Francis Lightfoot Lee

Founder Francis Lightfoot Lee

From Sages and Heoes of the American Revolution

The actions of men cannot be well understood without a thorough
knowledge of human nature. We must trace the map of the immortal mind,
learn the avenues of its circuit, follow it through the regions of
revolving thought, become familiar with the passions that influence and
control it–learn its natural desires, innate qualities, springs of
action–its multifarious combinations. We must understand its native
divinity, earthly frailty, malleability, expansions, contractions and
its original propensities. In addition to all this knowledge, to judge
correctly of the actions of an individual we must know the predominants
and exponents of his mind–the impress it has received from education,
the motives that impelled him to action, his propulsive and repulsive
powers, the ultimatum of his designs and his ulterior objects. With all
these guides we may still become involved in error unless we move within
the orbit of impartiality, divest ourselves of all prejudice and have
our judgments warmed by the genial influence of heaven-born charity.
With all these lights we should never pass judgment of censure upon any
person unless the good of community requires it or a court of justice
demands it. Could this rule be strictly adhered to by individuals and
the press–rays of millenial glory would burst upon the wilderness of
mind and cause it to bud and blossom as the rose. A peaceful and
quiescent rest would calm the angry feelings and boiling passions of
men, daily lashed to a foaming fury by the unnecessary and often
erroneous expressed opinions of others. On this point the Sages and
Heroes of the American Revolution were examples worthy of imitation.
Each one held most sacred the reputation of his co-workers. The few
violations of this principle were frowned upon with an indignity that
gave the recusants the Belshazzar trembles.

See also Founder Richard Henry Lee, Cicero of America

Francis Lightfoot Lee

Francis Lightfoot Lee

Among them no one was more tender of character than Francis Lightfoot
Lee. He was the son of Thomas Lee–born in Westmoreland county,
Virginia, on the 14th of October 1734. He was the brother of Richard
Henry Lee whose eloquence rose higher but whose reflections were no
deeper than those of Francis. In childhood he was admired for his
docility and amiable deportment–in youth he was the pride of every
circle in which he moved and when manhood dawned upon him he exhibited a
dignity of mind and maturity of judgment that all delighted to honor.

He was educated by the Rev. Mr. Craig a Scotch clergyman of high
literary attainment and profound erudition. Under his tuition the germs
of knowledge took deep root in the prolific mental soil of young Lee and
produced plants of rapid and luxuriant growth. The Scotch _literati_ are
remarkable for deep investigation, thorough analyzation and lucid
demonstration. I have never met one who was a pedant, a vain pretender
or a superficial scholar. Under such an instructor the intellectual
powers of Francis assumed a vigorous and healthful tone that placed him
upon the substantial basis of useful knowledge and enduring fame. He was
delighted with the solid sciences and spent less time in the bowers of
Belles Lettres than his Ciceronean brother. The history of classic
Greece and Republican Rome enraptured his mind with the love of liberty
and liberal principles. He read closely, thought deeply and investigated
thoroughly. He prosecuted his studies with untiring industry and became
an excellent scholar without the advantages of European seminaries to
which most of the sons of wealthy men were then sent to complete their
education. Imitating the examples of his elder brothers who had received
the highest polish of English gentilesse and French etiquette he became
a polished gentleman in his manners. Raised in the midst of affluence,
actuated by the purest ethics, free from a desire to participate in the
follies of the world, living in the peaceful enjoyment of those refined
pleasures that promote felicity without enervating the body or
corrupting the heart, the favorite of his numerous acquaintances–his
earthly happiness was of the purest kind. His mind richly stored with
scientific theory and with correct moral and religious principles, he
entered the school of experience and became emphatically a practical
man. Possessed of an ample fortune he could devote his time to what he
deemed most useful. Having early imbibed a love for rational liberty and
having fully canvassed the conduct of the British ministry towards the
American Colonies, Mr. Lee resolved to oppose the encroachments of the
king upon the rights clearly guaranteed by the English constitution. He
could not consent that the trappings of the crown, the pomp of the
courts, the extravagance of the ministry and the expenses of the
Parliament of Great Britain should be borne by the yoemanry of America
who were eloigned from the protection and fraternal feeling of that
power, deprived of participating in legislation, subject to the caprice
of every new cabinet created by the King, dragged from their native
homes to be tried by a foreign jury, oppressed by the insolence of
hireling officers, driven from under the mantle of constitutional rights
and treated as mere vassals of the mother country.

