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· bed of death; so strong were the feelings of men during the revolu.
tion. His dying message to them showed that his conscience ap. proved the work his hand had done. “Tell them that they will live to see the hours when they shall acknowledge it to have been the most glorious service that I have ever rendered to my country.” The truth of his prophecy has been most happily verified.
When the articles of confederation were under discussion by Congress, judge Morton was frequently chairman of the committee of the whole, and performed the duty with great dignity and ability.
In April, 1777, he was attacked with a violent fever, highly inflam. matory, which terminated his life in a few days, in the midst of his usefulness, with fresh honours awaiting him as time advanced. His premature death was deeply mourned by his bereaved companion, eight children, a large concourse of intimate friends, by the members of the bar, by his associate judges, by the state legislature, by Con. gress, and by every patriot of his country.
As a private citizen, he possessed an unusual share of esteem. He was endowed with all the amiable qualities that enrich the domestic and social circle, and, as a crowning glory to his fair fame, he professed and adorned the christian religion, and died triumphing in faith. His dust reposes in the cemetery of St. James' church, in Chester; his name is recorded on the enduring tablet of fame. His examples are worthy of imitation; his brief career admonishes us of the uncertainty of life; his happy demise is an evidence of the truth of real piety.
A STRONG propensity exists in every investigating, reflecting mind, to explore the labyrinthian abysm of the past. The classic reader dwells with rapture upon oriental time. Its remoteness sheds around it a sacredness that increases veneration, and leaves the fancy to wonder and admire. Human foibles descend with the body to the tomb, and are covered by the mantle of oblivion. Human faults, not enrolled on the black catalogue of crime, are often eclipsed by transcendant virtues, find no place upon the historic page, and leave after generations to gaze at a picture of native beauty, which, as time rolls over it, assumes deeper and holier shades, until it commands the reverence of all who behold it. The names of Decosthenes, Cicero, Socrates, Solon, Cincinnatus, and many others, over whose dust centuries have rolled, are referred to with as profound respect as if angel purity had stamped their every action with the impress of divinity. The same bright portrait awaits the name of every good and great man. That of each of the signers of the declaration of inde
pendence has long attracted the earnest gaze of admiring millions, and becomes more sacred as time advances.
Upon the tablet of enduring fame, stands the name of RICHARD HENRY LEE, in bold relievo. He was the son of Thomas Lee, and born in Westmoreland county, Virginia, on the 20th of January, 1732. His ancestors were among the early settlers of the Old Dominion, and ainong those who guided the concerns and directed the destinies of the colony. They were the friends of liberal principles, and at all times resisted every encroachment upon their rights. The arbitrary power exercised by Charles the first over his European subjects, which hurled him from his throne, was successfully resisted by the Lees of Virginia. When Cromwell assumed the crown, his power was not recognised by this colony, and the mandate that first proclaimed the second Charles king, originated with Lee and Berkley of the Old Dominion.
The plan of ultimate independence seems to have been long cherished and nursed by the elder Lees. Through the bright vista of the future they contemplated the millennium of freedom in America. So strongly impressed was the father of the present subject with this idea, that he fixed in his mind the location of the seat of government, and in view of this, purchased lands in the vicinity of Washington. By some historians this is called a paradox which philosophy has been perplexed to explain. To my mind the solution is involved in no mysterious perplexity. A man of deep reflection does not draw his conclusions from present appearances alone. He compares the past with the present, from which he makes deductions for the future. The historic map of the old world is covered with the rise, progress, and downfall of kingdoms and nations: Judging from the causes that produced them, and the results that followed, it was the natural conclusion of a penetrating mind, that the expansive territory we now possess, with all the bounties of nature lavished upon it, and with intelligent and enterprising immigrants pouring in upon it, must eventually be so densely populated that its physical force would become too strong for any European power to maintain a dominion over it. Its geographical centre, with reference to the settlements then in progress, was equally plain. The “prophecy,” as it has been termed, was the result of deep thought, arriving at conclusions drawn from the laws of nature, and shows that Mr. Lee possessed an analyzing mind that moved in a broad circumference.
