Washington and Lee University

Richard Henry Lee, Rhetoric and Rebellion


Education and Early Experience

The life and career of Richard Henry Lee epitomized the political leader in mid-eighteenth century Virginia. Lee seemed perfectly fitted by nature and inheritance to meet all the qualifications of that role. He was, first of all, a Lee, the third son of Thomas and Hannah Ludwell Lee. To be their son was to be born into families with long traditions of public service.

Richard Henry Lee's great grandfather, the immigrant Richard Lee, distinguished himself quickly upon arriving in America. His appointment to the Council in 1651 began a succession of Lees in Virginia government. Until the revolution changed the character of Council membership, every generation of Lees was represented in the coveted office. Richard Lee II, appointed to the Council in 1676, served almost continuously until he retired because of poor health in 1699.1 Thomas Lee, elected Burgess in 1726, attained Council membership in 1734 and maintained his seat until he died in 1750.2 Because he was President of the Council when Governor William Gooch resigned, Lee served briefly as acting Governor. His eldest son, Philip, received the appointment of Councillor within a year of his election as Burgess in 1756. He retained the Council seat until his death in 1775.3

The Ludwell family also had a distinguished record for public service. Richard Henry Lee's maternal great grandfather, Philip Ludwell I, a close friend and advisor of Governor Sir William Berkeley, was a Virginia Councillor. Later he governed both the Carolinas.4 Philip Ludwell II represented James City County in the House of Burgesses from 1695 until his appointment to the Council in 1702. Since he lost his Council seat because of a dispute with Virginia's governor, he would likely have been proud of his grandsons.5 Philip Ludwell III also served on the Council from 1751 until at least 1760, shortly before he returned to England after the death of his wife.6

Details regarding the education of Thomas Lee's three oldest sons remain unknown, though their political writing and speaking plainly show they were articulate and well read. Few records of their lives are extant before Richard Henry Lee entered public life. Richard Henry Lee II related several interesting anecdotes about his grandfather's first twenty-five years, but most seem based largely on family traditions rather than concrete evidence.7 No reason exists, however, to doubt that Thomas Lee brought a tutor to the plantation as was common among the Virginia elite. At restored Stratford Hall is a school house where the young Lees studied English, arithmetic, and religion. Philip, Thomas, Richard Henry, Arthur and perhaps William later continued their education in England.

To the imposing brick mansion which was the Lee family home, Philip Ludwell Lee returned at twenty-five years of age as head of the household. Richard Henry soon joined him there, at nineteen or twenty years old. He apparently lived with Philip at Stratford until marrying in 1757. Then Richard Henry leased land three miles away, building his own house, Chantilly. The picture of these young men as they lived at Stratford is engaging. Thomas Lee, already an important man in the colony when the mansion at Stratford was built, regularly received prominent visitors. At the main floor entry to Stratford Hall are two special receiving rooms, one for men and one for women. These rooms and the great hall next to them certainly provided the setting for many important political discussions and gay, social gatherings throughout the eighteenth century. Descriptions left in the 1770s indicate that the Lees participated fully with their Northern Neck neighbors in an active social life.8 The Carters, Washingtons, Tayloes, Ayletts and several families of Lees visited each other regularly for hunts, fairs, dinners and balls. Though Richard Henry Lee has been accurately described as a puritan, which in many ways he was, he was a Virginia puritan.9 He often condemned frivolity and idleness, but never indicated that he rejected the pleasant social aspects of the genteel life in Virginia. On the contrary, the evidence suggests he participated regularly and willingly, socializing often with his neighbors and relations.10 Even when in Congress during the 1770s and 1780s he was reported fond of society.11 Doubtless, therefore, as a twenty year old bachelor living with his older brother, he did not abstain from society.

During these years, family tradition holds, Richard Henry also spent many hours in Stratford's huge library pursuing a program of self-education. The tradition is probably accurate, though little evidence remains to identify the books that he studied. One undated notebook remaining among the Lee papers contains notes in Richard Henry's handwriting taken from Locke, Puffendorf, and an unidentified Greek historian.12 The notes from the first two appear to have been copied without comment. The latter seems to summarize a somewhat standard historical account. To conclude that Richard Henry filled more notebooks of this type is speculation, but a reasonable one. He was fond of history, using historical references constantly for example and illustration. He virtually personified history as a wise and benevolent teacher from whom much could be learned. His letters and addresses contained citations and references from both classical and current history. Citations in both Latin and French occur in his writing, the latter being largely from Montesquieu. He had apparently read considerably in both languages since he used them with facility. Often he cited, directly or more often indirectly, passages from the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton, Adam Smith, Blackstone, Coke and Locke. Richard Henry continued to read voraciously all his life. He eagerly awaited the newspapers and the latest political pamphlets, more than once writing a reply to some article or referring an article to one of his friends for an answer.13 That he acquired these habits as a young man is likely.

Any further conclusions regarding the sources Richard Henry Lee may have read or when can only be based on speculation. The Stratford Hall library was large and Thomas Lee surely valued his books quite as much as did most of his counterparts in the Virginia gentry.14 His father treasured his library, and at least one of his sons also did judging from the careful inventory of the books made at the death of Richard Lee II. This list included nearly 300 titles, which probably remained in the family residence where Thomas and Hannah Lee lived during the construction of Stratford. But this house burned during the year prior to Stratford's completion and nothing was saved from the fire.15 Since the library probably had not been moved, the flames probably destroyed it, too. Thomas Lee devoted some of his immense wealth to replacing the splendid library, because at his death the inventory of his possessions valued the books at 272 pounds.16 Little evidence remains indicating what he purchased, however. Whether he was guided by his father's inventory in replacing the library is not known.

The Lee Society maintains at restored Stratford Hall a museum of Lee memorabilia including books that were in the library during the eighteenth century. Among these, some were published prior to the time that Richard Henry lived there with Philip. Some of these early books, however, contain autographs of Henry Lee or Henry Grymes, indicating their addition to the library in 1782 when Henry Lee became the master of Stratford Hall by marrying Philip's daughter Matilda. Not including these books with Henry Lee or Grymes autographs, at least thirty-eight volumes now at Stratford could have been there in 1750.17 Among these nineteen are religious in nature, at least eleven are law books, four are Bacon's essays, one relates to business, one to medicine, one is simply labeled “Algebra” and one is a book of Caesar which cannot be classified without further information. While it is likely that Richard Henry Lee read these books, no definite evidence proves it.

A final set of conclusions regarding Lee's education is based on the reasoning that he planned for his children education similar to his own. If so, he studied English, the classics, writing, religion and arithmetic, for those are the fundamentals he asked his brother William to be sure were taught in the school in which William enrolled Richard Henry Lee's sons.18 Richard Henry wanted a school where strict attention would be paid to moral instruction. He sent his boys to England for education, because he believed that nowhere in “any part of America, our college excepted” could he afford to send them. And at William and Mary, he declared, too “little attention is paid either to the learning or to the morals of boys.” He “never could bring himself to think of” sending them there.19

Lee “intended” that Thomas be educated for the church and Ludwell for the bar. When the war changed his plans he directed that Thomas should devote himself to commerce, and Ludwell should study so he could “turn either to War or to Law.”20 For Thomas he suggested employment as a clerk in order that he might learn trade, and for Ludwell he recommended instruction “especially [in] eloquence, and the principles of Natural law.” Writing his son, Richard Henry urged close attention to business, “as well the theory as the practical part.”21 He felt that it would be “of great importance to learn well the French Language and be able to speak, read, and write it, with correctness and fluency.” By 1777, therefore, Richard Henry Lee believed that the careful and correct use of language, knowledge of the classics and natural philosophy would greatly assist a man preparing for public life. A reasonable conclusion is that he prepared himself accordingly, whether before or after entering into public service.

Lee's instructions regarding his sons' education lead to another conclusion about his own life. Lee planned educational experiences specifically tailored to prepare each son for a particular life role. Thomas Lee may similarly have directed that his third son be prepared for government. If he did not, then Richard Henry certainly set out that role for himself. The soundest conclusion about Richard Henry Lee's first twenty-five years is that he was being prepared and prepared himself for political leadership, although he would have said “to serve my country.” He sought and received appointment as county justice at the age of twenty-three.22 Apparently he performed his duties successfully and faithfully, for his fellow justices soon petitioned the Governor to waive the rule of seniority and elevate him to presiding justice.23 These were some of the least among signs that Richard Henry Lee was a young man in a hurry. He won election to the House of Burgesses at twenty-six, then actively sought to join his brother on the Council less than four years later.24

Immediately upon entering the House, Richard Henry Lee became an active member. On his very first day as a Burgess, he was named to the committee of six who drew the address to answer the Governor's speech. Richard Henry's name appears immediately following that of the committee chairman, his brother Thomas, also a new Burgess that session. Both brothers were appointed to the important committee of Privileges and Elections and to the committee for examining the treasurer's accounts.25 Uncertainty remains about the method by which House committees were appointed, but at least the appointments show the Burgesses received the two brothers with some expectation. Perhaps the Lee family reputation led older members of the House to want an immediate test of these latest Lees to enter the service of their country.