In 1765 he was elected to the house of Burgesses to represent Loudoun
county where his estate was situated. He at once took a bold stand in
favor of rational Liberty. Blessed with a strong and investigating mind,
a deep and penetrating judgment, a clear and acute perception, a pure
and patriotic heart, a bold and fearless disposition–he became one of
the most efficient advisers in the legislative body. He continued to
represent Loudoun county until 1772 when he married the estimable
Rebecca–daughter of Col. Taylor of Richmond county where he located
permanently. The same year he was elected from his new district and
continued to do good service in the house of Burgesses until he repaired
to the Continental Congress. Amidst the gathering storm of the
Revolution and the trying scenes that accumulated thick and fast around
him–he stood unmoved and undismayed. He advocated every measure
calculated to promote the independence of his country and was prolific
in plans for the accomplishment of that much desired object. As a member
of committees he had no superior. He was familiar with every form of
government and understood well the rights conferred by Magna Charta and
the British constitution. He was prepared to act advisedly and was
resolved to resist unto blood the illegal advances of the designing and
avaricious ministry. He made no pretensions to oratory, seldom spoke in
public but when so highly excited as to rise he poured upon his
opponents a flood of keen and withering logic that often made them

On the 15th of August 1775 Mr. Lee was elected to the Continental
Congress. A more expansive field was then opened before him. To do or
die–to live in chains or peril everything for Liberty had become the
dilemma. Columbia’s soil had been saturated with the blood and serum of
Americans shed by the very men who had been cherished by their bounty
and fed by their labor. The dim flickerings of hope for redress and
conciliation were fast expiring in the socket of forbearance. The great
seal of the compact had been broken by the British ministry–the last
petitions, addresses and remonstrances were prepared–the final course
for the Colonies to pursue was soon to be determined. Inglorious peace
or honorable war were the two propositions. In favor of the last Mr. Lee
put forth the strong energies of his mind. Eternal separation from
England and Independence for America could only satisfy his views. Being
upon numerous committees his influence was strongly felt. Liberty had
become a _desideratum_ with him. When the proposition of final
separation from the mother country was submitted by his brother his soul
was raised to the zenith of patriotic feeling. When the Declaration of
Rights was adopted his mind was in an ecstacy of delight. His influence,
vote and signature told how pure and strong were his desires in its

He rendered essential aid in framing the Articles of Confederation that
governed Congress and the Colonies during the Revolution. This was a
subject of great delicacy and labor. Besides the work of the committee
it passed through thirty-nine discussions in the House. He contended
that the rights of contiguous fisheries and the free navigation of the
Mississippi river should be incorporated in the claims of the United
States in all propositions of peace. The wisdom and sagacity of his
position are now fully demonstrated. It was then opposed by some and not
duly appreciated but by few.

Mr. Lee was continued in Congress up to 1779 when he declined a
re-election and retired from the public arena to scenes more congenial
to him but less beneficial to the deliberations of the august body he
had long graced with his wisdom. His enjoyment of domestic life was
transient. Contrary to his wishes he was elected to the legislature of
his native state and repaired to the post of duty. After aiding in
removing the perplexing difficulties that embarrassed the government of
the Old Dominion he again retired to the peaceful retreat of private
life where he remained until April 1797 when he was summoned to appear
forthwith at the Bar of the God he loved and had honored through life.
Calm and resigned he bowed submissively to the messenger who bore the
mandate–bid his friends an affectionate farewell and took his departure
triumphing in faith with a full assurance of a joyful reception in a
brighter and better world. He died of pleurisy and was followed in a few
days by his wife. They had no children but their graves were moistened
by the tears of numerous relatives and friends.

In public life Mr. Lee was eminently useful–his private worth shone
with equal brilliancy. Always chaste, cheerful, amusing and
instructive–he delighted every circle in which he moved. Wealthy,
benevolent and liberal–he was the widow’s solace, the orphan’s father
and the poor man’s friend. Kind, affectionate and intelligent–he was a
good husband, a faithful companion and safe counsellor. Polished, urbane
and gentlemanly–his manners were calculated to refine all around him.
Moral, discreet and pious–his precepts had a salutary influence upon
the minds of all who heard them and were not callous to good advice. He
spurned the slanderer, kindly reproved the vicious and by counsel and
example disseminated the principles of morality and religion. He was a
bright model of human excellence.

It has been erroneously stated that he was unfriendly to Washington. The
mistake of the writer probably arose from incorrectly associating Gen.
Charles Lee, who came from Wales in 1773, with the Lees of Virginia and
who was suspended from his command one year for disobedience to orders
at the battle of Monmouth. He was a brave officer and only made a small
mistake which he deeply regretted. The approval of the sentence was
voted for in Congress by Francis. After the adoption of the Federal
Constitution he was asked his opinion upon it. His answer shows his
confidence in Washington. “I am old and do not pretend to judge these
things now but one thing satisfies me it is all right–General
Washington is in favor of it and John Warden is opposed to it.” Warden
was opposed to our Independence.

Let the shining examples of Mr. Lee be reflected forcibly on our minds
and lead us to do all the good in our power whilst we live and prepare
for a peaceful and happy exit from the abysm of time.

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