Richard Henry Lee, Rhetoric and Rebellion, by Anita Marie Grimm Taylor, Chapter 5

Richard Henry Lee, Rhetoric and Rebellion


Protesting English Enactments

Little more than a year after Americans joined in general rejoicing over repeal of the Stamp Act, word arrived that the Parliament of Britain was indeed serious about the Declaratory Act. The Townshend Revenue Act laying import duties on glass, paint, paper and tea, became law July 2, 1767. Lee, as did other Virginia leaders, once more perceived a threat and responded accordingly. In passing an external tax, the ministry intended to answer both Britain’s need for revenue and those who had objected to the stamp tax as internal. Thus arose the next crisis of the continuing power struggle.

Governor Fauquier apparently feared reactions in the Assembly for he prorogued the November session until May 1768. During the winter, however, the press of Indian affairs took precedence over his fears, and in January he summoned the Assembly to meet March 31. In the interim Fauquier died, but the Assembly convened on schedule, with John Blair, the Council President, acting as Governor.

Lee could not attend this session because of a hunting accident. A gun explosion had ripped the fingers from his left hand and prevented his traveling.1 With the pen in his right hand, however, Lee kept busy. He did all he could to mobilize resistance. On March 27 he wrote from Chantilly to an unknown correspondent, expressing his pleasure that some who love the “public good,” such as the man to whom he wrote, will “not silently suffer encroachments” to be made on the rights and liberty of the community.2 This letter, sent to at least one person who would be attending the Assembly, indicates that Lee attempted to influence the Assembly despite his absence.3 That it was unaddressed suggests it may have been copied for more than one correspondent, though this is not demonstrable.

Stating concern over two recent acts of Parliament, the “billeting Act” and the “late duties,” Lee seemed most disturbed at the former. He described it as “an oppressive measure,” for he could not “agree to call it a law.” The billeting act controversy developed from the 1765 Mutiny Act requiring colonies to make suitable provisions for troops marching through or quartered within their borders. Even though the act was amended, by the Rockingham ministry to prevent generals from requisitioning private homes for the troops, New York resisted, and Parliament threatened suspension of the legislature to enforce the act. New York retreated from its position in June 1767 before its legislature could have learned of Parliament’s action, but Lee reacted to the threat. He saw the British warning to New York as an attempt to attack the colonies one at a time, “hoping that the others will quietly behold the destruction of one, not immediately and sensibly, connected with the rest.” Lee did perceive a connection. He saw the act as a threat to Virginia as well as New York. The act for suspending the legislature of New York he described as hanging “like a flaming sword, over our heads,” and requiring “by all means, to be removed.”4 No matter that the act did not seem to be aimed at “us.” Potentially, it could be. That potential was dangerous. History taught that liberty was lost in “gradual paces.” Quietly, Lee thought, Engiand was “singly attacking the colonies” since she had “discovered the error of attempting our ruin, by one bold and general stroke.” That the British government simply needed money to conduct the affairs of Empire, Lee could not conceive. More and more he agreed with the belief gaining acceptance among the colonists, that in Britain a conspiracy to destroy American freedom existed.

Interestingly, Lee’s reaction to the Townshend duties was less violent. He thought them “not perhaps, literally, a violation of our rights.” Still they were “arbitrary, unjust and destructive of that mutually beneficial connection, which every good subject would wish to see preserved.” As he had previously done, Lee warned that the British were forcing the colonies away from her. In opposing the Stamp Act, Lee had not employed the internal-external tax distinction. But Franklin, Dickinson and others, including the idolized Pitt, had popularized the concept and Lee now seemed to accept it. Again he followed public opinion instead of guiding it.

Lee urged action, thinking it “indispensibly necessary, that a dutiful, decent, but firm address” should request the King’s intervention. But why the King? At the time of the Stamp Act, Lee had moved for the Assembly to petition the House of Commons, but now he suggested an appeal to the King. He intended that the address accomplish two purposes: “To obtain redress . . . and to inform posterity what were our sentiments.” Lee knew the ministry could initiate repeal and may have wanted the address partially to secure it. Petitioning the King in response to British actions had become virtually a reflex, though the efforts had often been futile. Perhaps the apparent futility created Lee’s desire to inform posterity. The new aim illustrates his growing sense of foreboding. He seemed to fear that Virginians’ descendants might have reason to call the men of Lee’s era to account for their actions. Even if the colonists could not prevent the tax, therefore, he wanted the Assembly’s protest filed. Concluding, Lee assured his correspondent, “This method, you know, my friend, is constitutional.” Lee, who knew his rights, anxiously demonstrated the legal basis for his actions: “The subject, when aggrieved, has a right to appeal to the sovereign, for redress.”5

Though he could not travel, Lee’s voice was heard in the Assembly. Richard Lee, his fellow Burgess, carried a petition from Westmoreland County to Williamsburg.6 Since it echoed his words in the March 27 letter and his ideas as expressed during the Stamp Act controversy, Richard Henry Lee undoubtedly inspired the paper, if he did not write it.

The petition addressed the Burgesses “as the only true and constitutional Representatives of the People of Virginia,” requesting that they “take into their most serious Consideration the Tendency” of two recent Acts of Parliament. The petitioners reminded members that required provisioning of quartered troops without the “free Consent of their Representatives” was an internal tax and therefore unconstitutional. Moreover, the attempt to force compliance increased the petitioners’ alarm. They also declared the import duties cruel and unconstitutional because other laws required the colonists to purchase these necessities from Britain; therefore the buyer had no choice but to pay the tax. Neither the buyer nor his representative had or could consent to having his property “thus granted away,” because “British subjects in America . . . are not and cannot be represented” in Parliament.

This petition argued that Parliamentary taxation deprived the petitioners “of the Means of shewing Loyalty . . . by giving their Money through their own Representatives, when the common Interest of Britain and America shall demand it.” The phrase “common Interest” was significant. These particular British subjects saw clearly that if Parliament could levy taxes for the colonies, the Virginia legislators no longer had the power to decide when the common interests required the levy. Neither Richard Henry Lee nor any other Virginian explicitly confronted the issue of location of authority to define common interest, but the method being defended made it clear. If Parliament may only ask and the local legislature may say no whenever it feels a requisition is unnecessary, the determination is by the local legislature. Clearly, in this issue Parliament is not supreme.

The Westmoreland petitioners closed by requesting the Assembly to address the King or utilize “whatever Means” appeared “most proper and effectual . . . to obtain the Repeal of those Acts, so evidently producing the Destruction of American Freedom and Happiness.” Lee and his neighbors did not present an isolated point of view. On April 4 a petition arrived from Prince William County employing even stronger language to express similar ideas.7 The petitioners from Prince William declared the new duties to be “the same unconstitutional Measures . . . as gave rise to the late abhorred and detestable Stamp Act, which would have shackled the North Americans with Slavery.” A briefer petition of protest signed by “sundry Freeholders” of Chesterfield, Henrico, Dinwiddie, and Amelia Counties was also presented.8 The House referred all three petitions to committee of the whole along with a circular letter received from Massachusetts Bay and the several related acts of Parliament.

Accordingly, the committee sat, deliberated, and rose resolved not only to petition the King but also to send a memorial to the Lords and a remonstrance to the Commons.9 Seeking and gaining Council concurrence to the addresses, the Burgesses ordered copies sent to the colony’s agents in England who were desired to “pursue the most effectual Measures for obtaining the Ends thereof.”10 At the same time the House directed its speaker to reply to the representatives in Massachusetts Bay, applauding “their Attention to American Liberty” and informing them of the steps taken by Virginia. The speaker was also to write the speakers of the assemblies in other colonies to let them know of Virginia’s actions and to “intimate how necessary we think it is that the Colonies should unite in a firm but decent Opposition to every Measure which may affect the Rights and Liberties of the British Colonies in America.11 As the session closed two days later, the Council President, as Acting Governor, was requested to transmit the addresses officially to the British Secretary of State for North America.12

The addresses of 1768 restated nearly the same arguments as the Assembly had presented four years earlier.13 The brief address to the King included many of the exact phrases of the 1764 petition. The Crown was assured of support, thanked for his assent to the repeal of the Stamp Act, and requested to protect the petitioners’ enjoyment of their “antient and inestimable right of being Governed by such Laws only, respecting their internal Polity and Taxation as are derived from their own Consent with the approbation of their Sovereign.” However, the 1764 memorial to the Lords and the remonstrance to the Commons differed greatly from those of 1768. In 1768 the Virginians did not speak humbly to the Lords as they had previously. Remarks to both houses were firm, but defensive in tone. Both addresses were about twice the length of the 1764 addresses. In 1768 the Virginians stated that they considered themselves “inferior to none of their fellow Subjects,” then devoted a long paragraph to protesting that their intentions in the former dispute had been misrepresented. They did not wish “independency,” but merely claimed the “natural Rights of British Subjects.” Parliament needed no power to tax to preserve the colony’s dependence, they argued.