Richard Henry seemed the ambitious one, though Thomas became better liked.26 Richard Henry remained more actively involved in routine legislative affairs. During his first session he performed the additional duties of carrying an address to the governor and serving on a committee to examine a private petition, and to prepare a bill for disciplining and regulating the militia.27 For the eight meetings of this Assembly between fall 1758 and spring 1761, Richard Henry Lee came from far away Westmoreland to all but one, a short, two-day session. The Governor had called the Assembly to authorize war funds and dismissed them immediately when that task was completed. Since no other business was planned, Lee probably concluded his presence was not needed. He participated actively in each of the other sessions. A committee to examine the treasurer's accounts was named three times in three years and each year Lee was a member. He served on three committees to prepare bills to cover war expenditures, and four times on special committees for examining or preparing private bills and petitions. At the February 1759 meeting of this Assembly, Richard Henry Lee gained membership on the prestigious committee of Propositions and Grievances as well maintaining his position on the committee of Privileges and Elections. He remained on these two important committees throughout his Burgess career. He also carried out other routine but apparently important duties, such as carrying bills to the Council and preparation of an address to the Governor.28

Lessons in Leadership: Duties on Imported Slaves

Lee performed his first complete legislative rote during his third session as a Burgess. He introduced and apparently managed through the House a bill raising duties on imported slaves.29 His choice of this cause early in his legislative career when compared with his later attitudes demonstrates several important facets of his rise to leadership.

Lee was not especially innovative in supporting a high duty on imported slaves. With varying success, Burgesses had tried throughout the century to raise the import duties.30 Between 1704 and 1718 they had secured agreement of Council and Governor to duties as high as five pounds per slave imported, but then the duty expired. English merchants, having begun to dominate the trade, wanted no interference and successfully sought disallowance of an attempt to renew the duty at only 40 shillings per slave in 1723. The tax met the same fate each time the Assembly tried to levy it during the 1720s.31 In 1732 the Assembly compromised with a five per cent ad valorem tax paid by the buyer instead of the importer and the English allowed this law to stand. 32 Gradually, as war expenses mounted, the Assembly applied taxes on top of the regularly renewed five per cent.33 Occasional efforts to raise the duty even higher were rejected. Sometimes the House voted against the request, and on two occasions when the House approved an increase the Council refused to agree.34 Following Lee's effort in 1759, the Council accepted all the House bills, but the English did not. The Privy Council disallowed slave duty bills twice in the 1760s and once as late as 1773.35

Thus, Lee acted as important Virginia leaders before him had clone when on Thursday, November 8, 1759, he moved for leave to present a bill “To oblige importers of Negroes for their Own Use to pay a Duty.” Lee, George Wythe and Lewis Webb were assigned as a committee to prepare and bring in the bill. After two readings, the House considered the bill in committee of the whole, but did not finish and requested leave to sit again the following day. Though the sparse journal records reveal little regarding the debates, Lee probably spoke in support of his motion on Tuesday, November 13, at the outset of debate.36 No earlier debate is indicated and Lee would surely have been the first to speak since he proposed the bill.

When the committee of the whole rose on Wednesday, Charles Carter reported that they had come to “several” amendments which were thereupon read twice and agreed to. The exact content of Lee's bill cannot be determined, but at least the amendments coordinated his proposal with existing laws by transforming it into an amending act. Passed by the House one week after Lee introduced it, the bill was newly titled “An Act to amend the several Acts laying a Duty on Slaves imported into this Colony.” The Burgesses directed Lee to carry it to the Council where it received brusque treatment, being rejected the day it arrived after only one reading.37

No explanations of the Council action appeared in their journal, nor is the exact amount of the duty imposed by the defeated bill recorded. Probably the Council rejected the additional tax believing the suggested duty too high or because they anticipated British rejection. The events following the Council vote corroborate this view. The next day the House gave Richard Bland leave to introduce a bill for “lessening the duties” on slaves imported. He did so that same day and after reading it twice, the House quickly ordered it to committee of the whole. Saturday, the committee rose and reported “several amendments” which were immediately read and accepted as the whole was ordered engrossed for third reading. When called up the 19th, the bill introduced by Bland had become “An Act to oblige the Persons bringing Slaves into this Colony from Carolina, Maryland and the West Indies, for their own Use to pay a Duty,” of twenty per cent.38 The House again designated Lee to take the bill to the Council, who this time approved it immediately.39

When the House had finished with Bland's bill, it did not “lessen” the duties, regardless of what he may have originally suggested. The majority of Burgesses evidently supported Lee's desire for high duties. The new twenty per cent tax equaled that already imposed on direct importations. In the bill's preamble the Virginians asserted that many importers escaped paying duties by bringing the slaves in through other colonies, thus justifying the new duty as an equalizing tax. Further, as the bill now amended no existing act, the Assembly apparently felt free to pass it without a suspending clause.

Lee's hopes in initiating the duty are highlighted by the speech he made in support of his original bill.40 He spoke to “favor the high duty on Negroes, thereby to prevent their Importation.”41 The legislative record does not describe the bill in that manner, but doubtless the intent would not have been so boldly signaled. Since the duty already stood at twenty per cent, any substantial increase would certainly have approached being prohibitory. Lee's introductory comment, that the “importation of slaves into this Colony has been, and will be, attended with Effects, dangerous both to our political and moral interests,” implied that the proposed duty aimed at stopping importation. In this earliest of his recorded speeches, Lee argued briefly but cogently. He wanted slave importation ended, he said, because Virginians would gain economic advantages, be personally safer, and at the same time fulfill their moral obligations.

Unfortunately the relationships of this speech and the legislative effort it supported to Lee's character and leadership do not stand out as clearly as do his arguments. Relating the effort to limit importations of slaves to Lee's character, his society and his career is complicated by the paradox of the slave trade throughout the entire century: Virginia politicians continually tried to raise duties high enough to inhibit importation while Virginia planters continued to buy all the slaves they could. The records make clear that by 1760 most Virginia political leaders wanted slave importation slowed if not stopped. They tried repeatedly to raise duties for that purpose.42 Their desire to limit the trade was strong enough that immediately upon achieving independence, they legislated to prohibit importation. The motivation of their efforts, however, is not clear. Opposition to slavery itself was not the basis. In spite of the celebrated statements of Jefferson and George Mason, no concrete plan for elimination of slavery ever gained substantial support in Virginia.43 Nor did there seem to be an abhorrence of the domestic slave trade.

The most reasonable explanation of the Virginia leaders' efforts to stop slave importation seems to be that they feared insurrections and the economic effects of too many blacks on the white population.44 Virginians worried that the presence of too many blacks drove out white settlers, or made the whites indolent, or caused excessive debts for the planters because of over-extended credit in purchases.

To men of these persuasions came Richard Henry Lee in 1759, an idealistic and ambitious young man, fresh from years among the books of Stratford Hall's great library and free from the economic cares of supporting a large family. Inspired and unburdened, he could indulge his moral fervor. He could and did. He suggested increased import duties on slaves to a very practical group of “Expedient-Mongers.” When prevented by the Council from capitalizing on this suggestion of a young Burgess, the older heads in the House made the best of the opportunity. If they could not raise taxes on the English trade, they could apply the limitation to importations from other colonies. They could and did.

Lee learned from this event. He, too, learned to be opportunistic. More important, however, are the conclusions that can be drawn from analysis of Richard Henry Lee's rhetorical goals. His arguments for prohibiting importation only resembled his counterparts' reasons for doing so to a limited degree. When he spoke he invoked the fear of insurrection and suggested that importation of slaves had been economically damaging. Settling a state with “Whites,” he said, brought both “Arts and Agriculture, ” but peopling Virginia with “Blacks” had excluded both. Lee differed from most Virginians in the extremity of his conclusion and the evidence he cited to support it. He compared Virginia unfavorably to “Neighbouring Colonies” which though settled much later were “now far before us in improvement.” His final proposition, to which he gave greatest emphasis, was the most unusual. He argued that the slave trade was inhuman and unchristian. Lee compared the “Christian” slave trade unfavorably to the “[cruel]ties practised in the conquest of Spanish America, ” and to the “savage barbarity of a Saracen,” a scathing indictment when addressed to people who considered the Catholics only slightly closer to God than the Moslem pagans who had attacked the Crusaders. No less severe were his strictures of the trade for encouraging “those poor, ignorant peoples to [wage eter]nal war against each other; Not Nation only, against Nation, but Father against Son, Children against their Parents, and Brothers against brothers.” Speaking to men to whom family was perhaps as important as religion itself, he accused the trade of creating familial warfare.

