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Richard Henry Lee

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee at Nat. Portrait Gallery IMG 4471.JPG
Portrait of Lee by Charles Willson Peale
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
April 18, 1792 – October 8, 1792
Preceded byJohn Langdon
Succeeded byJohn Langdon
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
March 4, 1789 – October 8, 1792
Preceded byInaugural Holder
Succeeded byJohn Taylor
4th President of the Congress of the Confederation
In office
November 30, 1784 – November 4, 1785
Preceded byThomas Mifflin
Succeeded byJohn Hancock
Delegate to the
Congress of the Confederation
from Virginia
In office
November 1, 1784 – October 30, 1787
Member of the
Virginia House of Burgesses
from Westmoreland County
In office
September 14, 1758 – May 6, 1776
Preceded byAugustine Washington
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Personal details
Born(1732-01-20)January 20, 1732
Westmoreland County, Colony of Virginia, British America
DiedJune 19, 1794(1794-06-19) (aged 62)
Westmoreland County, Virginia, U.S.
Resting placeBurnt House Fields, Lee Family Estate, Coles Point, Westmoreland County, Virginia
Political partyAnti-Administration
Spouse(s)Anne Aylett (died 1768)
Anne (Gaskins) Pinckard
ParentsThomas Lee
Hannah Harrison Ludwell

Richard Henry Lee (January 20, 1732 – June 19, 1794) was an American statesman and Founding Father from Virginia, best known for the June 1776 Lee Resolution, the motion in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain leading to the United States Declaration of Independence, which he signed. He also served a one-year term as the President of the Continental Congress, was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation, and was a United States Senator from Virginia from 1789 to 1792, serving during part of that time as the second President pro tempore of the upper house.

He was a member of the Lee family, a historically influential family in Virginia politics.

Early life and education

He was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia to Col. Thomas Lee and Hannah Harrison Ludwell Lee on January 20, 1732. He was raised and came from a line of military officers, diplomats, and legislators. His father, Thomas Lee, was the governor of Virginia before his death in 1750. Lee spent most of his early life in Stratford, Virginia with his family at Stratford Hall. Here he was tutored and taught in a variety of skills, and witnessed the very beginning of political career as his father sent him around to neighboring planters with the intention for Lee to become associated with neighboring men of like prominence. In 1748, at 16, Lee left Virginia for Yorkshire, England, to complete his formal education at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield. Both of his parents died in 1750 and, in 1753, after touring Europe, he returned to Virginia to help his brothers settle the estate his parents had left behind.[1]


In 1757, Lee was appointed justice of the peace in Westmoreland County. In 1758 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he met Patrick Henry. An early advocate of independence, Lee became one of the first to create Committees of Correspondence among the many independence-minded Americans in the various colonies. In 1766, almost ten years before the American Revolutionary War, Lee is credited with having authored the Westmoreland Resolution[2] which was publicly signed by prominent landowners who met at Leedstown, Westmoreland County, Virginia on February 27, 1766. This resolution was signed by four brothers of George Washington as well as Gilbert Campbell.

American Revolution

In August 1774, Lee was chosen as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In Lee's Resolution on June 7, 1776 during the Second Continental Congress, Lee put forth the motion to the Continental Congress to declare Independence from Great Britain, which read (in part):

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.

Lee had returned to Virginia by the time Congress voted on and adopted the Declaration of Independence, but he signed the document when he returned to Congress.

Lee Family Coat of Arms
Lee Family Coat of Arms

President of Congress

Lee was elected sixth president of Congress under the Articles of Confederation on November 30, 1784, in the French Arms Tavern, Trenton, New Jersey. Congress convened on January 11, 1785, in the old New York City Hall, with Lee presiding until November 23, 1785. Although he was not paid a salary, his household expenses were covered in the amount of $12,203.13.[3]

Lee abhorred the notion of imposing federal taxes and believed that continuing to borrow foreign money was imprudent. Throughout his term, he maintained that the states should relinquish their claims in the Northwest Territory, enabling the federal government to fund its obligations through land sales. He wrote to friend and colleague Samuel Adams:

I hope we shall shortly finish our plan for disposing of the western Lands to discharge the oppressive public debt created by the war & I think that if this source of revenue be rightly managed, that these republics may soon be discharged from that state of oppression and distress that an indebted people must invariably feel.[4]

Debate began on the expansion of the Ordinance of 1784 and Thomas Jefferson's survey method; namely, "hundreds of ten geographical miles square, each mile containing 6086 and 4-10ths of a foot" and "sub-divided into lots of one mile square each, or 850 and 4-10ths of an acre" on April 14.[5] On May 3, 1785, William Grayson of Virginia made a motion, seconded by James Monroe, to change "seven miles square" to "six miles square."

