Richard Henry Lee2

Founder Richard Henry Lee, Cicero of America

Rhetoric, as defined in the lexicons, as taught in the schools, as practised in times of peaceful leisure–is not the kind that graced the forum during the American Revolution. No studied or written speeches were then crowded upon the audience to kill time or gain popularity. Judge McKean remarked just before his death–“I do not recollect any formal speeches, such as are made in Parliament and our late Congresses. We had no time to hear such speeches–little for deliberation–action was the order of the day.”

See also Founder Francis Lightfoot Lee

School eloquence is very different from native heart-thrilling soul-stirring rhetoric. The former is like the rose in wax without odor–the latter like the rose upon its native bush perfuming the atmosphere with the rich odors distilled from the dew of heaven. The former is the finely finished statue of a Cicero or Demosthenes, more perfect in its lineaments than the original–the latter is the living man animated by intellectual power–rousing the deepest feelings of every heart–electrifying every soul as with vivid lightning. The former is a picture of the passions all on fire–the latter is the real conflagration pouring out a stream of impassioned words that burn like liquid flames bursting from a volcano. The former brings the fancy of an audience into playful action–the latter sounds an alarum that vibrates through the tingling ears to the soul and drives back the rushing blood upon the aching heart. The former moves the cerebral foliage in waves of recumbent beauty like a gentle wind passing over a prairie of tall grass and flowers–the latter strikes a blow that resounds through the wilderness of mind like rolling thunder through a forest of oaks. The former fails when strong commotions and angry elements agitate the public peace–the latter can ride upon the whirlwind of faction, direct the tornado of party spirit and rule the storm of boiling passion. This was the only kind of eloquence practised by the Sages and Heroes who achieved our Independence. At such times school elocution is a mockery–a vain show that disgusts men when the fate of millions is suspended by a single hair. At such a crisis the deep fountains of the soul are broken up and gush out in living streams of natural overwhelming eloquence.

Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry Lee

Among the powerful orators of ’76 was Richard Henry Lee, son of Thomas Lee, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on the 20th of January 1732. His ancestors were among the early settlers of the Old Dominion and were
prominent in directing the destiny of the Colony. They were men of liberal principles and at all times promptly resisted every encroachment upon their rights. The arbitrary power exercised by Charles I. over his European subjects which hurled him from his throne, was resisted by the Lees. When Cromwell assumed the crown he was never recognised by Virginia. The mandate that  proclaimed the second Charles King–originated with Lee and Berkley of the Old Dominion. The plan of ultimate Independence was cherished 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 Richard Henry with this idea that he fixed in his mind the location of the seat of government and purchased lands in the vicinity of Washington. By some historians this act is called a paradox that philosophy has been perplexed to explain. To my mind the solution has no perplexity. A man of deep reflection and large intelligence does not draw his conclusions alone from present appearances. He compares the past with the present and makes deductions for the future. The historic map of the world is covered with the rise, progress and extinction of nations, kingdoms and empires. From the causes and effects delineated upon the same map, it was the natural conclusion of a penetrating mind that the expansive territory of this country, with all the bounties of nature lavished upon it, must eventually become so densely populated that its physical force would be too powerful for any European country to hold dominion over it. The geographical centre was also plain as the settlements were then progressing. This prophecy, as it has been termed, was the result of deep thought arriving at conclusions drawn from the unerring laws of nature, showing that Mr. Lee possessed an analyzing mind that moved in an extensive orbit.

Richard Henry Lee commenced his education at Wakefield, Yorkshire, England and remained in that kingdom until he completed it. He returned a finished scholar, an accomplished gentleman with a reputation untarnished by vice or folly. From his childhood honesty and morality were his darling attributes–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–his inalienable rights delineated. In the philosophy of Locke he saw the rays of light reflected upon human nature–the avenues of the immortal mind opened to his enraptured vision. In the Elements of Euclid the laws of demonstration were presented to his delighted understanding and gave fresh vigor to his logical powers. Endowed with these qualifications he was prepared to enter upon the great theatre of public action and adorn the circle of private life.

His first public act was in raising a company of troops and tendering his services to Gen. 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 and made himself thoroughly acquainted with the laws of legislation and government–the true policy and various interests 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. It was not until he became excited by a subject in which he felt a deep interest that his Ciceronean powers were developed. A bill was before the House imposing a duty on the importation of slaves into Virginia–virtually amounting to a prohibition. It was strongly opposed by several influential members. Mr. Lee became roused and poured upon
his astonished audience such a flood of burning eloquence against the importation of human beings to be made slaves, that his opponents trembled as they listened. In vivid colors he painted the cruelties of Cortes in South America, the Saracens in Spain and passed through the dark catalogue of monsters who had disgraced humanity with barbarism–then pointed his colleagues to the darker blot–the more barbarous practices that branded with infamy the unhallowed slave-trade then monopolized by mother Britain. He pointed to the bloody scenes of other times when the physical force of the slaves had enabled them to rise and crush their masters at one bold stroke. By stopping the traffic, the evil 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 philanthropic views were voted down by the friends of the crown. The trade was virtually originated and long continued by Great Britain, now so loud in complaints against us for not at once providing for an evil entailed by her. Had this bill passed, her revenue would have been less and thousands of Africans left at their peaceful homes. O! shame where is thy blush!

