these men with others such as John Jay and John Adams met in Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia for the first meeting of the Continental Congress. Even more aggressive now than before, Richard was pushing for stronger action against the British. With the issue of independence stalling in congress for the better part of a year, it was noted that a shrewd political move was needed to push the dream of independence into a reality. Richard's openly advocating independence from the British Crown in the spring of 1776, led to his being chosen to move the issue of independence in congress. Finally, on June 7, 1776 he stood up in congress and uttered a resolution that would forever change the corse of American History.
Resolved: that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be totally dissolved.This resolution set a chain of events into action that would lead to the writing of the Declaration of Independence and finally to the adoption of it, and American Independence on July 4, 1776.
Richard remained in congress until 1779 missing only a brief period to return home to Virginia to help form the new state government. Retiring from congress in 1779 due to ill health, Richard returned home to Virginia. On his return he was elected to the Virginia Legislature. Remaining there until he was once again sent to congress in 1784. This time he served his first year as that bodies president. Remaining two more years in congress, where he played an important role in the passage of the Northwest Ordinance. When the Constitutional Convention was held in 1787, to form a centralized government, Richard outright refused to attend, even going as far as to lead in Virginia's opposition to the new constitution. Richard's opposition to the constitution was based on the fact that it called for a strong central government, one thing he did not ever intend to have again. Also the fact that the constitution itself lacked a bill of rights gave him reason for concern. He felt the combination of these factors, giving a strong central government the power to do what it likes against individuals without any form of guaranteed rights to its citizens, would eventually put them back in the hands of a tyrant.
Having lost his battle over the new constitution, he accepted appointment in 1789 as one of the first senators from Virginia. As a senator he immediately proposed a number of new resolutions to correct the oversights in the constitution. Several of his proposals were adopted and many were used in the Bill of Rights. He had now become one of the strongest advocates of the Bill of Rights. It was a strong part of the new government that he felt they could not afford to leave out. Richard continued in the senate until ill health finally for the last time forced his resignation in 1792. Retiring to his Virginia estate Chantilly, near Stratford, in Westmoreland county Virginia he died on June 19, 1794 at the age of sixty-two.
Richard Henry Lee aided in lighting the torch of American Freedom and kept it burning for his nation. From a farmer, to a politician, to congressman, to a statesman, to a patriot, to a senator, Richard Henry Lee performed a very important role in American history.