The primary contrast between the addresses of 1764 and 1768 emerged in developing the protest against taxation. The later addresses equivocated where their predecessors had not. The Virginians’ official statements in 1768 reflected the internal-external tax distinction used by some Americans in the earlier crisis, and instead of simply asserting their rights the memorialists now defended their position at length. Claiming they had no objection to taxes imposed for the purpose of regulating trade, they termed the Townshend Duties only ostensibly external, since the items taxed were necessities and the act stated an intention to raise a revenue. The Virginia Assembly described the act suspending the New York legislature as “still more alarming,” because if Parliament could suspend colonial legislators’ powers because they refused to comply with a requisition, then Parliament had the power to tax.

In spite of the lengthy efforts to explain away the freedom of action actually requested, the addresses of 1768 contained little more flexibility than those of 1764. The Virginians still insisted on the right to refuse to supply requisitions from Britain. In 1768 however the petitioners tried to explain and reconcile incompatible propositions. Virginians said, in effect, we will determine what legislation regulates trade, and when it does, the Parliament may enforce that legislation. At the same time the addressors proclaimed, we “chearfully acquiesce” in the authority of Parliament to make “Laws for preserving a necessary Dependance.” British exasperation with the colonists is not surprising. The internal-external tax distinction was quite as untenable in 1768 as in 1765, no matter how popular its exponents. If Parliament is supreme it can command obedience. If it is not supreme, it cannot. If Parliament cannot command obedience in the matter of requisitions, it is not supreme. Objective observers could easily have predicted British rejection of the Virginians’ addresses, but Lee and his colleagues seemed to expect a favorable response.

In the meanwhile, Lee attempted to prevent execution of the Townshend Act, finding the task more difficult than opposing the Stamp Act. Sometime during 1768 he prepared a subscription paper, secured the signatures of several people, and sent it to a London merchant. The subscribers agreed to buy a quantity of tea from the merchant providing he did not charge a duty. When the merchant sent the tea and made the duty charges, Lee wrote him expressing great displeasure.14 Certainly, he said, “an arbitrary ministry will for ever proceed to tax and distress us, if they find the merchants will condescend to become their collectors.” Lee believed the community united in opposition for he urged the merchant not to worry about his ship being detained for the duty, no matter how the collectors “may bully and make a noise.” Besides, he concluded, collectors did not know what to charge or how to execute the charges.

As did his colleagues in the House, Lee encouraged united action by the colonies. He engaged Arthur to solicit a correspondence with leaders in the other colonies. Opening his exchange of letters with John Dickinson in 1768, Lee emphasized the importance of “an union of council and action among all the colonies.”15 He believed “not only select committees should be appointed by all the colonies, but that a private correspondence should be conducted.” Americans needed “timely to be informed of what passes, both here and in Great Britain,” and also “Well to understand each other.”

Dickinson replied promptly on August 10 and Lee continued the correspondence.16 His November 26 answer to Dickinson revealed Lee’s attitudes.17 He reported that the King had seen and disapproved of the Virginia addresses, was determined to support the authority of the Parliament, and had directed that the Declaratory Act should be laid before the Assembly. If the Governor complied and presented the Virginia legislators with the act, apparently some believed no response should be made, but Lee disagreed. He thought silence would be construed as submission, and “The poison, unattended by its antidote, may be used for the destruction of the Body Politick.” From this time forward, Lee clearly considered the addresses and memorials Virginians sent to England to be more useful in persuading the colonists than the British.

This letter indicated how acutely Lee perceived the potential threat. “Is it reasonable to suppose,” he exclaimed, “so sensible a people as the English, would disturb the peace of all North America and endanger their most valuable trade here, for the poor purpose of establishing a principle they never meant to execute!” This was not a question. His exclamation point demonstrated that he thought the answer obvious, as did his comment, “This it seems to me would be sottishness not wisdom.” Thus, Lee indicated his belief in carefully laid plans to “invade” the “Liberty of America.” Silence was certainly an inappropriate response, for the “blessings of Liberty flow not from timid and selfish policy.” Throughout his life Lee acted consistently with this attitude. Timidity was totally foreign to his character, and he invariably violently attacked the use of public policy to serve private gain.

Counter measures, Lee knew, must involve wide dissemination of the writings of men who opposed “invasions of public liberty.” He wanted John Dickinson’s Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer to reach a wider audience than they had in the newspapers. Though many people had read these popular letters when they first appeared in 1767 and 1768, Lee believed the letters needed an uninterrupted perusal. Early in 1768, he arranged for their publication as a pamphlet together with Arthur Lee’s Monitor letters. Rind’s April 16 Virginia Gazette carried an advertisement soliciting subscribers for a bound edition of these two sets of letters.18

A two column essay followed the advertisement, ostensibly to explain the reason for the reprint. The essence of this essay, however, was Lee’s own argument that the colonies should and could preserve their rights by resisting the taxes. Lee arranged for the pamphlet publication of the two sets of letters, and inserted his essay as a preface.19 Because Dickinson had demonstrated the “unconstitutionality” of the taxes, and both his and the Monitor’s letters indicated legal means of resistance, Lee saw their publication as a means of promoting his objectives. Explaining the need for reprinting these already widely read letters Lee wrote that freedom is so necessary for the “security of human happiness . . . every precaution [is] wise, that tends to prevent the introduction of slavery.” Because of the “unbounded . . . wish of power to extend itself,” the duty of every “wise and worthy American” who wanted prosperity for both “the Mother country and the colonies” was to speak out. Since the Farmer and the Monitor had done that “with a force and spirit becoming freemen,” their work should be more widely dispersed. They were, after all, merely “contending for our just and legal possession of property and freedom.”

That possession, Lee argued, had a four-fold foundation: the law of nature, the English constitution, the “contract made” in the colony’s charter, and the precedent established by “the usage of near two hundred years.” Since the rights so obviously belonged to Americans, “the present generation” should act so to preserve them. He answered those who questioned, “What can we do against superior strength?” He described these men who counselled that America was too weak as “evil designing men . . . governed either by base principles of fear, or led by vile hopes of gain.” He reminded that “the highest authority” had said “the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” Giving “inspiration” assistance from “genius,” he continued by citing Shakespeare, “thrice is he armed that has his quarrel just.” This still being insufficient evidence, Lee turned, typically, to “History.” Xerxes was unable to reduce “to slavery the much weaker but free States of Greece”; and three hundred at Thermophylae, because they were “contending for liberty,” could “destroy” twenty thousand. For later examples, Lee cited the “states of Holland free and the generous Corsicans likely to be so” even though the “far greater powers” of Spain, Germany and France had “at different periods combined to enslave these noble nations.”

Lee knew Virginians could preserve their rights in spite of British power because the “great Author of nature” created man to have liberty and “the virtuous enjoyment and free possession of property honestly gained.” Since He provided all nations the means to defend these, “their natural rights,” men only needed “wisdom and fortitude” to use those means properly. Lee catalogued the means “we possess”: 3,000 miles separation from Great Britain, a country abounding with woods and inaccessible mountains, the ease with which the staple-producing colonies could stop their exports, the ease with which manufacturing could be conducted. He lamented that the exercise of either “ambition, avarice or ill-placed resentment” had forced him to entertain these thoughts. “How ignominious” was the “rapacious, ill-advised Minister” who had turned “well ordered government” into confusion, and liberty “into slavery?” Though a question mark was used, Lee clearly intended the statement as an exclamation.

Lee distinguished between ministers and the English people, as he always did when addressing an audience composed of both Americans and Englishmen. He suggested Americans had a “happy prospect,” for the “generous and brave” people of Great Britain “know the value of liberty.” Since the English had “purchased that knowledge with much of their blood,” they could only “esteem us their children for venerating the good old cause which they themselves have contended for in many a well-fought field.”