Lee's choice of values shows he knew those held in high esteem by his audience. If he could create shame regarding the slave trade, these would have been the appeals to use to do it: pride in Virginia, devotion to Christian principles, and desire for safety of person and family. Each argument reflected an emotion sure to be near the surface in his listeners. Certainly, then, this speech demonstrated that Lee understood his society. In addition, he demonstrated skill as a persuader. He contrived to attack slave trading when in essence his arguments also attacked slaveholding. Since he spoke to slaveholders the emphasis was adroit.

The significance, however, of the differences between Lee's ideas regarding slavery in 1759 and those of his contemporaries emerges when the speech is viewed from the perspective of the next fifteen years. The interest in stopping the slave trade that Lee displayed as a relatively new, inexperienced Burgess did not last. When slave duty bills were brought into the House in later years, whether intended to continue existing duties or to impose new duties, they were handled routinely by the Committee of Trade.45 Lee sat on this committee for only one session, November 1762. During that particular meeting of the Assembly no slave duty bills were handled. Lee worked on a committee in May 1763 which prepared and handled a bill amending the act laying an additional duty on slaves, wheel carriages, process and ordinary licenses, but he was not the committee chairman and the bill itself seemed more related to the paper money controversy of that session than to the problems of slave importation.46 Though he passively commented in 1765 that he would be happy to see “Demon Slavery” removed from American shores, the concept was remote to him, a consideration of the far distant future.47 Not only did he write without emotion, he merely replied to a comment rather than initiating the idea. In 1772, when the Burgesses addressed the King requesting his aid in stopping the slave trade, Lee disclaimed playing a major rose in the action. Though a member of the committee preparing the address, he protested to his brother William the following year that he was “in no way concerned in the assembly business about addressing the King.”48 Probably his disclaimer was materially correct because he had, indeed, left the Assembly at least four days prior to the committee's report of the address.48

Richard Henry's comment to William Lee in 1773 helps place in perspective his speech in 1759.50 Pointing out that, “You know in general I have always thought the Trade bad,” he said, he saw no reason his family should not profit from it “since it will be carried on.”51 Lee, as did his colleagues, displayed a nature more expedient than philosophical. He had not lost his moral repugnance to slavery, though. He said much against slavery in the next fifteen years, and it is reasonable to conclude he believed everything he said about its horrors. But the “slavery” against which Lee led his “Country” to a “holy” war was of a different group of people. Opposition to the “slavery” of white Virginians by Englishmen happened to be a more popular cause in the eighteenth century than opposition to slavery of black Africans. An ambitious young man knew which cause to choose.

Lee's choice told much about his selection of rhetorical goals. His 1759 economic and moral arguments carried to their logical conclusions indicted the institution of slavery quite as much as the slave trade. Attacking slavery was not popular among Lee's colleagues of the gentry, nor among other Virginians, and a young man interested in becoming politically powerful in Virginia did not champion unpopular causes. Nor did Lee, unless the issue involved his family. This one did not, and he never again voiced active opposition to the enslavement of blacks. No matter how sincerely he may have believed the ideas he expressed in this early speech, his ambition surpassed his idealism. Other issues were to provide the vehicle for his rise to leadership.

Lessons in Leadership: Protesting Twopenny Act Disallowances

Less than a year later, the royal government conveniently provided him an opportunity to support a popular position. The Reverend John Camm returned from England in July 1760 bearing word that Virginia's 1758 Twopenny Act had been disallowed by the Privy Council along with three other public bills and three private bills. The Governor reported the disallowances to the Assembly in his speech opening the October session.52 He also noted that he had been enjoined to adhere strictly to his instructions to refuse to sign bills altering or repealing laws previously assented to by the King unless they contained a suspending clause.

Richard Henry Lee's intimate involvement in the Burgesses' reaction demonstrated he had by now mastered the established modus operandi. On October 8 he moved that the Council be requested to join the House in addressing the King to “humbly lay before his Majesty the Reasons which induced the General Assembly to pass those Acts.”53 The House and Council concurred.54 Two manuscripts indicate Lee's rote in preparing this address: a paper he identified as “Reasons of Council against Mr. Camm's appeal” and Lee's draft of an address to the King.55 His draft explained and defended the 1758 law. It included no discussion of the other disallowed laws, and seemed based on the “Reasons of Council.” Both differed substantially from the address finally sent to England which included discussion of all four laws disallowed.56

These three papers and the legislative record support the conclusion that Lee played a major role in the committee's work preparing the address to the King, but the others modified and expanded his ideas. Lee probably conferred with the Council representatives to determine what they believed should be included in the address, then prepared a draft for the committee. Committee deliberations changed the address considerably before it was presented and accepted verbatim by the Assembly on the 20th.57

When the committee finished its work, Thomas Nelson reported to the Council that he had left the prepared address with the Burgesses. Lee reported to the House who immediately approved the “Address and Representation.” The Burgesses directed Lee to carry it to the Council for approval, which it also received immediately.58 The address was then transmitted by the Committee of Correspondence to Virginia's agent in England for proper presentation.

Lee's committee work demonstrated he had learned to use the approved procedures for attempting to influence the royal government. Comparison of his draft and the completed address illustrate how well he had assimilated acceptable patterns of speaking to the royal government. He employed the traditional expressions of humility and loyalty to Britain as well as the fundamental premises on which acts of the Virginia leadership were traditionally based. He relied, however, on older members for the basic outline of argument and for details of legislative background. The aim of the address as Lee drafted it was to convince the home government that the act of 1758 had not been an attempt to infringe “the established Rules of Government” or to violate “your Majestys Royal Prerogative.” The whole was explanatory in tone, with the only strong language being reserved for those “self interested and designing Men” who had “so strangely misrepresented” the Assembly's actions. The English officials who disallowed the acts seem to be held blameless. Twice Lee wrote that members of the Assembly knew they only needed to set forth clearly the real reasons for the laws and “the Conduct of the Legislature will be approved of.” He primarily wanted to refute the charges against the Virginians' motivations. Basically his argument was simple: since the law was needed by the people and justified by precedent, the Assembly action did not violate the King's prerogative.

Seeking primarily to justify the 1758 law, Lee began by stating its background. He cited the law requiring “Salaries of the Clergy and Fees of the Several Officers within the Government” to be paid in tobacco annually; noted the sheriffs' powers to hold and sell men's “Slaves Goods and Chattles” if the required amount of tobacco were not paid; described the severe drought when “many Thousands of The People did not make a single Pound of Tobacco”; and pointed out that the Assembly had been petitioned by “The People, being under these alarming Circumstances” for “Alleviation of their Distresses.” Virginia's “great Distance” from England and the need for quick action to solve the “sudden Calamity” made necessary the action of the Assembly, he explained. The act had been founded “upon the Principles of Humanity,” setting the “Price of Tobacco” high enough to be “fully adequate to service of any public Creditor.” Therefore, those “self interested and designing Men” who claimed that the Assembly attempted to “assume to ourselves Powers” belonging to the Crown had simply misrepresented the facts. Quite the contrary, Lee wrote, “we will never be guilty .  . of endeavouring, by any Act of ours, to lessen the Influence and Prerogatives of the Crown.” The final argument relied on precedent.59 From “the first settlement of the Colony” the Assembly had repealed, altered, or amended laws as needed as long as those laws had not received the King's “Approbation.” Limiting these powers “must necessarily involve the Colony in the most insuperable [Difficulties].”

In its conclusion the address illustrated the dichotomy in the loyalties of Virginia legislators, yet these men, Lee among them, only dimly perceived their divided affections. Humbly, they beseeched the King to leave the Governor free to approve urgent short term acts amending or repealing laws not yet assented to by the King if those acts only related to “the people of this colony, wherein your Royal Prerogative or the Trade of Great Britain shall not be affected.” The royal government perceived what the Virginians did not. Problems would inevitably arise in defining the cases meeting those conditions, since on the two sides of the ocean definitions would differ regularly. The British insisted on the suspending clause to preserve the power of defining. The Virginians naturally resisted the suspending clause. It inhibited their local legislative authority. Protest as they would that they did not desire to lessen the royal prerogative, their convoluted phrases could not disguise this fundamental rhetorical theme: Virginians should be able to legislate with virtual autonomy in matters they defined as local. The theme was not new in 1760; Richard Henry Lee had totally absorbed it; and it was to endure, both for him and the other Virginia leaders, as the foundational premise of their political thinking.

The Assembly did not achieve its goal of securing modification in royal instructions regarding the suspending clause. Duly transmitted to the Lords of the Committee of the Council for Plantation Affairs, the address there was filed “Received March 14, 1761/Read April 1st.” Its official rejection was followed by Privy Council recommendation against charges in the instruction.60 Still, the Virginians did not totally concede the argument over the suspending clause, though thereafter they used it more often. They continued to omit it occasionally from the required laws. The Governor also continued to interpret his instructions less than strictly. He probably believed the Assembly so determined on its position that he would benefit neither the central government nor the colony unless he traveled a middle road.61 The controversy regarding the Twopenny Act continued until it became inextricably involved with the taxation conflicts of 1764–1766.

