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Francis Lightfoot Lee: Virginia Gentleman and Forgotten Patriot

Addendum

The speech which follows was written by Francis Lightfoot Lee, probably in 1774. It is too long to include in the text, but it has been included here because of its importance. It is only a fragment, but it is the only speech written by Lee that has been found in the course of researching this paper. Whether or not Lee ever actually delivered the speech is not known.

. . . They are too expensive to require any Comment, they are written in Blood, and cannot be misunderstood—It is true, they win at one Colony only, but this Artifice, surely, cannot deceive you, nor withhold you from considering every Colony as interested in the suffering of one for a common Cause. Divide, and Tyranize, is the Maxim; to subdue one at a time, is the surest, and most facile way to crush all.—With such pregnant Proofs before you, of a permanent and complete subversion of your Liberties, you cannot, without infatuation, listen to those who would persuade you, that if you demean yourselves into acquiescence, and quiet, this oppressive Duty-Act will be repealed and every grievance redressed.

But, to be convinced how futile this expectation is, look only, upon the Despotic Circle, with which they have, already, encompassed our liberties.—The Parliament, are to raise a Revenue upon us, without our Consent; the Commissioners are to see it collected; the Admiralty Courts, are to try all Revenue Causes;—whomsoever, a Governor shall accuse of Treason, is to be sent to Britain for his Trial, or, rather, as His Majesty's most gracious Answer has it, “to be brought to Consign punishment”;—the Gevernor's Councellors, and Judges, are appointed by the King, and exist during his Pleasure;—and, to render them all as rigorous in the collection of the Revenue, as possible, they are to be paid out of the Money thus raised upon us, without our consent, or participation. From the same Fund, too, is a Military, and Naval Force, to be maintained, to enforce obedience to this Tremendous System of abject Slavery.—Never, was a Plan of Despotism more absolute, and in itself complete; never were Chains better forged; and, should our acquiescence suffer them to be rivetted, we are undone forever.

Is the giving our own Money to the Crown, a dear and valuable right?—We are totally deprived of it by the British Parliament, over which, we have no earthly restraint, with which, no possible connection.—Is Trial by Jury an Essential Privilege of Freemen, necessary to due dispensation of Justice, and the security of the Subject? This is absolutely wrested from us by the Admiralty Courts; in which, one Judge, appointed by the Crown during pleasure, and paid out of the condemnation money, if it be sufficient, determines between the King and the Subject.—Every Governor, may devote whom he pleases, by charging him with Treason, and sending him to England, where he will be tried, if happily, this Farce be deemed necessary to precede the Tragedy of execution, by a Jury of Strangers, infected with the most violent prejudice.—The Commissioners of the Customs, only, are vested with the alarming Powers of Excise, in forcing open, or ordering to be forced, any Man's locks.

Deprived thus, of the privilege of giving, or keeping, our money; the Executive and Judicial Powers are independent of the People, as they are absolutely dependent on the King;—the Trial by jury, that great bulwark of safety in life and Estate, taken from us;—our houses, closets, cabinets, etc. laid open to the will and pleasure of the Commissioners, or, the lowest Servant belonging to the Revenue; and all these maintained by us without our consent, what remains to make our Slavery complete?—Nothing, but our acquiescence and submission.—What can save us from this dreadful bondage?—Nothing, but an Unanimous, determined, permanent Opposition.

How, this is to be conducted, is the next question, and it maybe very shortly discussed. We have petitioned, reasoned, and remonstrated, in vain; but let us try the next gentle method of admonishing Great Britain, and recalling her to Reason and Justice, that is, to desist from the Consumption of her Manufactures, and supplying her with those Raw Materials, from which her Trade Manufactures, Merchants, and Revenue, receive great profits; such as Tobacco, Tar, Pitch, Hemp, Flax-seed, Potash Etc.

Instead of expending our Labor on these, let us raise grain, provisions, and all Materials for Manufactures, in the manufacturing of which, the rest of our labor may be employed.

Some temporary loss and inconvenience will arise from so great a change, but, the benefits, which will flow from it, are manifold great, and lasting.—It will save us from a Slavery, otherwise inevitable; the Yoke is before us, the Chains are prepared, there is no alternative, but tamely to put them on, or vigorously endeavor to make them drop from the enervated Hand of our Oppressors.—He, who would expose himself, and his Posterity, to the hateful Insults of petty Authority; he, who would devote his life and fortunes to the Arbitrary Will of Gevernors, Commissioners, Judges, Custom-House Officers, Minions, and Parasites,—he, who would see the whole People of this Continent governed, without exception, by laws, to which they give no consent, and, their once honorable, and responsible Assemblies humiliated to mere Corporations; let him patiently resign himself to the Shackles which are forged for him, and wonderfully calculated to secure these fatal consequences.—But, when the galling Chain sits heavy on him, when the Calamities, of which Slavery is banefully prolific, press hard upon him;—in that miserable state, fleeced, despised, injured, and insulted, let him persevere in his virtue of Resignation, nor be tempted to execrate his miserable Existence, or accelerate in wish, the Slave's and wretch's last Resource, the Hand of death.

To render Opposition effectual, Unanimity is greatly requisite. How necessary, an Union and Harmony among ourselves are, to the maintenance of our most valuable Rights, may be known, not only from Reason, but from the great apprehension entertained of it, by those who would subvert them.

It was, therefore, that the Congress at New-York, was so loudly esclaimed against by the Grenville Party, and that the Circular Letter at Boston, as such an alarming measures at home, that every art of soothing, every influence of threats were used by my Lord Hillsborough to render it abortive.

In persuance of the Old Maxim, Divide and Tyrranize, this artful Minion is industriously propagating an Opinion, that, but for such steps as those taken in America, He should certainly have had the late Duty-Act repealed, and, thus, at the very time, the Ministry are declaring in Parliament, it was intended to fix the Dominion of Parliament over America, and therefore to be enforced, if questioned; and every [step] they take, tends to evince the fatal Truth of this declaration.—Be assured, then, my Countrymen, and I speak to you from the best information, we have every thing to fear from Great Britain; nothing to expect but Insult, injury and Oppression, and from these nothing can relieve us, but a determined, unanimous, and permanent Opposition (VII, [1774]).


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