How strange, Lee thought, that “this unhappy dispute” should exist now when for nearly two centuries the “Mother country” had exercised “legislative authority here without complaint.” During all that time “she abstained from that single destructive claim of taking our money from us without the consent of our representatives.” If that claim were executed, America’s fate would be “slavery more deplorable and more ignominious” than ever before known. The current claim of power was “still more amazing” because Britain had used her legislative authority to channel the colonies’ “entire produce” to her. By prohibiting the colonists from manufacturing, Britain had “involved the people here in a heavy debt.” To Mr. Grenville, Lee assigned the “honour” of devising the new taxation policy.

Lee closed with an apt quotation cited from “B.XII.L.24” of Paradise Lost.

        Till one shall rise
Of proud ambitious heart, who not content
With fair equality, fraternal state,
Will arrogate dominion undeserved
Over his brethren,

        O execerable son so to aspire
Above his brethren, to himself assuming
Authority usurped, from God not given;
He gave us only over beast, fish, fowl
Dominion absolute; that right we hold
By his donation; but man over men
He made not lord; such title to himself
Reserving, human left from human free.
        Justly thou abhorest
That son, who on the quiet state of men
Such trouble brought.

Whether caused by Lee’s initial newspaper appeal or by the popularity of Dickinson’s letters, the pamphlet printing was a great success. Lee wrote Arthur that Rind had thanked him for making the arrangements as the printer had made a “great profit.”20 Lee believed that Rind could have sold more of the pamphlets if he had been “more diligent” for they were “called for faster than he could finish them.”

Defying English Enactments

The concerns he expressed in the preface to the Farmer’s and Monitor’s Letters and in the November letter to John Dickinson highlight Lee’s role in the May 1769 session of Assembly. Lee had correctly reported to Dickinson the English displeasure with the Virginians’ addresses. When the new Governor confronted the newly elected Assembly in 1769, he carried ominous instructions. He was instructed to make the Virginia legislators understand the King’s “firm Resolution to support and preserve entire Our antient, just and constitutional Right to enact Laws, by, and with the Advice & Consent of Our Parliament, to bind all & every part of Our Empire in all Cases whatsoever.” The Governor was also told to make clear that the British were “determined to . . . reject as null and void, every Act and Proceeding in Our Colonies, inconsistent with and derogatory from Our said Right, and that We do therefore highly disapprove their said Petition to Us.” Finally, the Governor was to induce the Virginians “to desist from their unwarrantable Claims and Pretentions, and yield due submission to the supreme Authority of Parliament.”20

The British, knowing Virginians would find these instructions bitter, endeavored to placate the fractious colonists by indulging their love of display. The new Governor was a lord of the realm, Norbonne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt. He announced to Virginians that hereafter the King would require Virginia’s governor to reside in the colony. No longer would she be ruled by a Lieutenant Governor. The Baron, who had arrived with full pomp and ceremony, was well chosen for his rote. He was strongly attached to the Crown and personally well-equipped to win Virginians’ hearts. Lee described him as a man of “good sense, affability, and politeness.”22

These qualities he certainly employed in his speech opening the Assembly May 8th, for he was quite discreet.23 He stated none of his harsh instructions. Instead he asked only that the members “consider well, and follow exactly, without Passion or Prejudice, the real Interests of those you have the Honour to represent.” The new Governor must have been pleased at the legislators’ cordial reply and immediate attention to the business of the colony. Committees were appointed, petitions accepted and referred to the proper committees, the laws inspected to discover those in need of renewal or amendment. Botetourt wrote home reporting the “Harmony and Tranquility” with which the Assembly “carry on the Public Business.”24

In spite of the Governor’s good sense, Lee found the attitude of the ministry offensive and dangerous. Nor, as he had told Dickinson, would he suffer silence to be possibly construed as consent. Lee considered the news from Britain ominous. Not only had the Virginians’ dutiful addresses of last year been rejected, along with those of other colonies, but the halting steps toward colonial unity had also been condemned. Worse yet, resolutions passed in the House of Lords and affirmed in the Commons suggested that some Boston leaders might be taken to England for trial.25 Though apparently the British intended that this be only an indication of what might be clone if the colonial resistance continued in Boston, Lee perceived the danger as a very real one for all colonial leaders. He reacted to the threat to Boston much as he had reacted to dissolution of the New York Assembly.

The events of the ensuing short session of the Virginia Assembly demonstrate that careful planning had taken place.26 Doubtless, Richard Henry Lee participated. Determining the exact role of any particular individual is difficult, but careful analysis of the relevant papers indicates Richard Henry Lee belongs among the group which led the Virginia Burgesses to persist in their “claims and Pretensions.” Most importantly the actions and papers of this session were universally popular among Virginia’s leaders. The House had been sitting only one week when one of the members moved that the order of the day for considering the Governor’s speech be discharged.27 If Lee did not make this motion, he certainly supported it. The House agreed and immediately resolved to consider “the present State of the Colony” in committee of the whole “tomorrow.” The letters of the committee of correspondence for the past five years were all laid on the table to be perused by members overnight. Materials for debate were being gathered. The final pieces of needed information were provided the next day when the following laws were referred to the committee: “26 Henry VIII, 35 Henry VIII and 1 & 2 Philip and Mary.”28 All these laws dealt with trials for treason. Lee was especially disturbed about the second law. It was the law proposed by the Lords’ resolutions to be used to punish leaders of Boston’s resistance.

Once again Lee moved for an address to the king. He asked the Assembly to object to “new modes of Tryal repugnant to the wise and just principles of the common law.” His resolutions were defiant. He urged that the address be transmitted “without delay to the Speakers of every Assembly on the Continent of N. America” along with a copy of any other resolutions the House “may come to.” He also demanded that the other colonies be asked “in the name of this house” to join “with us in humble and dutiful application to the Crown for redress of American grievances.” In the face of express orders to desist from such actions, Lee asked the Burgesses to flaunt their power.

Lee’s notes indicate in brief outline form his arguments supporting the resolutions. He rejected Hillsborough’s claim that the Lord’s resolutions related only to the troublesome Massachusetts Bay. By contrasting the claim with his “Lordship’s treatment of our Memorial,” Lee concluded, “his insincerity is strongly to be inferred.” Lee’s notes state that he planned to “observe on the Resolve condemning the invitation to join in humble petition for redress of grievances.” Lee’s observation doubtless agreed with his final resolution. It stated flatly that colonists had undoubted rights to so petition. Lee’s notes regarding the laws under discussion only suggest what he may have commented about the “new modes of Tryal.” Lee interpreted Coke to say that the treason law, 35 Henry VII, which had been invoked by the Lords resolutions, had been superseded by the act of Philip and Mary.29 This final law, Lee claimed, restored “Jury trials by the due course of common law.” He also attacked what he referred to as the “forced construction” of the treason law, 35 Henry VIII. He objected to the reasoning that a “Treason committed in Ireland by an Irishman is triable in England” under the law. Though this might have been “within the Letter” of the law, it was “enlarging the constitution” and this was “dangerous.” Finally, he noted that an “Irish Peer cannot be tried in England.” He asked “by what Law?” and answered his own question, “by the Law of Ireland.” Since an Irish peer was only a common man in England, Lee concluded that other common men had the same protection. This, he said, “shows the absurdity” of the application of the law to the colonies.

Lee’s fellow Burgesses agreed that the threat to Massachusetts might one day constitute a threat to Virginia. The “fullest house that was ever known,” spent no more than one day debating the “State of the Colony.”30 Few opposed the resolves proposed as “Counter-resolutions” to those of the Lords.31 When rising from committee of the whole, the Burgesses did not equivocate as they had a year earlier. They asserted their opinions clearly and with little humility. They resolved that the “sole Right of imposing Taxes . . . [in] Virginia, is now and ever hath been, legally and constitutionally vested in the House of Burgesses.” No nonsense about internal or external taxes remained. They further resolved “it is the undoubted Privilege of the Inhabitants of this Colony, to petition their Soverign for Redress of Grievances; and that it is lawful and expedient to procure the Concurrence of his Majesty’s other Colonies” in those petitions. Their third resolution asserted that “all Trials for Treason” committed in Virginia were amply provided for by trial in Virginia. Finally, and inevitably, they resolved that “an humble, dutiful, and loyal Address, be presented to his Majesty.” The address should “assure him of our inviolable Attachment to his sacred Person and Government,” and “beseech his royal Interposition” against the “Dangers and Miseries which will ensue” from the threatened means of trial.