This portion of the conflict, however, illustrates Lee's continuing growth toward leadership. He consulted legislative leaders, prepared a committee draft, relied on his colleagues for legislative background with which he was unfamiliar and conducted the address through the Virginia legislative process. Entrusted with considerable responsibility in the Assembly, he performed his duties faithfully but as yet did not take his leadership activities outside the House.62 His ideas in this controversy reflected those of the colony leaders, who clearly reflected the wishes of their constituents. Ineffectiveness in these persuasive efforts deeply affected Lee. To be humble did not come easily for him, and when he learned humility did not achieve his goals, he rarely employed it again.

Leadership Exercised: Preserving Colonial Legislative Prerogatives

The problems of paper money provided the prime opportunity for Lee to exercise leadership among the Burgesses prior to 1764. The conflicts surrounding the use of paper money antedate Lee's appearance in the House and extend beyond the year 1775. The issues involved came to his attention immediately upon his becoming a Burgess. Appointed five days after entering the House to a committee of thirteen to examine the treasurer's accounts, Lee remained on this committee for eight years.63 Virginia had resisted the temptation of paper money even to finance war expenditures longer than other colonies. Her legislators had first resorted to borrowing and had even tried a lottery.64 But as the French and Indian War persisted, requiring more and more funds and with no money available in the colony, the Assembly finally turned to paper. It issued the first in July 1755 and in less than seven years had clone so twelve times more, bringing the total by March 1762 to approximately 440,000 pounds.65

Special objections to the Virginians' use of paper money arose because they insisted on its being legal tender for payment of sterling debts. Protests by English merchants to the Privy Council resulted in an instruction to Virginia's governor to secure amendment of the bills making sterling debts payable in paper money only if the creditor wanted to accept it.66 Governor Fauquier transmitted the instruction to the Assembly as he opened the November session in 1759.67 The legislators refused to comply.68 Instead, they authorized four more issues of paper on the same basic. Demand for money to conduct the war forced Fauquier to accept these issues even without removing the offending legal tender provision.69

The paper money issues disturbed some Virginians, as well as English merchants. In November 1759, Philip Ludwell and Philip Lee opposed the issue of an additional 10,000 pounds paper notes because it did not comply with the King's instruction and because safeguards for retiring the “imaginary Money” from circulation were insufficient.70 The Burgesses' summary rejection of a Council bill to “more effectually secure the credit of the paper money” partially contributed to their ire.71 Though this bill had probably not been rejected on its merits but on the grounds that all money bills should originate in the House, the Burgesses did not revive the bill until two years later. Then it was another Lee, Richard Henry, who moved in November 1761, for leave to “bring in a Bill To enhance and more effectually to secure the credit of the paper Currency.”72 The House originated bill moved quickly through the Assembly, securing the Governor's assent only three days following Lee's request to present it.73

Apprehensions regarding the paper persisted, however. In April 1762, four Councillors entered a protest against passage of a money bill. They too argued against the issue of more paper money on a legal tender basis.74 Opening the November session that year Fauquier requested the Burgesses to provide for continuing the regiment in service. Since the soldiers were currently well clothed by the Crown and would be supplied by British funds, he said, Virginia's only cost would be the pay. After considering the speech, the House on November 26 approved a resolution, which Richard Henry Lee and a distinguished committee of Peyton Randolph, Richard Bland, Edmund Pendleton, and George Wythe were to cast into an address. The House instructed the committee to tell the Governor the requested pay could not be provided because to do so would require issuing more of the paper money that had already occasioned “several Complaints.”75

By spring 1763 Virginians received the full repercussions from their past intransigence regarding the paper. Opening the Assembly May 19, Governor Fauquier spoke at length asking attention to a petition of British merchants.76 The merchants objected to the legal tender provision and wanted the paper made unacceptable as payment for British debts. The Burgesses replied quickly and briefly in a short address largely composed in committee of the whole. They stated that they had given no cause for complaint by the merchants, but assured the Governor they would give the whole matter their mature consideration. The next day they asked Fauquier to lay before them the petition, the resolutions of the Lords of Trade and the letters of the committee of correspondence relating to the whole affair. All these papers were referred to committee of the whole where the problems noted by the Governor were debated the rest of Friday 20th and the following Monday.

Lee indicated his continuing interest in the problems of colonial finance by carefully preparing a speech for this debate.77 His argument was simple, though his style was not. He developed two major lines of reasoning, both of which he stated clearly at the outset. Indicating he intended to deal with the merchants' complaints, he suggested two inquiries: “whether they [the merchants] have been injured [and] whether the means they propose are adequate” to remedy the injury. Examining the first, he began by defining justice as “giving every Man what is [tru]ly due him.” He admitted some merchants had suffered by having to accept Virginia's paper money instead of sterling, but believed the injustice would only be compounded if now the legal tender provision were removed. By now, many people, not just the merchants, had been compelled to accept the paper as legal tender. Therefore, “however improper it might have originally have been to make our T. notes such a Tender,” Lee contended, “it would be an act of the highest injustice” to prevent those who have it “from passing this money away in the manner we have already” compelled them to receive it. Thus, he answered his own questions: yes, the merchants had been injured; but no, their means of remedy are not adequate.

Proceeding to the merchants' second complaint, that insufficient funds existed to redeem the paper, Lee inquired whether “funds” referred to taxes levied or returns to the Treasury. If the former, he asserted simply, “they are mistaken.” If the latter, however, he believed the complaint well-founded. He pointed out the sum of notes burned at the rising of the last Assembly was sixty-five thousand less than it should have been with thirty thousand still lying in the Treasury. He continued with a portentous implication, “If this 30M pounds, only reported to be in the Treasury, should really not be there—Then Sir, there will remain in circulation 65M pounds more than ought to be.”77 Lee pointed to the growing problem since the excess circulation had occurred in five years only. He spoke primarily for the purpose of suggesting a means to remedy this second complaint. He urged the Burgesses to appoint a committee to examine the returns to the Treasury and if a deficiency existed, to report the cause. Then the House should prepare an address making its position clear. Lee clearly already knew what he believed the problem was; it was “bad execution of the Laws.” Once the committee provided a remedy to that, then the Assembly could make “a plain representation of the case . . . in order to convince all that are concerned that we propose to do strict Justice.”

Lee achieved the limited aim of his speech. Though on Monday the 23rd the chairman Charles Carter reported to the assembly that committee of the whole had not finished deliberating and requested leave to sit again, members chose to follow Lee's suggestion in the interim. Immediately, “on a Motion made,” a committee was ordered to inquire into the funds for the redemption of the paper currency.79 Bland, Lee and Benjamin Harrison were appointed. Later, when the committee reported that the taxes would adequately secure the paper, if properly collected, the chair appointed Lee to the committee to draw an address stating the Burgesses' position.80 Thus he obtained the “plain representation” he sought and was one of the group who prepared it.

In the larger aim implied in his speech, however, Lee may not have followed through. His implication regarding the money “only reported to be in the Treasury,” seemed to indicate that he suspected irregularities in the Treasurer's accounts.81 If deficiencies did exist in 1763, however, Lee did little to improve the previously perfunctory nature of the committees' examination of the Treasury. Bland reported for the new committee only one day after its appointment. The report filled two Journal pages and seemed to account for the funds due, but the committee could have clone little beyond accepting the Treasurer's own accounting if able to report so quickly.82 That Bland, Lee and Harrison personally examined the Treasurer's accounts is unlikely. John Robinson probably persuaded Bland and Lee through the force of his charm and prestige that the accounts he showed them were correct.83 The figures indeed supported the conclusion that if the taxes were properly collected, funds more than sufficient to redeem the paper money would be available. Moreover, Lee's suspicions may have been ill-founded. The conclusion that in 1763 no irregularities on which to follow through existed is entirely plausible. Mays suggests that sufficient time existed after the period covered by the Treasury examination report in May 1765, for the arrears to have occurred before their discovery in 1766.84 Lending more than 100,000 pounds in less than two years seems less than credible; but for Robinson to have loaned and/or failed to collect in taxes that sum in three years does not seem impossible, since annual taxes for retiring the paper amounted to approximately 40,000 pounds.85

Though demonstrable conclusions regarding Robinson and the Treasury in 1763 cannot be reached, the situation demonstrates Lee's acquisition of a leadership role within the House. He responded quickly, opportunistically, to an unexpected chance to defend the leadership in the House of Burgesses. Though not willing to argue that the original legal tender provision had been just, Lee did defend the Virginians' action. Thus he carefully allied himself with the established House leadership and at the same time took a stand certain to be popular. As with the Twopenny acts, the interests of the people and their gentry representatives coalesced. The Burgesses' opponents this time were British merchants who were championed by the royal government.