This powerful effort raised Mr. Lee to the rank of the Cicero of America. The exposure of the base corruptions practised by Mr. Robinson, then treasurer of the Colony, was the next important service rendered by him. As this was an attack upon the aristocracy, it required much skill, boldness and sagacity to introduce the probe successfully. This he did in a masterly manner and proved clearly that the treasurer had repeatedly re-issued reclaimed treasury bills to his favorite friends to support them in their extravagance by which the Colony was robbed of the amount by their payment a second time without a _quid pro quo_ [equivalent.] For this bold act Mr. Lee was applauded by every honest man–hated and dreaded by public knaves.

When Charles Townsend laid before the British Parliament the odious and more extensive plan of taxing the American colonies which Mr. Grenville called _the philosopher’s stone_, Mr. Lee was among the first to sound the alarm. Within a month after the passage of the preliminary Act in Parliament followed by a revolting catalogue of unconstitutional and
oppressive laws, he furnished his London friends with a list of arguments against it sufficient to convince every reasonable man of the injustice and impolicy of the measure. When Patrick Henry proposed his bold resolutions against the Stamp Act in 1765 Mr. Lee gave them the powerful aid of his eloquent and unanswerable logic. He was very active in the formation of associations to resist the encroachments of the crown. He aided in  compelling the collector of stamps to relinquish his office, deliver up his commission and the odious stamp paper. The people were advised not to touch or handle it. His pen was also ably used and produced many keen, withering, logical, patriotic, pungent essays that had a salutary influence upon the public mind. He corresponded with the patriots of New York and New England. According to the testimony of Col. Gadsden of S. C. and the public documents of that eventful era, Mr. Lee was the first man who proposed the Independence of the colonies. He had unquestionably imbibed the idea from his father whose ancestors had predicted it for the last hundred years and had probably handed it down from sire to son. In a letter from Richard Henry Lee to Mr. Dickinson dated July 25th 1768 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–that private correspondence should be conducted by the lovers of liberty in every province_.” His early proposition in Congress to sever the material ties was considered premature by most of the friends of Liberty. He had long nursed this favorite project in his own bosom–he was anxious to transplant its vigorous scions into the congenial bosoms of his fellow patriots.

Soon after the House of Burgesses convened in 1769, as chairman of the judiciary committee, Mr. Lee introduced resolutions so highly charged with liberal principles calculated to demolish the Grenville superstructure and reduce to dust his talismanic _philosopher’s stone_,  that they caused a dissolution of the House and concentrated the wrath of the British ministry and its servile bipeds against him. The rich fruits of their persecution were the formation of non-importation associations, committees of safety and correspondence and the disaffection of the English merchants towards the mother country in consequence of the impolitic measures calculated to prostrate their importing and exporting trade. Lord North now assumed the management of the grand drama of oppression and laid more deeply the revenue plan. By causing a repeal of the more offensive Acts he hoped to lull the storm of opposition that was rapidly rising and prepare for more efficient action. Had the Boston Port Bill been omitted his dark designing treachery might have succeeded more triumphantly. This fanned the burning flame of resentment to a white heat. It spoke in language too plain to be mistaken–too strong to be endured.

In 1774 Mr. Lee was a delegate to the Congress convened at Philadelphia. At that memorable meeting he acted a conspicuous part. After Patrick Henry had broken the seal that rested on the lips of the members as they sat in deep and solemn silence, he was followed by Mr. Lee in a strain of _belles-lettres_ eloquence and persuasive reasoning that took the hearts of his audience captive and restored to a calm the boiling agitation that shook their manly frames as the mountain torrent of Demosthenean eloquence was poured upon them by Henry. He was upon the committee that prepared an address to the  king–the people of Great Britain and to the Colonies. Those documents were written by him and adopted with but few amendments. He was upon the committee that prepared
the address to the people of Quebec and upon the committee of rights and grievances and non-intercourse with the mother country. In the warmth of his ardor he proposed several resolutions that were rejected because considered premature at that time–not that the purity of his motives were doubted. Many of the members still hoped that timely redress of grievances would restore peace. They had clearly and forcibly set forth their complaints and desires and could not yet be persuaded that ministers were madly bent on ruin. For solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity and wisdom of conclusion–the proceedings of that Congress stand without a parallel upon the historic page. So thought Lord Chatham, Burke and many of the wisest English statesmen at that time.