Lee’s arguments had fallen on fertile soil. The renewed arrogance of the Burgesses led them to follow carefully laid plans. They ordered the speaker to transmit “without Delay” copies of the “Resolutions” to the “Speakers of the several Houses of Assembly, on this Continent.” Then they adjourned to await the work of the committee appointed to prepare the petition.32 The next morning when the House convened at eleven, its usual hour, the Burgesses remained in strong resolve.33 They opened the day by ordering publication in the Virginia Gazette of the resolutions of the House of Lords, the Address of the Parliament pursuant thereto, and the Burgesses’ resolutions of yesterday. They then considered the petition to the King. Without debate or amendment the Burgesses unanimously accepted the committee draft. They ordered the address sent to Virginia’s agent in England for presentation to the King, “afterwards to be printed and published in the English papers.” Though the Journal does not report it, the House also must have ordered the address published in Virginia for it immediately appeared in both Williamsburg newspapers.34

Having completed these tasks the House turned quickly to dealing with constituents’ petitions. Though some petitions were referred to committee hearings on specific dates later in the session, it is not likely the Burgesses really expected to be in session. Probably, they simply waited expectantly for the message they knew would soon be forthcoming. They did not wait long. About noon they were commanded by the Governor’s messenger to attend him in the Council Chamber. Nor were they surprised to meet a much less affable Lord Botetourt. His speech was brief. “Gentlemen, I have heard of your Resolves, and Augur ill of their Effect: You have made it my Duty to dissolve you and you are dissolved accordingly.” The Burgesses turned, walked clown the Street, and soon reconvened in the Apollo Room of Anthony Hay’s Raleigh Tavern. Once there they elected their former Speaker as Moderator, and in less than two days, had formed the first Virginia nonimportation Association, immediately publishing the news.35

The publicity conscious Virginians prepared their papers in 1769 primarily for publication in America. Treatment of their lengthy and humble papers of the year before had apparently convinced them action would be the only effective means of persuading the English. Yet, as Lee desired, they did not remain silent lest they be believed to acquiesce. They addressed the King, as Lee proposed, with two aims. In England the address registered the Virginians’ protests and informed the English public that these particular colonists objected to the threats of being taken to England for trial. In America the address was a persuasive tool, alerting Americans to possible dangers. Lee and his colleagues sought to alarm Americans with it.

The address stated two propositions. First, the Burgesses’ actions, which had been “misrepresented as rebellious,” were in truth caused by a “just Regard for the British Constitution.” Second, since trial for treason was amply provided for in the colony, the “new, unusual . . . unconstitutional and illegal Mode” proposed for trial of any “who shall dare to engage in any treasonable Practices” was unnecessary.

Few adjectives were spared in the relatively brief address to describe the plight of the “wretched American, who, having incurred the Displeasure of any one in Power,” could be seized and carried “to a distant Land.” Restatement emphasized the misery of his condition. A full paragraph portrayed the horrors awaiting the man “dragged from his native Home, and his dearest domestick Connections, thrown into Prison,” who must “await his Trial . . . amongst Strangers . . . where no Friend, no Relation, will alleviate his Distresses, or minister to his Necessities. . . .” The condition of the poor man would be such that he could “only pray that he may soon end his Misery with his Life.” The authors of this address obviously did not intend to move those who had “misrepresented . . . your Majesty’s dutiful Subjects,” nor those who had given such “pernicious Counsels.” Quite likely they did not expect to persuade anyone except the “loyal, dutiful and affectionate Subjects,” who with “Hearts filled with Anguish . . . prostrate” themselves at the foot of the throne. Possibly the Burgesses still hoped the King would listen. At least some Virginians may have. Some really believed the Sovereign to be misled by the wicked and designing ministers who wished to inflict such “Miseries” on his “faithful and loyal Subjects of America.” No evidence demonstrates Lee any longer expected the King to attend to the addresses.

The major impression left by this address is that Virginians feared the outcome of what they now perceived as a conspiracy against them. Though they were at least partially guilty as charged, they may not yet have been aware of it. The address, however, betrayed them. Unlike many of their past persuasive efforts, this time the Virginians protested too much. A truly dutiful and loyal subject need not have reacted so defensively. Moreover, after their many expressions of fidelity, the Burgesses concluded with a threat only barely veiled. The people of Virginia, they claimed, daily gave the most fervent prayers “that your Majesty’s Reign may be long and prosperous over Great Britain, and All your Dominions.” They prayed also “that a Descendant of your illustrious House may reign over the extended British Empire until Time shall be no more.” The Virginians may have been pained to be accused of rebelliousness and of having a desire for independence, but they could suggest separation of the Empire as an outcome if their grievances were not removed. Separation was a possibility to them, even as they protested it was not.

Though the precise role Lee played in planning the Burgesses’ dissolution and Association cannot be documented, he exulted in the results. He wrote to his brother Arthur on May 19 reporting the dissolution of the House.36 He indicated that the Burgesses “universally signed” the Association and it “undoubtedly” would be “assented to by the whole Colony.” His letter echoed the spreading sense of conspiracy, as had the address to the King. “The flame of liberty,” burning brightly, could not be “impair’d by any Ministerial art of delusion.” Lee’s tone was confident, almost self-righteous. Ail the Americans “appear too wise, too brave, and much too honest, to be either talked, terrified, or bribed from the assertion of just, equitable, and long possessed rights.” Restoring those rights, Lee said, would certainly restore the “former unity and respect” between the “Parent state and her Colonies.” Lee spoke in the manner of one convinced he is right. He seemed confident no lasting harm could come to the Virginians because they were right.

The nonimportation measure Lee considered mort important. Words alone would not convince the British, either the designing ministers or their sheep-like followers in the Parliament. The colonists’ addresses had been refused and responded to only by threats of reprisal. The time for appeals abroad had passed.

The time for appeals at home, however, was at hand. For that, the Articles of Association were published both in the newspapers, and as a separate “paper.”37 Both copies of the Articles, the newspaper article and the handbill, were prefaced by a brief report of the Burgesses’ dismissal on May 17 and their subsequently gathering “with the greatest Order and Decorum” at Mr. Hay’s house. The “reporter” was either one of the leaders of the Assembly or he wrote at their direction. His attitude betrayed his sympathies. Anxious to establish the respectability of the gathering, the reporter explained that “Peyton Randolph, Esq. late Speaker,” had been appointed Moderator so these very important discussions of the “true and essential Interests of the Colony” could be more “decent and regular.” Employing the tone of a factual statement the reporter described how the “late Representatives of the People” discussed the “true State of the Colony,” appointed a committee to prepare the “proper Regulations” for “a regular Association,” and reconvened the next day to receive the committee’s work. On Thursday, having read and “seriously considered“ the report, “a great Number of the principal Gentlemen of the Colony” approved and signed it.

A long statement introduced the Articles of Association. This introduction, or preamble, had a rhetorical intent. The signers wanted others to join with them in nonimportation. The whole paper, including the signatures of the “late representatives,” was printed so the Burgesses could take it back to their respective counties and secure additional signers. The Burgesses recognized that more than 89 men, no matter how “principal” they were, would be needed to make nonimportation persuasive in England.

The preamble to the Association included many familiar arguments with a new one which first began appearing in the Townshend Act controversy. None of the official papers before had referred to debts owed in England or connected the debts with the arguments against taxation. The preamble to the 1769 Association did, and in a manner suggesting its persuasive purposes. Opening with the usual protestations of loyalty to the King, the preamble devoted relatively little time to these affirmations.38 It moved quickly to developing the central argument: nonimportation was the only remaining alternative to alleviate the distresses caused by the “Restrictions, Prohibitions, and ill-advised Regulations, in several late Acts of Parliament.” Much attention to the distresses reminded the potential signer of the troubles he might blame on these several attempts to “oppress” him. A general reference to the “Evils which threaten” ruin of a “free and happy People” by reducing them to “a wretched and miserable State of Slavery” suggested the first potential misery. Loss of liberty means slavery. Allusions to that “fact” never needed amplifying for Virginians. Next, the preamble cited “Anxiety” over the great “Debt due to Great-Britain.” The debts loomed as especially serious because the means of paying them were “likely to become more and more precarious.” The increasing uncertainty of payment could be blamed on British “Restrictions,” particularly the “late unconstitutional Act,” which was both “injurious to Property, and destructive to Liberty.” Finally, the preamble noted failure of the “many earnest Applications already made.” Therefore, since “there is little Reason to expect a Redress of those Grievances,” nonimportation remained the only alternative. The Associators hoped their personal example would induce the “good People of this Colony to be frugal in the Use and Consumption of British Manufactures,” whereupon British merchants would be induced to aid in removing those “Grievances, under which the Trade and Inhabitants of America at present labour.”

