The New Student's Reference Work/Lee, Richard Henry

Lee, Richard Henry, a Revolutionary statesman and orator, was born in Virginia, Jan. 20, 1732. Soon after he was of age he was elected a delegate to the house of burgesses, where his first speech was in opposition to slavery, which he proposed to abolish by placing a heavy tax on all future importation of slaves. In 1767 he spoke against the acts which levied duties upon tea and other articles, and in the following year he suggested private correspondence between the friends of liberty in the different colonies. He is also said to have originated the idea of a congress of the colonies, which was carried into effect in 1774, when the first Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia. Lee was one of the delegates from Virginia, and took active part in its deliberations, the delegates from other colonies being not only impressed with his great ability and knowledge, but with the “fire and splendor” of his eloquence. He also wrote the address to the people of Great Britain, directed by Congress in 1775, which was one of the strongest state papers of the time. On June 7, 1776, by the instruction of the Virginia house of burgesses, he introduced the famous resolutions declaring “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.” During his long service Lee became a warm supporter of Washington, sustaining him in all the more important acts of his administration. He was popular on account of his liberality and amiable disposition as well as his ardent patriotism. He retired from public life in 1792, and died on June 19, 1794. See Life by R. H. Lee.