Once the Burgesses had agreed among themselves, they needed to influence the royal government. Following the usual procedure, therefore, the House appointed a committee to draw an address reporting its side of the story. The committee, appointed the 24th of May, consisted essentially of the men who drew the first brief answer to the Governor and those who made the Treasury examination.86 A complete rough draft and part of a good copy of the resulting address to the Governor remain among Richard Henry Lee's papers.87 These papers are useful here for more than one reason. Their appearance, combined with the legislative record and known House procedures, contributes to an understanding of the way this particular Burgess committee prepared an important address. Methods of preparation of others of the addresses to the royal government can be generalized from this instance.88 Most importantly, this one example shows how Richard Henry Lee, still a young and relatively inexperienced Burgess, worked with the established House leadership to prepare a rhetorical document intended to justify actions taken by that leadership group.

The manuscript of the rough draft is most revealing. Richard Henry Lee wrote the first three and one-half pages with the half page ending abruptly in the middle of a sentence in the middle of the page. This broken sentence is followed by a dash, and what appear to be initials. At the top of a new page, the broken sentence was finished by another hand. The draft in this new handwriting consists of three and one-half more manuscript pages. This second portion also ends in the middle of a sentence in the middle of a page. Again the unfinished sentence is completed on a new page written by still a third hand. Finally, at the top of a final page, a draft of a resolution in the handwriting of Richard Henry Lee ends the address. These papers seem to have been prepared in at least three meetings, which is noteworthy since three days elapsed between appointment of the committee and its presentation of the address. The three meetings required for preparation of this address can be related to House procedures. The Burgesses were called for prayers at 10:00 a.m. every morning with earlier hours set aside for committee work, making the following deductions regarding preparation of the address reasonable.89

The committee gathered in the conference room of the capitol early May 25. The room, large enough to seat them comfortably around a large table, was conveniently furnished with paper, quill and ink. No doubt, Carter brought the House resolutions indicating the substance to be included in the address. As committee members agreed upon the phrases of the address, Lee acted as their scribe the first day, probably because he was the junior Burgess among them. The committee apparently completed three and one-half pages the first day before the bell summoned them to prayers, stopping them in mid-sentence. Probably the group did not gather again until the next morning when, as the draft manuscript demonstrates, another member took the pen. Another three and one-half pages were finished before Tuesday prayers were called, again halting the writing in the midst of a thought. Friday's work was not so lengthy, but still the committee required another member to take up the pen. Finally, Lee offered the resolution that ended the address. Sometime between the completion of this draft and Saturday when Charles Carter stood in his place and read the answer to the Governor for the Burgesses' approval, the address was recopied and a major change made.90 No evidence explains exactly when and why this and other, minor, changes were made.

The evidence does clearly demonstrate, however, that this paper money address was jointly produced. For preparing their attempt to convince the royal government that Virginia's use of paper money had not mistreated the British merchants, the Burgesses relied on a functioning committee. Five men, working from basic arguments expressed in resolutions approved by the whole house, decided together upon these very important words and phrases. Therefore, unless clearly contrary evidence is available, addresses sent by the Burgesses to the Governor and King during the 1750s and ?60s should be regarded as products of committee work. Moreover, this evidence showing how the committee prepared the 1763 paper money address is especially helpful in illuminating Richard Henry Lee's position at the time. As a very new Burgess he had learned that committees were important in the House of Burgesses and he worked effectively within that system. He actively participated in this committee's deliberations, as doubtless had Bland, Carter, Pendleton and Wythe. The young Lee had willingly employed the established tactics, techniques and even the ideas of the older men with whom he worked. Conversely, these important leaders now accepted Lee as one of the relatively small group who comprised the House power elite.

After hearing the address read, the House approved it without debate and directed the men who did the writing to present it to the Governor. In that Lee supported the conclusions of this committee, the address can be supposed to reflect his thinking. Similarly, it reflected the feelings of both the leadership and the members of the Burgesses, having passed without debate or recorded dissent.91

The aim of the address was simple, to answer the charges against the House regarding their use of paper money. The task, however, was not simple. The lengthy address contained several not very clearly developed arguments. The Governor was ostensib1y the object of the persuasion, but in reality the Burgesses did not intend the arguments for him alone. They were not even primarily addressed to him. The Burgesses expected Fauquier to send the address to England where they hoped it would convince both the complaining merchants and the Board of Trade of “the Integrity and Uprightness” of their proceedings.

The address began with the customary sentiments of allegiance and devotion to Britain, but in a tone much less humble than the 1760 address to the King. Now the Burgesses expressed considerable self-satisfaction. They declared themselves devoted subjects, but noted that their dependence on Great Britain was not that “of a People subjugated.” It was that of “Sons set out to explore and settle a new World for the mutual Benefit of themselves and their common Parent.” Nor did they forbear to point out that the paper money problem originated from Virginia's participation in the late “Success of the British Arms” which had won for them “royal Approbation.” The King's approval, they said, would have been sufficient reward in spite of the very great debt which the war left, had it not been for the “most unreasonable Clamour” raised against their “Paper Bills of Credit.”

Following this introduction, the address consisted wholly of answers to charges. First, the Burgesses responded to the attack on their motives, the charge that issuing paper had been to “answer private Purposes.” Not so, the addressors replied. Virginians had tried other means to finance the war. First they borrowed. Ten thousand pounds at the “high Interest” of six percent they owed before resorting to paper money. And they had used the paper, except for “one Instance of trifling Consequence,” only for the amounts granted to support the troops. Not so confident was their response to the charge of insufficient taxation to retire the paper on schedule. They noted the action to prosecute sheriffs whose collections or remittances to the Treasurer remained in arrears. The address pointed out, as had Lee in his speech, “Neglect in the Officers is very distinguishable from an Insufficiency in the Taxes.” For emphasis, the special Treasurer's report was annexed. Following these assurances, however, the Burgesses seemed to lose confidence and inserted a resolution. If at any time, they resolved, due to any accidental failure, those taxes were insufficient to retire the paper, any deficiency ought to be supplied by a new and adequate tax.

Not so easily dismissed were the remaining charges, and in the effort to answer them, the address grew more tortured and less clear. The merchants had charged that Virginia had failed to show proper respect to the Crown, because continuing to issue the notes as legal tender had disregarded the royal instruction of January 1759. In answer, the Burgesses were not yet willing to assert boldly that the instructions did not bind them. Just such a claim had been excised from the committee draft sometime prior to printing the approved copy.92 The accepted address implied the same idea, but less directly. It declared that when the Assembly had received word of the instruction in November 1759, it was considered “with the Attention and Regard due to whatever comes from the Throne.” After the consideration, however, the Burgesses concluded that “we must be allowed to judge for ourselves, so far as our Sanction is necessary to any Law, and [as we] could not be convinced that the Measure proposed was proper, we did indeed decline to pass such a Law.” Having declined, the Burgesses had sent an “humble Address and Representation” to the King “modestly” setting forth the reasons for their conduct. Hearing “no further Complaints” until now, the Burgesses had concluded the merchants were satisfied of “our Intentions to do them Justice.” Had some complaints been heard so the Burgesses could have known their actions were unsatisfactory, “we can venture to say . . . it would have prevented several subsequent Emissions.”

The merchants' temporary silence had not been because the Virginians defended their practices well, but it is not hard to believe that the Assembly would have refused to issue more paper. Governor Dinwiddie had been convinced as early as 1757 that the Burgesses were determined to “vote no supplies” nor provide for raising troops unless he acted to comply with their desires.93 The House probably would have been even more likely to refuse requested troops after the fortunes of war had improved.

The final charge to be rebutted was that of injustice to the merchants. Necessity, the Burgesses said, explained why Virginia notes had to be legal tender when exchequer bills and notes of the Bank of England were not. No doubt, “that kind of Paper” was preferable to their own, but the sounder base of English notes partly explained the need for legally backing Virginia's. Moreover, Virginia only issued paper money because of “the Want of Specie, which had been drawn away by the Armies to the Northward,” and the soldiers had been forced to take the paper as pay. Thus it seemed “very unjust to have left their Creditors at Liberty” to decide whether or not to accept it. Nor, the Virginia lawmakers believed, had the interests of the British merchants been neglected. The Virginians first legislated a rate of exchange for the money, but realizing that natural fluctuation made a set rate inequitable, a new law “empowered the Courts . . . to settle at what Rate of Exchange” debts should be paid.

To the merchants' protest that even this law gave insufficient security for their debts because of the inflating paper money, the address gave three replies. First, in a convoluted sentence of more than 150 words, the Burgesses irrelevantly argued that a new law was in effect until the King disallowed it. Next, they replied that for judges to settle the exchange rate was more just than any other alternative. Certainly, a judge would be more competent than juries and more fair than the creditor if he were free to decide what rate of exchange to accept. The Burgesses admitted that delays necessitated by the court process could cause creditor losses from a rising exchange rate, but they claimed such losses would be offset by the times when the rate declined. The third response was the one Lee believed conclusive. To take away the legal tender provision now, after the notes had been “allowed to circulate several Years . . . would be an Act of Injustice” bearing “no Proportion to any possible injury the Sterling Creditors sustained, or can receive, from continuing the Notes on their present Footing.” As did Lee, the Burgesses saw no reason to correct a possible injustice to British merchants by an action they believed would result in certain injustices to Virginians. The Burgesses concluded that they could not alter their “former Opinion.” They felt they had legislated in the best interests of their colony and refused to change their stand because it displeased a few British merchants and officials. The House backed the strong words with action and refused to change the legal tender provision.