The preamble to this Association shows that Lee and his colleagues had learned well the lessons of the Stamp Act. At that time they had not consciously planned to stop trade or debt collections, but in refusing to use stamps had automatically stopped both. They discovered their best allies were Britain’s merchants. In response to the Townshend taxes, colonists had followed the counsel of the popular Pennsylvania Farmer, and tried resolutions and petitions first. They, with him, had hoped these measures would have the same success as they had “in the time of the STAMP ACT.”39 Concluding a year later that stronger measures were required, Virginians chose economic pressure, the other method which seemed to work in 1765. Stopping exports, however, would only hurt the “good People of America” who were already being “oppressed,” so they agreed to stop imports.

In order to encourage others to join the Association, the printed document ended with the following statement: “In compliance with the foregoing Invitation, we do most cordially accede and agree to the Association so laudably proposed; and in Testimony thereof have subscribed our Names this       Day of       1769.”40 Many Burgesses succeeded in obtaining supporters in their own counties. Attaining their ultimate object, stopping imports, however, was to prove more difficult than securing signatures.

Lee, proud of what he and his fellow Burgesses had effected, wanted their accomplishments known by Englishmen he believed friendly to the American cause. He sent several papers to Arthur on May 19 knowing Arthur would distribute them for the proper persons to read.41 Richard Henry undoubtedly sent copies of the resolutions and the address to the King, since he knew “the inclosed papers” would explain dissolution of the Burgesses. Both Gazettes for the 19th and 25th of May reported the address, resolutions and the Association. Lee promptly forwarded the newspapers to the Earl of Shelburne even though he knew the events reported would “to some, appear the overflowings of a seditious and disloyal madness.”42 But he was equally certain that Shelburne would understand because of his “just and generous attachment to the proper rights and liberty of mankind.” Shelburne would know the Virginians had only made “a necessary and manly assertion, of social privileges founded in reason, guaranteed by the English constitution, and rendered sacred by a possession of near two hundred years.” As always, Lee stressed the constitutionality and respectability of the Virginians’ efforts.

The most revealing facet of this Assembly session, its papers and the Association, is suggested in Richard Henry Lee’s comment to Shelburne. Lee knew the papers and activities would “to some, appear the overflowing of a seditious and disloyal madness.” Yet he expressed pride in the accomplishments, as did many Virginians. Explain the apparent paradox clarifies the development of Lee’s attitudes. Certainly, Lee recognized that words that appeared seditious would persuade no ministry to change its policy. Yet evidence that he could be persuasive is overwhelming, hence the conclusion that he was a bumbling persuader must be rejected. Nor has the evidence shown Lee to be so inflexible that he could not change the expression or the cast of an idea if it were popular or persuasive to do so. His shift of position regarding the authority of Parliament to levy external taxes illustrates he could change. Neither will the assertion that Lee was persuasive as a speaker, but not as a writer, explain the paradox.43 Much of his effective persuasion in Virginia was written. Finally, the conclusion that a radical Lee actually attempted to provoke the English into actions that would precipitate colonial rebellion is no more acceptable. His many statements of desire for unity with Britain must be accepted as sincere. He made them to too many people with whom he had no reason for insincerity. Furthermore, he was confident as late as 1774 that stopping trade would make the British see the “right” and restore the colonies to their former happiness.44

Explanation of the attitudes of the 1769 papers must lie in two other propositions. First, Lee had begun to see the problem in a larger context. Virginians could perhaps blame the Stamp Act on a single minister. But a Stamp Act followed with the Declaratory Act, then with the dissolution of the New York legislature, the Townshend Acts and finally the threats to take opposition leaders to England for trial could no longer be attributed to a single minister. An entire policy, widely accepted, must be involved. The government, Lee and his colleagues had come to believe, had plans to bring the colonial legislatures to their knees. Lee did not express the problem in that manner. He, as did so many other Americans, perceived an evil design by rapacious men to extend their power through destruction of liberty. Liberty was the abject, the local legislators her protectors.

Therefore, Lee believed, Americans had to respond in kind. By now he had abandoned hope that the British could be induced to change their policy through rational persuasion. Power did not respond to words. Only by stopping trade and thereby utilizing economic pressure, Lee had concluded, would the English be forced to abandon their evil ministers. This, then, explains the papers of 1769. The Virginia leadership did not expect to persuade the British. These efforts aimed at persuading Virginians.

In this context, the rhetoric succeeded slightly better. Many people subscribed to the Association and many tried faithfully to carry out the agreement. The persuasion achieved a limited goal, however, because once again the British political situation contributed to forestalling the crisis. The Governor opened the fall 1769 session of Assembly by announcing that the ministry intended to repeal part of the odious taxes and had no plans for laying further taxes.45 Suddenly the threat facing the average Virginian seemed smaller. Nonimportation seemed less urgent.

With the issue of taxes temporarily in abeyance, the Burgesses devoted time to routine matters. Much needed attention. Not since 1768 had the Assembly been able to attend to the ordinary business of governing the colony. Lee believed the press of business would require adjournment until May. By then he hoped to know “the determination of Parliament” about American affairs. He wrote his brother William in London, asking for “the most early authentic intelligence.”46 Richard Henry Lee would not be satisfied with rumors of repeal. Vague promises from the ministry or second hand reports were unsatisfactory evidence. He wanted verifiable facts from reliable sources in time for the Assembly to react. Always aware of the ease with which the Governor could silence them, Lee employed every available means to insure action when the Assembly was in session.

Believing economic force the Americans’ only chance for relief, Lee became impatient with other means, though he continued faithfully to perform his duties. He complained of the tedium of the Assembly session and once more expressed a desire for an appointment to the Council where he believed the “power of doing good” would occur less rarely.47

By April 1770 Lee’s belief in the sinister nature of the long-range design of the British government had grown more firm. To Arthur he confided a fear that “the cause of public liberty, like the setting sun, is going to disappear. I mean from Britain.”48 The Virginians had been disturbed at the King’s speech opening the session of Parliament at which tax relief had been assured. In the King’s only reference to American affairs he asked Parliament to give the colonial problems serious consideration. “We cannot make it square with the promises . . . by the several Governors,” Lee commented. He had no quarrel with Botetourt, but offered an explanation for the difference between the King’s speech and the Governor’s. The explanation revealed persistence of Lee’s deep distrust of the English government. “Tis some state trick,” he said, “that plain honesty cannot easily penetrate.”49

He anticipated that the Assembly at its spring session would take whatever measures the news at the time rendered “wise and necessary.” When the Burgesses gathered in May, however, the first necessity was extra-governmental. Something needed to be clone about the nonimportation Association. It had proven considerably less effective than desired. Four days after the Assembly opened, Association members met to consider ways of combating the ineffectiveness.50 Not being able to agree during the meeting, they appointed a committee of twenty to formulate a new Association.51

Lee and others were disturbed at the seeming lack of unanimity among themselves. During April, Richard Henry had written Arthur indicating that his optimism about America had waned somewhat. No longer certain that liberty’s flame would burn brightly in America, by April he only “hoped” that “America will insist on being free.”52 During May he also wrote William expressing doubt regarding “our Countrymen, with respect to the liberty dispute.”53 Others also reported concern over the dissension regarding the Association. Washington mentioned it and Landon Carter confided to his diary on May 29 that Pendleton and Nicholas headed “a party who were for meeting the Parliament half.”54 Details regarding these differences are not known, but Associators and merchants apparently solved their disagreements amicably. When they finally reached agreement on June 22, leaders of both sides seemed satisfied. Lee described the new Association, “unanimously agreed to,” as correcting the defects which “occasioned the shameful neglect of the former association.”55 Pendleton also supported the new Association enthusiastically.56 The steps calculated to improve “observation of the scheme” provided for Associators enforcing the terms on non-members by publicizing their violations.57

Not until they settled the Association controversy could the task of lodging formal protest against the unresolved grievances by confronted. A motion of June 21 in the House, probably made by Lee, directed that the act for partial repeal of the duties be read.58 Having heard it, the Burgesses passed, without dissent or debate, Lee’s resolution calling for another petition to the King.59 The resolution directed that the King be requested to recommend total repeal of the taxes “for the purpose of raising a Revenue in America.” Lee also asked that the King be requested to support repeal of the laws directing that violation of customs laws should be tried in Admiralty Courts “where Trial by Jury is not Permitted.” Not satisfied by half-way measures, Lee wanted protest registered. Proceeding with regular business, the House did not return to this matter until one day prior to the end of their session.60 Probably the Burgesses did not want to risk dissolution before completing their work in 1770 as had happened the year before. On June 27, Nicholas reported for the committee.61 After immediate re-reading, the petition was accepted without amendment or dissent. Once again the Burgesses instructed the Assembly’s agent to have this petition printed in the English papers after presenting it to the King.