The Land Ordinance of 1785 passed on May 20, 1785,[6] yet the federal government lacked the resources to manage the newly surveyed lands. Not only did Native Americans refuse to relinquish their hold on the platted territory, but much of the remaining land was occupied by squatters. With Congress unable to muster magistrates or troops to enforce the dollar-per-acre title fee, Lee's plan ultimately failed, although the survey system developed under the Land Ordinance of 1785 has endured.[citation needed]

Political offices

Personal life and family

Lee was the son of Col. Thomas Lee, Hon. (1690–1750) of "Stratford Hall", Westmoreland Co., Virginia. Thomas married Hannah Harrison Ludwell (1701–1750).

On December 5, 1757, Lee married Anne Aylett (1738–1768), daughter of William Aylett and Elizabeth Eskridge (1719). Anne died December 12, 1768, at Chantille, Westmoreland Co., Virginia. The couple had six children, four of whom survived infancy.

Lee remarried in June or July 1769 to Anne (Gaskins) Pinckard. The couple had seven children, five of whom survived infancy.

Lee honored his brother, Francis Lightfoot Lee (another signer of the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence), by naming his fourth son after him.

Richard Henry Lee died on June 19, 1794, at the age of 62.


Lee is recognized as a Founding Father of the United States. Richard Henry Lee Elementary School in Rossmoor, California and Richard Henry Lee School in Chicago, Illinois are named in his honor. Richard Henry Lee Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland is also named after him.

The World War II Liberty Ship SS Richard Henry Lee was named in his honor.

The Chantilly Archaeological Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.[7]

In popular culture

Lee is portrayed as a character in the 1969 musical 1776. He was portrayed by Ron Holgate in both the Broadway cast and in the 1972 film. In one scene, Lee performs a song called "The Lees of Old Virginia," in which he explains how he knows he will be able to convince the Virginia House of Burgesses to allow him to propose independence and celebrates his own status as a Lee, one of the First Families of Virginia. The character is presented as vain, but not very bright, serving the play as a comic device rather than a historically based portrayal of Lee.

Lee is portrayed by Paul Fitzgerald in the 2008 HBO miniseries John Adams. Although Lee had returned to Virginia, and thus was not present to vote on the Resolution for Independence, the miniseries portrays him as being present and casting the vote for the Virginia delegation. The miniseries does show the fact that Lee always had his hand wrapped in black silk to hide the deformation caused by a hunting accident.

See also


  1. ^ McGaughy, J. K. Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794). (March 18, 2014). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from Lee Richard Henry 1732–1794
  2. ^ Washington, Lawrence; McKim, Randolph Harrison; Beale, George William (January 1, 1912). Westmoreland County, Virginia: Parts I and II : a Short Chapter and Bright Day in Its History. Whittet & Shepperson, printers. p. 42. Retrieved September 22, 2016 – via Internet Archive. Westmoreland Resolution.
  3. ^ Estimate of the Annual Expenditure of the Civil Departments of the United States, on the present Establishment President Richard Henry Lee
  4. ^ "President Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Adams, New York May 20. 1785". Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  5. ^ Plat of Township 2, Range 7 in the Ohio Seven Ranges ca. 1786 Richard Henry Lee, President of the United States in Congress Assembled
  6. ^ Olsen, J.S., & Mendoza, A.O. (2015). Land Ordinance of 1785. In American economic history: A dictionary and chronology, (p. 367). Greenwood.
  7. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.

Further reading

  • McGaughy, Kent J. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: A Portrait of an American Revolutionary (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003).
  • Selby, John E. "Richard Henry Lee, John Adams, and the Virginia Constitution of 1776." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 84.4 (1976): 387-400. online
  • Unger, Harlow Giles. First Founding Father: Richard Henry Lee and the Call for Independence (2017) online review

Primary sources

  • Lee, Richard Henry. The Letters of Richard Henry Lee: 1762-1778 (2 vol 1911-1914) online. also vol 2 online

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Mifflin
President of the Confederation Congress
November 30, 1784 – November 6, 1785
Succeeded by
John Hancock
Preceded by
John Langdon
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
April 18, 1792 – October 8, 1792
Succeeded by
John Langdon
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
 U.S. senator (Class 2) from Virginia
March 4, 1789 – October 8, 1792
Served alongside: William Grayson, John Walker, James Monroe
Succeeded by
John Taylor
This page was last edited on 24 August 2021, at 18:33
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