In the entire address, one argument seemed least clear and least relevant. It dealt, however, with perhaps the most fundamental issue, local legislative autonomy. In response to the merchants' protest of insufficient security for their debts, the Burgesses restated the Virginia position in the continuing controversy regarding the suspending clause. If a law amended an earlier act and was “not suspended for his Majesty's Approbation . . . [it] was in Force from the Time of its passing here until his Majesty shall declare his Dissent and Repeal thereof.” The Virginians consistently argued the impracticability of waiting for royal approval before legislated acts had force. The King was too far away and spoke through too many intermediaries. Furthermore, Virginians consistently acted in accordance with their argument. Even after the specific instructions to Virginia Governors accompanying disallowance of the Twopenny Acts, the Virginia Assembly continued to pals bills without the suspending clause.

Had the British accepted the Virginians' philosophy, the colonial assemblies would have been free to do as did the Virginia Assembly with the 1758 Twopenny Act and throughout the war with its paper money. They could have legislated much as they pleased with short-term laws regarding issues they viewed as “local.” Few Virginians realized or admitted it, but this philosophy supported de facto legislative independence for colonial legislatures. This issue, implied when the Assembly pointed out it felt free to disregard royal instructions, and inherent in the position regarding the suspending clause, was indeed the fundamental issue. It had been since 1752. In a few months Richard Bland would state it quite clearly, asserting that the local legislature had the constitutional right to enact all laws necessary for internal government.94 In not many more months the Assembly itself would state the position equally clearly.95 Richard Henry Lee accepted this philosophy implicitly. His conduct suggests he did not totally approve of the large issues of paper money, but he fully supported the Virginia Assembly's right to issue that money if the members agreed upon it.

The Governor's response to the address two days later was guarded.96 Fauquier agreed to transmit the address and resolutions to the Board of Trade, but he was not completely convinced by the arguments. He observed that the Burgesses might have done more to secure the credit of the Treasury Notes and thus have safely removed the basis for the merchants' objections. He believed the English reaction would not be favorable and he predicted accurately. The Burgesses' obstinance was not lightly taken in England. Virginia, of course, had not been acting in isolation. Other colonies had also employed paper money, most of them sooner, but few to a greater degree than Virginia. The Board of Trade, especially displeased by Virginia's insistence on the legal tender provision, declared in December 1763 that “any further neglect of the legislature of Virginia to give redress to the complaints of the merchants would be neither just nor equitable.” The Board, indeed, threatened to take the matter to Parliament, “if they any longer refused doing justice to British merchants.”97

The Governor communicated no such threat to the Burgesses when he convened the January 1764 session on the 12th.98 Perhaps he had not received the letter from the Board by the time he adjourned this brief session on Jan. 21. An event occurred during this meeting, however, showing that Lee and the Burgesses had not softened their stand. Fauquier communicated to the Assembly the request of General Amherst, repeated by his replacement General Gage, for “500 Men from this Colony to act offensively against the Indians, in Conjunction with a Body of Regulars.”99 The Burgesses wasted no time with the reply, resolved in committee of the whole the next day. They directed Lee to prepare an address to the Governor indicating that, though they considered themselves “under the highest Obligations to defend our Frontiers,” they found their “Inability to advance ready Money” for those troops prevented compliance with the Generals' requests. They resolved rather “to choose that Method of Defence which is to be obtained from a brave and well appointed Militia.”100 Lee, very pleased with this action by the House, described it as a “glorious resolution.”101 When he cast it into the form adopted without debate by the House, he extended the explanation: “as we cannot pursue the former Method of providing for them [troops] without raising the Clamours of the British Merchants . . . and thereby incurring ministerial Censure,” the Burgesses were obliged to “decline a Measure that would otherwise have met with our Approbation and Assistance.”102 With Lee's strong indictment of those who would limit the Virginia Assembly's freedom of action the Burgesses were happy to concur.

The legislators knew the representation had failed by the time they reconvened in October. The Governor transmitted to them the letter from the Board of Trade, and apprised them of the passage in April of an act forbidding future issuance of legal tender paper money.103 Another stern instruction regarding the legal tender provision of the past paper accompanied the news. The Governor's speech was revealing. Fauquier, who knew the Virginians well, had not bothered to call the Burgesses to Williamsburg sooner, even though he had “long since received” the Board's letter. No doubt, he knew they would have responded whenever they were called just as they did now.

Replying to the Governor, with whom they had no quarrel, the Burgesses were quite candid. Convinced they were “governed by Motives truly upright,” they felt justified to “decline any Measure (however proposed)” that they did not think productive of impartial and judicious legislation.104 After considering the matters laid before them at length in committee of the whole, the Burgesses rose resolved to prepare another address for the Governor. The resolutions to be cast into genteel language by a committee were straightforward.105 Having reviewed all their former laws and acts, the Burgesses remained convinced of the “Justice of those Laws,” and would recommend no alteration. This time they suggested emphatically present methods of debt payment were superior to use of specie because “we have not such Specie, which the Merchants themselves well know.”

The address, when reported, differed somewhat from the resolutions, primarily by clarifying additions.106 Since “the present Proposition” was merely the question of how to secure the payment of “Sterling Debts,” the addressors did not enter the whole issue of how wisely the paper may have been issued or handled. Using a fine directly reminiscent of Richard Henry Lee's speech of more than a year ago, the address stated bluntly that the paper could not now be made legal tender for all payments “without violating the Principles of natural Equity in regard to the present Possessors.” The House directed the members “who drew” the address to present it to the Governor. Though not pleased with the Burgesses' refusal to carry out the wishes of the Board of Trade, Fauquier was powerless to force compliance. He suggested the lack of cooperativeness might bring reprisals, but beyond that he could do little.

Analysis of Lee's rhetorical efforts regarding Virginia's paper money shows his ideas attuned with the majority in Virginia. Leaders and followers alike believed the legal tender provision a necessary protection if paper were circulated as money. The colony divided over the problems of financing the war, but the evidence clearly demonstrates they united in defending their right to solve these problems themselves. Lee heartily supported the majority position.

The tale of Richard Henry Lee and Virginia's paper money does not end with this committee's visit to the Governor in November 1764. It was, however, interrupted at this point in time, as were virtually all aspects of public life in America. Less than one week after this stubborn refusal to bow to the Board of Trade and the British merchants, the Virginia Assembly approved resolutions calling for addresses to England regarding the proposed stamp act. Opposing the threats he perceived in these taxes consumed Lee's public time for the next two years.

The years between 1758 and 1765 had been active ones for Richard Henry Lee. He had made long strides toward acquiring the success he desired by working within the structure of the existing leadership. In this house, so accurately described as a group of “Expedient-Mongers” who had great “jealousy of the liberty of the subject,” Richard Henry Lee fit perfectly.107 Jack P. Greene identified leaders in the lower houses of southern legislatures by using a system of qualitative and quantitative assessment of their committee activities. The resulting description of first and second rank leaders showed Lee elevated into the second rank his second session as a Burgess. During 1762 his committee work was sufficient to place him within the first rank.108

Lee's activities during these years of developing leadership are even more striking from another point of view. He was intimately involved in preparing every rhetorical paper of the House in all the major controversies, which occurred during these years. He was a member of every committee appointed to draw non-ceremonial addresses to governor or King. Skillful persuasion had called him to the attention of established leaders and made him useful to them.

Lee's rise to leadership fits the pathway to the role described in the second chapter of this paper. He came from a wealthy and influential family. Quite ambitious, he willingly devoted much time and money to public service from his beginning as a justice of the peace in Westmoreland County. His rhetorical skills elevated him quickly to important committee assignments. His willingness to perform routine legislative assignments indicated the kind of devotion to duty that was rewarded by advancement in Virginia. His attachment to the ideals held by other leaders guaranteed his continuance in their esteem. The next chapter will demonstrate how he solidified his position in the leadership role in Virginia.


1. Cazenove Lee, Jr., Lee Chronicle, ed. Dorothy M. Parker (New York: New York University Press, 1957), pp. 5, 55–66; Louis B. Wright, The First Gentlemen of Virginia: Intellectual Qualities of the Early Colonial Ruling Class (San Marino, California: The Huntington Library, 1940), pp. 214–16.