Lee obviously considered the major efforts of resistance to be economic and devoted his energies toward that end. In his view this address to the King was mainly to inform posterity. It might perhaps be utilized in America to help mobilize resistance, but the Association figured more importantly in that effort. Possibly Lee did not even work on the petition to the King beyond preparing the initial resolution. He left the Assembly on the 23rd, four days before presentation of the finished petition, because he needed to attend an estate settlement. When he wrote William reporting the settlement, he commented about the Assembly session.62 He first reported agreement concerning the Association, believing that the more important news. He reported preparation of the petition, but did not comment about it except to say it reflected general feeling. He said that the partial duty repeal was “so evidently contrived to abuse America, that instead of appeasing, it has inflamed all N. America.” Lee believed there was a “general determination to be most firm in opposition, until the slavish system is absolutely at an end.” Thus confident of his colleagues’ attitudes, and knowing the petition would adhere closely to the lines of argument included in his resolutions, Lee probably left the actual phrasing to others on the committee. Certainly the tone of the completed address is not as firm or preemptory as would have been expected from Lee. He probably would not have been so adept at concealing his contempt for the “Vain, weak, Ministers.”

More important was the new Association. The preamble to this Association reflected the influence of merchants who had joined in preparation of the resolutions. As usual the Associators declared their “inviolable and unshaken fidelity” to the King and reasserted their determination to use “every lawful means” to prevent the ruin of their country which must result from the “arbitrary imposition of taxes on the people of America . . . without the consent of their representatives.” Added in 1770 was the solemn obligation to promote the welfare of “those truly worthy merchants, traders, and others” who accepted the terms of Association. At the came time the Associators agreed to “avoid purchasing any commodity or article of goods whatsoever” from any seller who violated the terms of the Association. In order to enforce the terms, they added a new resolution important enough to be placed first. A majority vote by the Associators in each county would choose a committee to perform the task of publishing the names of any members or nonmembers who imported goods in violation of the agreement.

Lee’s name again appeared high on the list of signers, but his optimism expressed in July 1770 was premature. Nonimportation was doomed to failure.63 With all the taxes except those on tea and foreign goods repealed, Britain’s threat seemed less ominous. Though not the only violator, Virginia was apparently one of the principals. Trade had seemingly not been affected at all during 1769, imports totaling slightly higher than the year before.64 Large orders had been placed before the effective date of the Association, but in addition violations occurred relatively often. Even under the terms of the 1770 agreement, to which many Virginians again subscribed, few enforcement attempts were reported though violations commonly occurred. To persuade a man to sign his name was relatively easy. To convince him to refuse to buy goods wanted and needed was not, especially when he could easily rationalize that the goods purchased had been ordered before the effective dates. It was easy to object in theory because of fear a tax might someday be raised too high; but to actually refuse to purchase needed goods because of a low and not very obvious import tax was not easy. To the legislators, the continuing threat to their power was very real, but to the general public one small import tax did not loom so threateningly.

The Association died slowly. A meeting called for December 15 was so poorly attended that it was adjourned.65 The adjournment, however, actually constituted a minor victory for its supporters. Landon Carter claimed the December meeting was boycotted because of a plan by the merchants to move for dissolution of the Association.66 Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee both went to Williamsburg “to defeat a North British scheme for the abolition of the Association.”67 Carter wrote an article to reply to the scheme for dissolution which he probably sent to Williamsburg by the Lees. It appeared in Rind’s December 13 Virginia Gazette. Richard Henry Lee reported to William in January that their efforts had succeeded, and consideration of the Association was postponed until June. He wrote Carter on the 17th of January indicating he planned to visit Sabine Hall the following Monday to discuss the “plan we have in view.”68 Unfortunately neither Lee nor Carter recorded what this new plan might have been. Whatever it was, Lee’s efforts to keep opposition alive in face of the partial repeal of the taxes did not succeed. No one recorded the events of the June meeting, but when the news arrived that nonimportation was being abandoned in the North, it gave just the excuse most people wanted.69 Even the nonimportation leadership capitulated. A short item in the July 18, 1771, Virginia Gazette reported Associators in a meeting at the Capitol had agreed to dissolve the body. Still, probably as a face saving gesture, Associators agreed they would refuse to purchase tea and the foreign goods still dutied.

For a short time after the North ministry came to power in England, American colonial affairs seemed quiet, especially in Virginia. Lee turned his attention largely to business. During the past decade, in response to the British efforts to make their empire make sense administratively, Lee had joined and then led Virginians through controversies, which eventually were to culminate in war. By the time the battle against the Townshend duties subsided, the patterns of the rhetoric of rebellion for Richard Henry Lee were completed. The phrases, the themes and the tactics he would use until war broke out had been discovered and employed.

Achieving Colonial Unity

Threatened reprisals against those who participated in burning the Gaspee shattered the surface cairn of Lee’s life which had followed repeal of the Townshend taxes.70 He reacted typically. He sought resolutions by the House and the establishment of a corresponding committee. The Burgesses concurred.71 Their example was quickly followed by other colonies and by February 1774 all thirteen had created committees of correspondence.72 Thereby, Virginians created a means of disseminating accurate information among the colonies and of increasing unity of action.

When the Boston Tea Party incensed the Parliament and precipitated repressive measures, Lee and other Virginians again responded predictably. The Burgesses proclaimed a fast day to express sympathy for the oppressed Bostonians. Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and perhaps a few others planned the fast day resolution, patterned on similar events during the last war, to alert the populace to the gravity of the situation.73 Important to note is that though this device was planned in secret, no Burgesses dissented to passage of the resolution calling the fast.74

Lee prepared resolutions asserting colonial rights strongly enough to insure dissolution of the Assembly, but he never needed to introduce them.75 The Governor somewhat unexpectedly found that the fast day proclamation reflected unfavorably on the British government and dissolved the Assembly before Lee offered the strong statements of American rights and opposition to the Boston Port Bill. Lee’s colleagues had persuaded him to withhold his Resolves until near the end of the session so that the important colony business could be completed.76 Lee was not the only person convinced his resolutions would have been assented to by a large majority; George Washington believed the vote would have been unanimous.77

As in 1769, members of the dissolved House convened a meeting in Hay’s Apollo Room and again suggested measures for economic pressure on Britain. This time, following the lead of Lee’s aborted resolutions, they urged boycott of the East India Company products and only threatened commercial nonintercourse if no relief were gained.78 The ex-Burgesses also suggested that the committee of correspondence inquire among the other colonies regarding the advisability of Lee’s resolution calling for a general congress. Recent precedent existed for this, too. A congress had been held during the Stamp Act resistance. Planning for the congress, on Virginia’s part at least, improved in 1774. It should have. Since 1765, nearly a decade of experience had schooled the colonists in resistance tactics. As in 1769 the ex-Burgesses signed the 1774 Association and reported that twenty-one “clergymen and other inhabitants of the colony” also subscribed. Repeatedly Virginians attempted to legitimize and make respectable their apparently extra-legal activities.

Quickly the Virginia leadership set about collecting impressive indications of widespread support. County after county met and either formed local associations or wrote instructions for their delegates to an August meeting of the Associators, now referred to as the Convention. Lee acted characteristically. Westmoreland County, doubtless at his urging, adopted one of the earliest and most stringent requests for nonintercourse. Naturally, it was published immediately.79 But Lee’s constituents did not stand alone. Seven other Virginia counties also called for complete nonintercourse with Britain unless American grievances were satisfied, including halted court processes for debt collection. Most of the other twenty-three counties which met supported both nonimportation immediately and nonexportation to begin in 1775.80 The spirit throughout Virginia was high. As the royal Governor sourly reported, the “turbulence and prejudice” prevailed “throughout the country.”81

The Convention at the August meeting formed a more complete statement of nonimportation and delayed nonexportation, including pro-visions for enforcement by publicity.82 The Convention also wrote instructions to the delegates it chose to attend the general congress. The delegates were to seek the agreement of all colonies in measures for economic pressure on Britain. The delegates were also instructed regarding the statement of colonial sentiments that everyone knew would be made.83 Virginia’s delegates were to insure that these statements expressed loyalty to the King and a desire for “constitutional Connexion” with Great Britain. They were also to insist, however, that the congress should state that colonists as freeborn “British Subjects in America” had not conceded their rights to control their “internal Polity” through their colonial assemblies.

