Richard Henry Lee was born on January 20, 1732, at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland County, Virginia, to Thomas and Hannah Lee. The Lees were one of the most influential families in Virginia, and Thomas had become one of the largest landholders in the colony. In December 1757, Richard Henry Lee married Anne Aylett, who bore him four children before her death in 1768. A year later he remarried, this time to Anne Pinckard, and their union resulted in five additional children. Lee resided at Stratford Hall until his own estate, Chantilly, was finally completed in the early 1760s.
Lee’s public career began in his early 20s, when he was first appointed as justice of the peace for Westmoreland County in 1755. In 1758, the county elected him as its representative to the House of Burgesses, and there he began a long and prestigious career. As the imperial crisis with Great Britain worsened throughout the 1760s, Lee joined in opposition to various British policies that he perceived to be violations of colonial rights. In protest against the 1765 Stamp Act, Lee coauthored the Westmoreland Resolves, which outlined the dangers of the act and advised citizens against paying the tax. In 1767, Lee confronted the Townshend Acts, duties that Parliament had placed upon an assortment of imported items. Joining with other members of the House of Burgesses, Lee signed a list of resolves that called for Virginians to enter into an association designed to boycott British goods until the duties were repealed.
In 1773, Lee helped to organize one of the first committees of correspondence in the colonies, designed to share information and coordinate American protests and actions against British policies. When the First Continental Congress met in 1774, Lee was one of the seven delegates chosen by Virginia to attend the meeting at Philadelphia.
Lee believed that reconciliation would be possible only if King George III and Parliament were willing to acknowledge the unfairness of prior British legislation and recognize American protests. It became clear to Lee that such recognition was not forthcoming, and, by early 1776, he was convinced that the only recourse left to the colonists was independence. On June 7, 1776, Lee proposed to Congress a resolution that outlined the case for independence:
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. Throughout the war, Lee served on numerous committees and became renowned for his tireless energy. In 1779, finally exhausted by his efforts, Lee returned home to Virginia to convalesce. His convalescence proved short-lived, however, as he was elected to the Virginia state legislature in 1780. In 1784, Lee was back in Congress, this time as its president, in which capacity he served until November 1785. Lee declined to participate as a delegate in the Philadelphia constitutional convention in 1787 for health reasons. In spite of his absence, he believed that the work of the convention was critical, and in a letter to John Adams expressed how “the present federal system … has been found quite inefficient and ineffectual.”
Upon hearing the results of the convention, however, Lee believed that the delegates had gone too far in empowering the new government. Drawing upon his experience of the pre-Revolutionary War days, Lee warned about possible encroachments upon personal liberties and demanded that a bill of rights be attached to the Constitution to ensure the protection of these liberties. In fact, Lee refused to sit as a delegate on the Virginia ratifying committee because of his concerns over the Constitution without a bill of rights. Thus, as Lee watched from the sidelines, Virginia narrowly ratified the Constitution by a vote of 89 to 79.
Whatever concerns Lee might have had with the new government were put aside when he was chosen as one of Virginia’s two senators under the new Constitution. As a senator, he worked vigorously to have a bill of rights added to the Constitution. His work paid dividends when Congress voted that twelve amendments be attached to the Constitution, ten of which were later ratified by the states. Lee continued to work hard as a senator until his health again took a turn for the worse in 1792. He returned to his home at Chantilly, where he was at last able to enjoy retirement from public life and spend time with his family. On June 14, 1794, Richard Henry Lee passed away quietly at his home, to be mourned by a nation who praised him for his efforts toward procuring independence and a bill of rights on behalf of all Americans.
The scion of a prominent Virginia family, Richard Henry Lee introduced the resolution in the Second Continental Congress on June 7, 1776, that called for American independence. It was adopted on July 2. (Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-92331) Keith Pacholl See also: Continental Congress, First; Continental Congress, Second; House of Burgesses; Revolutionary War; Stamp Act (1765). Bibliography Ballagh, James Curtis, ed. The Letters of Richard Henry Lee. New York: Da Capo Press, 1970. Chitwood, Oliver Perry. Richard Henry Lee: Statesman of the Revolution. Morgantown: West Virginia University Library, 1967. Matthews, John Carter. Richard Henry Lee. Williamsburg: Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission, 1978. Leisler, Jacob (1640–1691) In New York City, on May 16, 1691, Jacob Leisler suffered a treasoner’s gruesome execution for his leadership role in the bloodless rebellion that upended the colony of New York in 1689. He has been described as everything from a common man’s hero to a foreigner turned resentful by exclusion from the colony’s economic and political center. In fact, the dramatic final turn in Leisler’s life was rooted in a complicated mix of cultural, religious, economic, and political factors that stretched across the Atlantic world. Leisler’s career demonstrates both the considerable openness of the English colonies to foreign Protestants within their communities and the multiethnic tension that often boiled just under a seemingly tolerant surface.