2. Thomas Lee (1690–1750) first ran for Burgess and was certified elected in 1720. The defeated candidate, former House Speaker Daniel McCarty, contested the election and unseated Lee. McCarty then died before the second session of the next Assembly and Thomas Lee replaced him. Lee's first recorded attendance in the House was May 28, 1726, just sixteen days after the House requested the Governor to issue an election writ to replace the deceased McCarty, J. P. Kennedy and H. R. Mcllwaine (eds.), Journals of the House of Burgesses (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1912, V, x–xi, 254, 260, 280, 286, 291, 294–95, 401, 415. House Journals are hereafter cited as JHB. The date of Thomas Lee's Council appointment has been variously reported, but his first recorded attendance at a Council meeting is September 7, 1734, a little over two weeks after the August opening of Assembly, H. R. Mcllwaine (ed.), Legislative Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1913), III, 820. Council Journals are hereafter cited as LJC.

3. Lee Chronicle, p. 72; JHB, VIII, x, xxv, 416. Philip also found his first election to the House contested by the defeated candidate, but the case was never decided since Philip was elevated to the Council before any hearings were held, JHB, VIII, 390, 392, 422, 441.

4. Lee Chronicle, pp. 254–56.

5. lbid., pp. 256–57.

6. Ibid., p. 258. Ludwell's last recorded attendance at a Council session was March 11, 1760, LJC, III, 1235.

7. Richard Henry Lee II, Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee and His Correspondence (2 vols.; Philadelphia: H. C. Carey & I. Lea, 1825), hereafter cited as Lee Memoir. Materials for the study of Lee's life before 1765 are meager. Oliver P. Chitwood, Richard Henry Lee: Statesman of the Revolution (Morgantown: West Virginia University Library, 1967), adds little to Lee Memoir, and few of Lee's early letters are extant. Richard Henry Lee, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, ed. James C. Ballagh (2 vols.; New York: The Macmillan Company, 1912), hereafter cited as RHL, Letters, contains only five letters dated prior to 1765 with the earliest of these dates 1762. Three of these five are letters Lee wrote when seeking appointment to the Council. Of the other two, which are dated in 1764, one is discussing a Commons' resolution to tax America and thus properly belongs to the next chapter of this study. During this period, however, Lee had been an active letter writer. Twelve letters to him which are preserved in Paul P. Hoffman (ed.), The Lee Family Papers 1742–1795 (Microfilm Publications, 8 vols.; Charlottesville: University of Virginia Library, 1966), hereafter cited as Lee Papers, indicate their author had recently received correspondence from Lee. Only allusions in these letters indicate what references Lee may have made to the political issues in which he was involved at the time.

8. RHL, Letters, I, 33, 81; Jack P. Greene (ed.), The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter of Sabine Hall 1752–1778 (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1965), I, 346, 372, 612; II, 795, 826, 1113; Hunter D. Farish (ed.), Journal and Letters of Fithian Vickers Fithian 1773–1774 (Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg, Inc., 1943), pp. 38, 75–76, 79, 94–98, 151.

9. Edmund S. Morgan, “The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, third series, XXIV (January,1967), 27–28.

10. RHL, Letters, I, 15, 32–33, 55, 77, 80–81, are only a few of many possible examples.

11. L. H. Butterfield (ed.), The Adams Papers: Diary and Autobiography of John Adams (New York: Atheneum, 1964), II, 119–21, 132, 136, 149; Thomas Lee Shippen to William Shippen, 25 March 1785, Autograph Letter, Library of Congress, Papers of the Shippen Family, Letters of Thomas Shippen, Box 2.

12. Lee Papers, I.

13. RHL, Letters, I, 7–9, 41–45, 136, are examples.

14. Wright, First Gentlemen of Virginia, pp. 217–32.

15. William M. E. Rachal, “President Thomas Lee of Virginia,” Virginia Cavalcade, III (Summer, 1953), 14–15.

16. Westmoreland County Order Book, Inventories No. 4, 1756–1767. Virginia State Library.

17. The book titles were listed by the author in 1967 from citations in library correspondence files in the Stratford Hall archives. The books were not available for inspection and were not catalogued, no suitable place for their being displayed safely being available. The following titles, cited as they appeared in the files, could have been at Stratford Hall in 1750:

“Poisons, ” by Richard Meade, M.D., London, 1747;
“Algebra, ” by Thomas Simpson, London, 1745;
“The British Merchant, ” 3rd ed., Vol. III, London, 1748;
“Method & Rule of Proceeding upon all Elections, ” 1743, 8 vols.;
“Divine Legation of Moses Demonstrated, ” 1741;
“Caesaris, Quae extant cum indice locupletissimo, ” #2125, Mathews, 1729;
Bacon, Works, 4 vols.;
D'Anvers, Abridgement of the Common Law, Vol. I, 1725; Lawbook[s] from Philip Ludwell Lee's Library, [names or number of volumes not specified];
Richard Smallbroke, A Vindication of the Miracles of our Blessed Saviour in which Th. Woolston's Discourses are particularly examined. . . ., 2nd ed., London, 1729, Vol. I;
Samuel Newman, The Cambridge Concordance to the Holy Scriptures Together with the Books of the Apocrypha, 5th ed., London, 1720;
Thomas Bennet, Answer to the Dissenters Pleas for Separation, London, 1711;
Humphrey Prideaux, The True Nature of Imposture Fully Displayed in the Life of Mahomet, 8th ed., London, 1723;
Henry Hammond, A Paraphrase and Annotations upon all the Books of the New Testament, 2nd ed., London, 1659;
Simon Patrick, The Books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon Paraphrased, London, 1743;
William Lowth, A Commentary on the Larger and Lesser Prophets: Being a Continuation of Bishop Patrick, 4th ed., London, 1739;
Simon Patrick, A Commentary upon the Historical Books of the Old Testament, 2 vols., 5th ed., London, 1738;
William Chillingworth, The Works of . .&160;., with a preface and a life of the author by Thomas Birch, 10th ed., London, 1742;
Gilbert West, Observations on the History and Evidences of the Ressuraction [sic] of Jesus Christ, 5th ed., London, 1754, 8 vols.
David Hume, Book of Essays & Treatises on Several Subjects, Vol. I Containing Essays, Moral and Political, London, 1753, apparently was added by Richard Henry Lee a few years later as it bears his autograph.

18. Richard Henry Lee to William Lee, 13 April 1772, RHL, Letters, I, 66.

19. Richard Henry Lee to William Lee, 12 July 1772, ibid., pp. 70–72.

20. Richard Henry Lee to Arthur Lee, 20 April 1777, ibid., p. 280.

21. Richard Henry Lee to his sons, 10 May 1777, ibid., pp. 287–88. He re-emphasized the idea to Arthur, 30 dune 1777, “I wish Ludwell to go deep into the study of Natural and Civil law and Eloquence,” ibid., pp. 306–7. In at least three more letters he repeated the idea, pp. 384, 408, 436.

22. Thomas and Richard Henry Lee both took the oath as Justice of the Peace June 24, 1755. Westmoreland County Order Book, Court Orders, Orders 1750–1764. Virginia State Library.

23. Chitwood, Lee, p. 14. Lee was also appointed to the vestry in his parish, though the date of his appointment is not known, William Meade, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1966), I, 152.

24. RHL, Letters, I, 1–4, includes three separate letters seeking support for the appointment.

25. JHB, IX, 5, 7, 27.

26. Butterfield, Adams Diary, III, 367–68.

27. JHB, IX, 12, 31, 44.

28. Lee's legislative record is summarized from JHB, IX, 70, 102, 122, 124, 143–44, 150, 158–59, 166, 173, 188, 192, 195–96, 216, 240, 245.

29. JHB, IX, 141, 143–44, 148-52.

30. Thad Tate, The Negro in Eighteenth Century Williamsburg (Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg, Inc., 1965), pp. 31–33.

31. James C. Ballagh, A History of Slavery in Virginia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1902), pp. 11–19.

32. William Waller Hening (ed.), The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619 (facsimile reprint; Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1969), IV, 317–22.

33. Increases were made in February 1754 as part of a bill encouraging settlers in the west; in May 1755 as part of a war appropriations bill; and in April 1757 as part of another war appropriations bill, Hening, VI, 419, 466; VII, 81.

34. Bills passed by the House in 1742 and 1749 were rejected by the Council, JHB, VI, 62, 399; LJC, II, 924, 1054. Attempts to offer duty increases were not agreed to by the House in 1744, 1748 and 1759, JHB, VII, 138, 322–23; IX, 112.

35. James Munro (ed.), Acts of the Privy Council of England: Colonial Series (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1912), V, 164–65, 287, 362–63. The disallowed bills were passed by the Virginia Assembly in 1766, 1769 and 1772.

36. Lee's grandson described this speech as Richard Henry's “first speech” in the House, Lee Memoir, I, 17. This conclusion is doubtful, considering Richard Henry Lee's active participation in legislative matters prior to this session. Probably more accurate is the conclusion that this was Lee's first pre-planned speech and therefore the first that he wrote in advance.