Peyton Randolph and Richard Henry Lee, first and second named of the seven chosen to represent Virginia in the general congress, were obvious choices.84 Having led the colony successfully through similar battles in the past, they were naturally selected for the next round. After the third choice, George Washington, the next four were selected with less unanimity, yet the names of Henry, Bland, Benjamin Harrison and Pendleton had also often appeared in the Journals of the House of Burgesses. They, too, stood high among leaders in the House and they too had long records of service in defending its prerogatives.

Obviously the Lees, Henry and Jefferson did not comprise a small, isolated clique manipulating a reluctant group of followers. Later divisions among the Virginians and among their leadership were destined to develop. But those divisions came at a later date. When war broke out and thirteen not always united colonies had to prosecute that war and at the same time create new governmental mechanisms, deep schisms inevitably emerged. New conditions created a need for new leadership roles, new rhetorical themes and perhaps most inevitably, new leaders.

At the outset of the tea crisis, however, most Virginians did not anticipate how different it would be from the others. Perhaps Thomas Jefferson did, but as he later acknowledged, he was far in advance of most Virginians.85 Significantly, Jefferson grew to fit one of the new leadership roles. Richard Henry Lee did not anticipate the vastly altered character of this crisis. He remained convinced that unified economic pressure would bring redress of grievances. His goals, themes and tactics did not change. He still hoped to return to conditions as they were before 1763. In other words, he still wanted de facto self-government for the colonies within the existing administrative structure of the empire. He believed firm and united colonial economic pressure would achieve in 1774–75 what it had in 1765–66 and 1767–68.

Lee did not perceive what made this time different, largely because the difference was in England. This time, unlike each of the previous contests with the imperial government, the Americans confronted a stable government in London. English politics did not provide an escape hatch. This time a new ministry did not emerge from the chaos of a crisis and back away from colonial problems aggravated by previous ministers. The consequences of American defiance of imperial authority were faced by the same ministry, which precipitated it. This time violent defiance was met by violent enforcement.


1. Lee later utilized the injury to dramatic effect when he spoke. Wrapped in black silk or sheathed in a black silk glove the injured hand added emphasis to his elegant gestures, Oliver P. Chitwood, Richard Henry Lee: Statesman of the Revolution (Morgantown: University of West Virginia Library, 1967), pp. 222–23; “Notes of Judge St. George Tucker,” William and Mary Quarterly, first series, XXII (April, 1915), 256.

2. Richard Henry Lee, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, ed. James C. Ballagh (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912), I, 26–27, hereafter cited as RHL, Letters.

3. This letter Ballagh cites from Richard Henry Lee II, Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee and His Correspondence (Philadelphia: H. C. Carey & I. Lea, 1825), hereafter cited as Lee Memoir. There it had been incorrectly described as written to “A gentleman, of influence in England,” and Ballagh repeats the error. Both sources also include the erroneous statement by Richard Henry Lee II that the elder Lee was “however, able to go to Williamsburg, to the meeting of the House of Burgesses.” Examination of J. P. Kennedy and H. R. McIlwaine (eds.), Journals of the House of Burgesses (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1906), XI, 141–77, indicates the Journal editor was correct to conclude that Lee was not present at this session, XI, 136. House Journals are hereafter cited as JHB. If he had been able to attend this session of Assembly, Lee would not have concluded the letter as he did, by expressing disappointment at being unable to “add, on this occasion, my poor assistance, to the friends of liberty, contending for their country’s rights.” Careful reading of this letter makes even clearer that it was not sent to England. The letter did not attempt to explain Assembly actions; it urged that the Assembly take action. Nor to an Englishman would Lee have spoken of “their country’s rights” referring to Virginia, or consistently used “us” and “our” referring to Lee, the correspondent and their fellow Virginians. This letter was certainly addressed to at least one fellow Virginian.

4. The italics are in the printed text, RHL, Letters, I, 27.

5. Never again, throughout the dispute with Britain, did Lee suggest petitioning the Commons.

6. JHB, XI, 146.

7. Ibid., p. 148.

8. Ibid., p. 145.

9. Ibid., pp. 146, 149, 153, 157.

10. H. R. McIlwaine (ed.), Legislative Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1919), III, 1384, hereafter cited as LJC; JHB, XI, 174.

11. JHB, XI, 174.

12. Ibid., p. 177.

13. Text of the addresses is in JHB, XI, 165–71.

14. RHL, Letters, I, 28.

15. Richard Henry Lee to John Dickinson, 25 July 1768, RHL, Letters, I, 29”30.

16. Paul P. Hoffman (ed.), The Lee Family Papers 1742–1795 (Microfilm Publications; Charlottesville: University of Virginia Library, 1966), I, hereafter cited as Lee Papers.

17. RHL, Letters, I, 30–32.

18. The advertised price was 2s. 6d., but the price apparently rose. Washington indicated the pamphlet cost him 3s. 6d., George Washington, The Diaries of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925), I, 325.

19. Lee indicates his authorship of the introductory essay in a letter to Arthur, RHL, Letters, I, 42. The pamphlet was entitled, The Farmer’s and Monitor’s Letters to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies.

20. RHL, Letters, I, 42.

21. Public Record Office, Colonial Office, series 5, Volume 1346, pp. 155–57, cited in David J. Mays, Edmund Pendleton 1721–1803: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), I, 250.

22. RHL, Letters, I, 30.

23. JHB, XI, 188–89.

24. P.R.O., C.O., series 5, Vol. 1347, p. 143, cited in Mays, I, 255.

25. Lawrence H. Gipson, The British Empire Before the American Revolution: The Triumphant Empire (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), XI, 235–38. Rumors circulated that James Otis, Samuel Adams and Thomas Cushing might all be taken.

26. This incident has not been fully analyzed by historians. A good narrative is in Douglas S. Freeman, George Washington: A Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), III, 218–22, but Freeman reports nothing verifiable regarding the Burgesses’ debates or the planning which led to the Association. Freeman attributes the Association as initially drafted to George Mason, as have historians since Jared Sparks. Robert Rutland (ed.), The Papers of George Mason 1725–1792 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970), I, 94–113, sheds new light on this incident by demonstrating Washington added suggestions of Mason’s to a manuscript drafted by someone else. Rutland suggests Richard Henry Lee as the “probable author” of the draft. Rutland’s analysis of the Association draft, however, adds little to indicate how the backers planned to gain acceptance of the Association, whether the planners intended to provoke the Governor into dissolving the Assembly, or if so, who did the planning. Part of the reason this event has not been fully understood may be that important manuscripts relating to these events among the Lee papers are misdated. The papers referred to are three: notes from a lawbook, which Lee refers to as “My Lord Coke” and which he indicates relate to two of the laws referred to the committee of the whole May 16; resolutions requesting that an address to the King objecting to “new modes of Tryal” be prepared and circulated to all the colonies; and notes, probably referred to during the debate, mentioning parliamentary treatment of the Virginia memorials and mentioning Hillsborough’s motion of December 15 in the House of Lords, Lee Papers, II. These papers, dated [1774?] by the film editors are placed in the chronological sequence of the films at the end of the year 1774. Comparison of the JHB, XI, 210–15, with these notes of Lee’s and with his comments to Dickinson in November 1768 indicate clearly the notes should be dated 1769. These comparisons lead to the further conclusion that some Burgesses, Lee among them, determined to force the Governor’s hand and precipitate a dissolution.

27. JHB, XI, 210. Freeman, p. 219, suggests the change was to avoid giving offense to Botetourt. Careful parliamentarians, which Burgess leaders were, might have observed rather that the subjects to be discussed were not germane to the Governor’s speech.

28. JHB, XI, 214.

29. Lee Papers, II.

30. Henry Piper to Dixon and Littlepage, 8 June 1769, cited in Lucille B. Griffith, Virginia House of Burgesses 1750–1774 (Northport, Ala.: Colonial Press, 1963), p. 45. The resolutions are in JHB, XI, 214-15.

31. Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Paul L. Ford (New York: G. P. Putnam s Sons, 1904), I, 8–9. Freeman, p. 220, indicates the authorship of the resolutions is not known, but that they “manifestly are the work of an experienced lawyer, Bland, perhaps.” Lee’s notes suggest the resolutions may have emerged during the debate in committee of the whole where certainly Bland’s influence would have been strong, Clinton Rossiter, “Richard Bland: The Whig in America,” William and Mary Quarterly, third series, X (January, 1953), 38.