Richard Henry Lee commenced his education at Wakefield, Yorkshire, England, and remained in that kingdom until he completed it. He returned a finished scholar and an accomplished gentleman, with a reputation untarnished by folly or vice. From his youth his integrity and morality were of the purest order; he delighted in reposing under the ethic mantle. During his absence his innate republicanism did not become tinctured with the farina of European courts, or the etiquette of aristocracy. In classic history he found the true dignity of man portrayed, and his inalienable rights delineated. In the philosophy of Locke he saw the rays of light reflected upon human nature, and the avenues of the immortal mind opened to his enraptured view. In the elements of Euclid the laws of demonstration were exhibited to his understanding, and aided in maturing his logical powers. He was prepared to enter upon the great theatre of public action, and to adorn the circle of private life. Endowed with these qualifications, his services were naturally required by his country. His first public act was to raise a body of troops and tender his services to General Braddock. That proud Briton considered the provincials puerile, and declined the proffered aid. His fate is a matter of history. In 1757, Mr. Lee was appointed a justice of the peace and president of the court. Shortly after, he was elected to the house of burgesses, where he made himself thoroughly acquainted with the laws of legislation, the ramifications of the government, the various interests and policy of the colony, and with the rules of parliamentary proceedings.
Retarded by an almost unconquerable diffidence, he took very little part in debate at first, and it was not until he became excited by a subject in which he felt a deep interest, that his Ciceronean powers became developed. A bill was before the house imposing a duty upon the importation of slaves into Virginia, so heavy as to virtually amount to a prohibition. It met with strong opposition, and then it was that Richard Henry Lee became roused, and poured upon his astonished audience a flood of eloquence against the importing traffic of human beings, that raised him at once to the pinnacle of fame as an eloquent orator. He was proclaimed the Cicero of América. He painted, in vivid colours, the cruelties of Cortes in South America, of the Saracens in Spain, and then pointed his colleagues to the darker and more barbarous practices that marked and branded with lasting infamy the unhallowed slave trade. He also pointed them to the bloody scenes of other times, when the physical force of those held in bondage had enabled them to rise in their might and crush their masters at one bold effort. By stopping the traffic the evil already entailed upon them might be provided for, and the certain and dreadful consequences of a constant influx from Africa be warded off. His eloquence was applauded, but his doctrines of philanthropy were voted down. The trade was then sanctioned by the government of Great Britain, now so loud in complaints against us, for not providing for an evil entailed upon America by the mother country.
The exposure of base corruptions practised by Mr. Robinson, then treasurer of the colony, was the next important service rendered by Mr. Lee. As this was participated in by the aristocracy of the house it required much boldness, energy, and persevering sagacity to introduce the probe successfully. This he effected in a masterly manner, and proved clearly that the treasurer had repeatedly re-issued reclaimed treasury bills to his favourite friends to support them in their extravagance, by which means the colony, in paying them a second time, was robbed of the amount. This act placed Mr. Lee on a high eminence in view of every honest man.
When Charles Townshend laid before the British parliament the odious and more extensive plan of taxing the American colonies, which was seized upon as a philosopher's stone by Mr. Grenville, Mr. Lee was among the first to sound the alarm to his countrymen. Within one month after the passage of the preliminary act in parliament followed by a revolting catalogue of unconstitutional and oppressive laws, Mr. Lee furnished a list of arguments against it to his London friends, that were sufficient to convince every man of the injustice and ruinous policy of the measure proposed, who was not blind to the dictates of reason and madly bent on enslaving his fellow men. When Patrick Henry proposed his resolutions in 1765, against the stamp act, which brought out the full force of his gigantic mind for the first time, Mr. Lee gave them the powerful aid of his eloquent and unanswerable logic. * Associations began now to be organized to resist the oppressions of the crown of which he was a prominent and efficient member. The collector of stamps was compelled to relinquish his office and deliver up his commission and the odious paper, and the people were advised not to use it on any occasion.