In 1775 Mr. Lee was unanimously elected to the Virginia Legislature where the same zeal for Liberty marked his bold career. He received a vote of thanks for his noble course in Congress and was made a delegate for the next session. A more congenial field now opened for this ardent patriot. Temporizing was no longer the order of the the day. Vigorous action had become necessary. His zeal and industry had ample scope. With all his might he entered into the good work. Upon committees–in the house, everywhere he was all activity. In 1776 he was a member of Congress. In obedience to the instructions of the Virginia Legislature and his long nursed desires, on the 7th of June he rose amidst the
assembled patriots of the nation in the Hall of Liberty and offered the resolution for the adoption of a Declaration of Independence. This resolution he enforced by one of the most brilliant and powerful displays of refined and forcible eloquence ever exhibited in our country. 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 put in his place. The wrath of British power against him was now at its zenith. During his short stay at home an armed force broke into his house at night and by threats and bribes endeavoured to induce his servants to inform them where he could be found. He was that night a few miles distant with a friend. They were told he had gone to Philadelphia.

In August he returned to Congress and most gladly affixed his name to that sacred instrument upon which his imagination had feasted for years. He continued at his post until June 1777 when he returned home to confute a base slander charging him with unfaithfulness to the American cause in consequence of having received rents in kind instead of Continental money. He was honorably acquitted by the Assembly and received a vote of thanks from that body for his fidelity and industry in the cause of freedom–rather a cooler to his semi-Tory enemies. During the two ensuing years his bad health compelled him to leave Congress several times, but his counsel was at the command of his colleagues at all times. Nothing but death could abate his zeal in the good cause.

The portals of military glory were now opened to Mr. Lee. 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 action as he was to command an audience by his powerful eloquence. Defeated in the north the British made a rush upon the Southern States. Whenever they approached the neighbourhood under the charge of Mr. Lee they found his arrangements a little too precise for their convenience and abandoned their visits entirely. In 1780-1-2 he served in the Virginia legislature. The proposition of making paper bills a legal tender–of paying debts due to the mother country and of a general assessment to support the Christian religion–were then before the House and excited great interest. Mr. Lee advocated and Mr. Henry opposed them. From the necessity of the case he was in favor of the first. Upon the sacredness of contracts he based his arguments in favor of the second and from ethics he drew conclusions in favor of the last. He said refiners might weave reason into as fine a web as they pleased but the experience of all time had shown religion to be the guardian of morals. He contended that the declaration of rights was aimed at restrictions on the form and mode of worship and not against the legal compulsory support of it. In this Mr. Lee erred. He probably had forgotten that Christ declared his kingdom was not of this world and that the great Head of the Christian religion had for ever dissolved the bans of church and state by that declaration. In other respects the position is untenable in a republican government and can never promote genuine piety in any.

In 1784 he 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 toils. He was a member of the Convention that framed the Federal Constitution and took a deep interest in the formation of that saving instrument. He was a U. S. Senator in the first Congress that convened under it and fully sustained his previous high reputation. Infirmity at length compelled him to bid a final farewell to the public arena. His last public services were rendered in the legislature of his own state. On his retirement a most flattering resolution of thanks for his numerous valuable services was passed by that body on the 22d of October 1792. He then retired to the peaceful shades of Chantilly in his native county crowned with a chaplet of amaranthine flowers emitting rich odors lasting as time. There he lived–esteemed, beloved, respected and admired until the 19th of June 1794 when the angel of death liberated his immortal spirit from its clay prison–seraphs conducted his soul to realms of bliss there to enjoy the reward of a life well spent.

Mr. Lee was a rare model of human excellence and refinement. He was a polished gentleman, scholar, orator and statesman. In exploring the vast fields of science he gathered the choicest flowers–the most substantial fruits. The classics, _Belles Lettres_–the elements of civil, common, national and municipal law–the principles of every kind of government were all familiar to his mind. He was ardently patriotic, pure and firm in his purposes, honest and sincere in his motives, liberal in his principles, frank in his designs, honorable in his actions. As an orator the modulation of his voice, manner of action and mode of reasoning were a _fac simile_ of Cicero as described by Rollin. He richly merited the appellation–CICERO OF AMERICA.

His private character was above reproach. He possessed and exercised all those amiable qualities calculated to impart substantial happiness to all around him. To crown with enduring splendor all his rich and varied talents–he was a consistent Christian–an honest man. As his dust reposes in peace let his examples deeply impress our heart: and excite us to fulfill the duties of life to the honor of ourselves, our country and our God.

From Sages and Heroes of the American Revolution; L. Carrol Judson

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.