32. The committee consisted of John Blair, Lee, Henry, Nicholas, Thompson Mason and Benjamin Harrison, JHB, XI, 215.

33. JHB, XI, 215–18, reports events in the House May 17, 1769.

34. Purdie and Dixon published it on May 18, Rind on May 25.

35. Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon), May 18, 1769.

36. RHL, Letters, I, 34–35.

37. Rind apparently printed the handbill report of the Association. His newspaper for that date is either missing or was substituted for by the handbill which many Burgesses carried back to their constituents. This paper, “a kind of journal” of the proceedings was cited by a letter writer in Rind’s newspaper June 1. This “journal” included the account of the deliberations, the text of the Association, names of the Burgesses who had signed and a subscription statement with space for signatures. The citation here is from JHB, XI, xxxix–xliii.

38. In words almost certainly suggested by Lee, the preamble to the 1769 Association echoed the Westmoreland Association of 1766. Protesting against any act tending to “disturb his Majesty’s Peace, and the good Order of his Government in this Colony,” Virginians “resolved, at the Risque of our Lives and Fortune,” to oppose reduction “from a free and happy People to a wretched and miserable State of Slavery.”

39. Forrest McDonald (ed.), Empire and Nation: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania by John Dickinson and Letters from the Federal Farmer by Richard Henry Lee Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962), p. 85.

40. Also included in this handbill were the final words of the “objective” reporter. He commented, “The Business being finished the following TOASTS were drank, and the Gentlemen retired.” The toasts, numbering eleven, might well have contributed to the Gentlemens’ retirement! Starting with the King, they also toasted the Royal Family and the Governor. Then came “a speedy and lasting Union” and after that “The constitutional British liberty in America.” Then three Englishmen believed to be friends of the colonies were saluted: the Duke of Richmond, Earl of Shelburne and Colonel Barre. Americans were then toasted: one each for “The late SPEAKER, The TREASURER of the Colony, and The FARMER AND MONITOR.”

41. RHL, Letters, I, 34-35.

42. Ibid., p. 37.

43. McDonald, p. xiv.

44. L. H. Butterfield (ed.), The Adams Papers: Diary and Autobiography of John Adams (New York: Athenaeum, 1964), II, 120. Lee also commenter to Landon Carter in a letter dated April 24, 1775, that he was convinced the Association would ruin the British ministry if it “has time to work,” RHL, Letters, I, 133.

45. JHB, XI, 227.

46. Richard Henry Lee to William Lee, 17 December 1769, RHL, Letters, I, 38–41.

47. Ibid.

48. Ibid., pp. 41–45.

49. Ibid.

50. May 25, 1770, was the date, Freeman, III, 250–51. Landon Carter discussed the reason for the meeting in his diary, Jack P. Greene (ed.), The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter of Sabine Hall 1752–1778 (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1965 , I, 418.

51. Members of the committee are not known, but Lee was probably one. On the day after the meeting he wrote George Mason seeking suggestions for revisions, Kate Mason Rowland, The Life of George Mason 1725–1792 (New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1892), I, 144–47.

52. RHL, Letters, I, 41.

53. Ibid., pp. 45–52.

54. Freeman, III, 250-51; Greene, Diary of Landon Carter, I, 418. Since Carter was not at Williamsburg, this news had to come to him from some member of the committee, perhaps his constant correspondent, Richard Henry Lee. Carter wrote of the reported compromisers on the same day he visited the Tayloes, where quite possibly he had talked with Francis Lightfoot Lee, Richard Henry’s younger brother. Francis Lightfoot, son-in-law of Colonel Tayloe, could have visited there the same day Carter did since he did not attend the Assembly this session. Quite likely, Richard Henry wrote either Carter or his brother reporting events at Williamsburg.

55. RHL, Letters, I, 45–46.

56. Mays, I, 259.

57. Text of the revised Association is in JHB, XII, xxvii–xxxi.

58. JHB, XII, 85.

59. Lee’s grandson reported a resolution he said was offered by Richard Henry Lee in the House in 1772. That resolution, being nearly identical to this one unanimously agreed to by the Burgesses July 21, 1770, was obviously misdated. Comparison of JHB, XII, 85 and Lee Memoir, I, 84–85, indicates Lee’s to be a draft only slightly revised before acceptance by the Burgesses. The revision was to change Lee’s phrase “by which means . . . subjects . . . are deprived” to “both which innovations in the Constitution tend immediately to deprive . . . subjects. . . .” Members of the committee to prepare the petition pursuant to the resolution were Lee (chairman), Bland, Nicholas, Pendleton, Archibald Cary and Benjamin Harrison.

60. JHB, XI, 101.

61. Chitwood, Lee, p. 51, erroneously claims Lee presented the petition for the committee. Text of the accepted petition is in JHB, XII, 101–2.

62. RHL, Letters, I, 45–46.

63. Gipson, Empire, XI, 265–74.

64. Ibid.; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution 1763–1776 (reprint; New York: Facsimile Library, Inc., 1939), pp. 198–99; Rutland, The Papers of George Mason, I, 120.

65. William Nelson to Lord Hillsborough, 19 December 1770, JHB, XII, xxxi.

66. Greene, Diary of Landon Carter, I, 529.

67. Richard Henry Lee to William Lee, 8 January 1771, RHL, Letters, I, 53.

68. Richard Henry Lee to Landon Carter, 17 January 1771, RHL, Letters, I, 55.

69. Schlesinger, p. 233.

70. A group in Rhode Island boarded the H. M. Gaspee, a custom ship of the Royal Navy, on June 9, 1772, and burned it. A board of inquiry was commissioned to investigate and report; a reward of 500 pounds and pardon was offered to anyone who would report information leading to conviction of any of the participants; and those arrested were to be delivered into custody and transported to England for trial. This last threat was most disturbing to Lee, Richard Henry Lee to Samuel Adams, 4 February 1773, RHL, Letters, I, 82–83. A full account of the Gaspee affair is in Gipson, Empire, XII, 24–38.

71. Richard Henry Lee to John Dickinson, 4 April 1773, RHL, Letters, I, 83–84; JHB, XIII, 28.

72. Gipson, Empire, XII, 36.

73. JHB, XIII, 124; Julian P. Boyd, et. al. (eds.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson 1760–1776 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), I, 105–7. Collected in this volume are all the public papers of the Association and Convention during spring and summer 1774. The editor believed them helpful as background to Jefferson’s Summary View of the Rights of British Americans.

74. Jefferson’s account in his autobiography and George Mason’s comment that these events were planned “with a great deal of privacy” are often emphasized to show how radicals and conservatives differed in the contest with Britain, Ford, 9–11; Rowland, I, 169. Such an interpretation is based on only part, and perhaps the least reliable part, of the evidence, however. Jefferson’s autobiography was written long after the event and Mason’s letter was by a man in Williamsburg only four days prior to the invitation to meet with the group of planners. Nicholas, for instance, was certainly not blindly led into offering the resolution. Though he is usually regarded as a conservative, he supported the motion and the following Association. Shortly after the dissolution he published a reply to a loyalist statement provoked by the fast day resolution, Boyd, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, I, 107. The Boston Port Bill disturbed most Virginians. Richard Henry Lee wrote Arthur that “Astonishment, indignation, and concern seized us all” when the news arrived. A better explanation of the “privacy” in which the matters were planned is that the leaders were fearful that the Governor and the loyalists in the Council would learn of the plans. Freeman, III, 353, citing Governor Dunmore’s letter of May 29, 1774, to Lord Dartmouth, suggests the dissolution was not because of the resolution for a religious fast, but because the Governor had learned of Lee’s stronger resolves planned for introduction and wanted to prevent their being passed by an official body.

75. RHL, Letters, I, 114–15.

76. Ibid., pp. 111–17. Lee reported the dissolution and his planned resolutions to Samuel Adams on June 23 and to Arthur June 26.

77. George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1931), III, 223.

78. Text of the first 1774 Association is cited from Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, I, 107–9.

79. Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), June 30, 1774.

80. Gipson, Empire, XII, 201–6.

81. Dunmore to Lord Dartmouth, 6 June 1774, Freeman, III, 357.

82. Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, I, 137–41, reports the text of this Association which was printed in Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), August 11, 1774.

83. The delegates’ instructions are here cited from Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, I, 141–43.

84. The votes, recorded by Edmund Berkeley, are cited from Freeman, III, 373 plate. Randolph received 104 votes, Lee 100, Washington 98, Henry 89, Bland 79, Harrison 66 and Pendleton 62.

85. Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, I, 670–71.

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