37. LJC, III, 1225–26.

38. Hening, VII, 338–40; JHB, IX, 150.

39. LJC, III, 1228. The Governor's assent was given the same day.

40. This speech was identified by the author on the basis of comparison to the text included in Lee Memoir, I, 17–19, and by comparing the handwriting to other papers known to have been written by Richard Henry Lee. The manuscript is in American Philosophical Society, Documents relating to the Province of Pennsylvania and to the American Revolution, 1728–1819. The words to fill blanks in the torn manuscript are supplied from Lee Memoir.

41. This note in Lee's handwriting is on the back of his manuscript.

42. The Burgesses felt strongly enough that they protested to the King following disallowance of the 1772 act increasing import duties, JHB, XII, 283–84.

43. Julian P. Boyd, et. al. (eds.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson 1760–1776 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), I, 423–28, contains Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence indicting King George for continuing the slave trade. Mason's comments in the Constitutional Convention have been widely reported. Note, for example, Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1913), p. 149; Adrienne Koch, Notes of Debates on the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1966), pp. 503–4.

44. Tate, pp. 29–31.

45. JHB, X, 146; XI, 40, 249–51, 271; XII, 177–78.

46. JHB, X, 181, 184.

47. Richard Henry Lee to Landon Carter, 15 August 1765, RHL, Letters, I, 11–12.

48. Richard Henry Lee to William Lee, May 1773, cited in Chitwood, Lee, p. 21. Lee's committee membership is noted in JHB, XII, 257.

49. JHB, XII, 275, 283; RHL, Letters, I, 63.

50. Lee not only lost his active interest in stopping slave importation; he apparently even became willing to act as a local trader for his brother William. Letters that passed between the brothers early in 1773 indicate he considered it but the arrangement was never consummated. Chitwood, Lee, p. 21n, suggests the failure was because the terms could not be satisfactorily arranged. More likely Lee's attention turned to matters other than commerce at almost precisely this time.

51. Richard Henry Lee to William Lee, May 1773, cited in Chitwood, Lee, p. 21.

52. JHB, IX, 184–85.

53. JHB, IX, 188. The conclusion that Lee made this motion is based on two facts: he was the Burgess instructed to go to the Council and request their participation; and he was the first named on the committee to draw the address. Other Burgesses appointed were Peyton Randolph, [?] Carter (whether Charles or Landon is not specified), Edmund Pendleton, Richard Bland, Benjamin Waller, Robert C. Nicholas and Archibald Cary.

54. LJC, III, 1241. Council members appointed October 10 were Thomas Nelson, Philip Grymes, Peter Randolph and Philip Lee.

55. Both these papers are in Lee's handwriting, Lee Papers, I.

56. Public Record Office, Colonial Office, Class 5, Volume 1330, pp. 51–53, is the source for all citations from the completed address and representation.

57. JHB, IX, 196.

58. LJC, III, 1244. For nome reason, this address was not printed in the journal of either house, nor is there any explanation of its absence. Interestingly, the work of the joint committee was never debated in either house. Probably the hurried acceptance grew from the representatives' planned adjournment, which took place the same day the address was presented.

59. The final page is missing from the manuscript among the Lee Papers, but since the final two paragraphs of the draft are included almost verbatim in the final address, the final two paragraphs of the approved address are judged to contain fundamentally the same ideas as were in the manuscript.

60. Thad Tate, “The Coming of the Revolution in Virginia: Britain's Challenge to Virginia's Ruling Class, 1763–1776,” William and Mary Quarterly, third series, XIX (July, 1962), 326–32, describes the disallowance as it occurred as a victory for Virginians. The clergy had sought to have the act declared void from its inception, thereby allowing them to collect additional money for the year the law was in effect.

61. Jack P. Greene, The Quest for Power: The Lower Houses of Assembly in the Southern Royal Colonies 1689–1776 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963), pp. 11–12.

62. Bland and Lee's neighbor, Landon Carter, carried the major portion of the public argument defending the Assembly actions.

63. JHB, IX, 27, 102, 240; X, 125, 305; XI, 14. The 1758 committee members were Charles Carter, Richard Bland, John Page, Dudley Digges, Benjamin Harrison, Edmund Pendleton, Archibald Cary, Zachariah Lewis, George Johnston, Thomas Lee, Richard Henry Lee, Littleton Eyre and George Mason. This committee was considerably larger than the one appointed in 1757, the growth due primarily to the appointment of new Burgesses. The last six named were new to the committee in 1758 and five of them were new to the House following the 1758 election. Only Littleton Eyre had been a Burgess previously. The committee was regularly reappointed, membership remaining quite static until the 1766 session except for the elevation of Edmund Pendleton to chairman in 1762. The committee size decreased slightly each year as some members did not return to the House.

64. Greene, Quest, p. 120; JHB, VIII, 293; IX, 189; Hening, VI, 453–61.

65. Greene, Quest, pp. 121–23.

66. Ibid.

67. JHB, IX, 134.

68. JHB, IX, 141. The Burgesses believed their laws provided sufficient protection for the merchants.

69. Hening, VII, 331–37, 347–53, 357–63, 495–502.

70. LJC, III, 1227.

71. JHB, IX, 151.

72. JHB, X, 18.

73. Ibid., p. 26.

74. LJC, III, 1281. The treasury examination did not take place this session. Nor did Richard Henry Lee attend, though his absence is not explained and no evidence connects the two facts.

75. JHB, X, 115. At about this same time, Bland, Lee and Landon Carter were ordered to bring in a bill for “the better and more regular collecting of His Majesty's quitrents and the public taxes,” Ibid., p. 114.

76. The legislative record reported in here is from JHB, X, 171–77.

77. Lee Papers, I.

78. Lee's use of M is presumably an abbreviation for thousand.

79. JHB, X, 176.

80. Ibid.

81. Joseph A. Ernst, in “The Robinson Scandal Redivivus, Money, Debts, and Politics in Revolutionary Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, LXXVII (April,1969), 146–73, suggests that Lee knew of Robinson's liberties with the Treasury in 1763 and that Lee accepted a Treasury whitewash to avoid making widely known the colony's bankruptcy. This analysis is rejected here for several reasons. First, if Lee knew then, so did Richard Bland. For Bland and Lee both to have been aware of Robinson's activities would have made pure nonsense of Bland's letter to Lee in which Bland said that he did not believe the rumors that Robinson had misused the Treasury funds, 22 May 1766, Lee Papers, I. Second, though a deficit of 100,000 pounds in 1766 pushed the colony to financial chaos, 30,000 pounds in 1763 would certainly not have been considered bankruptcy; annual taxes amounted to approximately 40,000 pounds. Finally, for Lee to have known of Robinson's misuse of colony monies and remained silent for three years is simply not in character. Lee's sense of morality would have been too much offended.

82. JHB, X, 177–78.

83. The other committee member, Benjamin Harrison, was a close friend of Robinson and probably required no persuasion.

84. David J. Mays, Edmund Pendleton 1721–1803: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), I, 177. The report covered a period ending October 10, 1764.

85. JHB, X, 177–78.

86. JHB, X, 180–81. Committee members were Charles Carter, Richard Brand, Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe and Richard Henry Lee. Only Benjamin Harrison was omitted.

87. Lee Papers, I. The printed text of the address as approved by the House is in JHB, X, 188–92.

88. No claim is made that all these addresses were prepared in the manner of this one. In some cases the work was clearly that of one man, but not always or even often, though many writers proceed as if it were. This paper money address and the manner in which it was prepared help explain preparation of many of the other addresses.

89. S. M. Pargellis, “The Procedure of the Virginia House of Burgesses,” William and Mary Quarterly, second series, VII (April, 1927), 80; JHB, X, 173.

90. This change and its implications are discussed below, pp. 122–26.

91. JHB, X, 188, 192.

92. The sentence excised read, “Sir, we shall always pay a proper deference to the opinion of the Bd of Trade, but We presume their resolutions are not obligatory upon us, since we claim to ourselves, with other British Subjects, the right of being govern'd by Laws made with our own consent.”

93. Joseph A. Ernst, “Genesis of the Currency Act of 1764: Virginia Paper Money and the Protection of British Investments,” William and Mary Quarterly, third series, XXII (January,1965), 38–53; Louis K. Koontz, Robert Dinwiddie: His Career in American Colonial Government and Westward Expansion (Glendale, California: The Arthur N. Clark Company, 1941), pp. 382–83.

94. Richard Bland, “The Colonel Dismounted,” Pamphlets of the American Revolution 1750–1776, Bernard Bailyn, editor (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press, 1965), I, 320–21.

95. See below, pp. 139–44.

96. JHB, X, 197.

97. Cited in Greene, Quest, p. 125.

98. JHB, X, 203–4.

99. Ibid.

100. JHB, X, 206.

101. RHL, Letters, I, 4.

102. JHB, X, 212.

103. Ibid., pp. 227–28.

104. Ibid., p. 229.

105. Ibid., p. 241. The committee to prepare the address consisted of Edmund Pendleton, James Mercer, George Wythe and Richard Henry Lee.

106. JHB, X, 249–50, contains the text of the address.

107. JHB, IX, 282, 284–85.

108. Greene, Quest, pp. 464–75.

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