The pen of Mr. Lee was also ably used and produced many keen, withering, logical, patriotic and sarcastic essays, that contributed largely in producing a proper tone of enthusiastic patriotism in the public mind. He also corresponded with the patriots of New York and New England, and was the first one according to the testimony of Colonel Gadsden, of South Carolina, and the public documents of that eventful era, who proposed the independence of the colonies, which tends to strengthen the allusion to his ancestors, who had for a century before predicted this event. The idea had probably been handed down from sire to son. In a letter from Richard Henry Lee to Mr. Dickinson, dated July 25th, 1768, connected with the statement of Colonel Gadsden, be proposes upon all seasonable occasions to impress upon the minds of the people the necessity of a struggle with Great Britain for the ultimate establishment of independence,” and “that a private correspondence should be conducted by the lovers of liberty in every province.” His early proposition in Congress to sever the maternal ties, was considered by most of the friends of liberty premature and rash; but he had long nursed this favourite project in his own bosom and was anxious to transplant its vigorous scions to the congenial hearts of his fellow patriots.
Soon after the house of burgesses convened in 1769, Mr. Lee, as chairman of the judiciary committee, introduced resolutions so highly charged with liberal principles, sapping the foundation of the Grenville superstructure, that they caused a dissolution of the house, and concentrated the wrath of the British ministry and its servile creatures against him. The fruits of their persecution were the formation of non-importation associations, committees of correspondence, committees of safety, and the disaffection of the English merchants towards the ministers, in consequence of their impolitic measures, which were calculated to prostrate the exporting trade to America.
Lord North now assumed the management of the grand drama of oppression, and laid more deeply the revenue plan. By causing a
* See them at large in the life of Henry.
repeal of the most offensive acts, he hoped to lull the storm of opposition that was gathering, disarm the colonists of the spirit of resistance, and, in the meantime, prepare for more efficient action. Had the Boston port bill been omitted, his dark designing treachery might have had a more triumphant reign. This roused the indignation of the people and fanned the burning flame of patriotic resentment to a white beat.
The Philadelphia Congress of 1774 was now planned, in which Mr. Lee took his seat. At that memorable meeting he acted a conspicuous part. After Patrick Henry had broken the great seal that appeared to rest on the lips of the members as they sat in deep and solemn silence, he was followed by Richard Henry Lee in a strain of belles lettres eloquence and persuasive reasoning that took the minds of his audience captive, and restored to a calm the boiling agitation that shook their manly frames as the mountain torrent of the Demosthenean Henry rushed upon them.
He was a member of the committee appointed to prepare an address to the king, the people of Great Britain, and to the colonies. That document was written by him and adopted with a few amendments. He was also upon the committee that prepared the address to the people of Quebec, and upon the committee of rights and grievances, and of non-intercourse with the mother country. In the warmth of his ardour, he proposed several resolutions that were considered premature at that time, and were rejected; not because his purity of purpose was doubted, but because many of the members still hoped that peace might be restored by a timely redress of the grievances they had strongly and clearly set forth in their petition and address to the king and his advisers, and were not willing then to take any action to widen the breach between the two countries. The proceedings of this Congress were highly applauded by Lord Chatham, as being without a parallel for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity and wisdom of conclusion.
In 1775, Mr. Lee was unanimously elected to the Virginia legislature and continued to act with undiminished zeal. He received a vote of thanks from that body "for his cheerful undertaking and faithful discharge of the trust reposed in him during the last Congress," and was immediately appointed a delegate to the next. A more congenial field was now opened for the ardent spirit of this devoted patriot. Temporizing was no longer the order of the day. Vigorous action had become necessary, and the zeal and industry of Mr. Lee had ample scope. With all his might he entered upon the good work. Upon committees, in the house, every where, he was all activity. In 1776, he was again a member of the national legislature, and in obedience to the instructions of the Virginia legislature and of his own conscience, on the 7th of June of that year, he offered the reso: lution for the adoption of a Declaration of Independence, and enforced it by one of the most brilliant and powerful displays of refined and forcible eloquence ever exhibited by man. On the 10th of the same month he was called home by the illness of his family, which prevented him from taking his place as chairman of the committee upon