Lee, the name of a family of Virginia, descended from an old cavalier family in England. Richard Lee emigrated to Virginia in the reign of Charles I., bringing with him a numerous household, and settled in the county of Northumberland, between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, a region known then and now by the name of the " Northern Neck." This gentleman was a devoted adherent of the Stuarts, and, in conjunction with the royal governor Sir William Berkeley, placed the colony in that attitude of resistance to Cromwell which caused the protector to send a fleet for its reduction under the commonwealth. The party of Lee and Berkeley displayed such determination, however, that the commander of the squadron was compelled to ratify a treaty with the rebellious colony, which was styled an "independent dominion." It is said that Richard Lee soon afterward hired a ship, and visited Charles II. in Flanders, offering to erect his standard in Virginia if assured of adequate support. The plan was not then carried out, but it, has been stated that on the death of Cromwell, Charles II., by the exertions of Lee and Berkeley, was proclaimed in Virginia " king of England, France, Scotland, Ireland, and Virginia," nearly two years before his triumphal entry into London. The king exhibited his gratitude for this espousal of his cause, it is also said, by ordering the arms of Virginia to be quartered on those of Great Britain, with the motto: En dat Virginia quartam.
Richard, the son of Richard Lee, was a member of the council; and Thomas, third son of the second Richard, succeeded his father, and became president. He died at the moment when his commission of governor of the colony had just been made out. He married Hannah, daughter of Col. Philip Ludwell, an associate in the council; and from this union sprang five sons who rose to distinction, of whom the following are the principal.
I. Richard Henry, an American statesman, born at Stratford, Westmoreland co., Va., Jan. 20, 1732, died at Chantilly in the same county, June 19, 1794. After a course of private tuition at Stratford, he was sent to Wakefield academy, Yorkshire, England, where he became a proficient in Latin and Greek, and laid the foundation of the extensive knowledge of the classics which afterward added so much to the effect of his oratory. Leaving school at about the age of 18, he made a tour through England, visited London, and returned in his 20th year to Virginia. His father had died two years before, and the young man found himself in possession of a competent estate. He applied himself with ardor to study in the diverse departments of law, politics, theology, science, history, and belles-lettres. At the age of 23, when Braddock came to Virginia, Lee raised a company of volunteers in Westmoreland, was chosen captain, and marched to Alexandria. The general, however, declined his services with an ill-concealed expression of contempt for "provincials," and Lee was compelled to march home again.
In his 25th year he was appointed a justice of the peace, a class of officers then constituting the county courts; and notwithstanding his youth, a number of his brother magistrates petitioned the governor and council that Mr. Lee's commission might be antedated in such a manner as to give him legal precedence, and enable him to act as president of the court. He was soon after chosen a member of the house of burgesses from Westmoreland, but did not speak for one or two sessions, when he made a brief and striking but diffident speech strongly opposing the institution of slavery, and advocating the imposition of a tax so heavy as to amount to a prohibition of further importations. In 1764 he took an unhappy step, the effects of which clung to him in a measure throughout life, and dimmed the light of his greatest public services. In a thoughtless moment, and at the instigation of a friend, he wrote to England making application for the post of collector under the proposed stamp act. That this step was the mere result of hasty and momentary impulse is abundantly proved by the whole tenor of his subsequent career.
The small tory party, exasperated by the energy with which he opposed the government, denounced him as a popular demagogue, bent only on revenging his disappointment in procuring the collectorship. The people of his county treated this accusation with contempt; but to satisfy the inhabitants of the colony at large, who did not know him, he published in the "Virginia Gazette " a statement of the facts. He had written to England by the advice of a friend, who no more than himself, "nor perhaps a single person in this country, had at that time reflected the least on the nature and tendency of such an act." Reflection had opened his eyes, and he had soon determined to exert every faculty in opposition to the measure. He joined heart and hand with the opponents of the proposed tax; and when a special committee was appointed by the burgesses to draught an address to the king, a memorial to the lords, and a remonstrance to the commons against taxation without representation, Lee was placed upon the committee, and deputed by his associates to prepare two of the three papers. His literary and political acquirements well fitted him for the task, and the papers proved genuine and eloquent utterances of the spirit of resistance.
He was absent from Williamsburg when Patrick Henry introduced, in the ensuing year (17G5), his celebrated resolutions against the stamp act; but he warmly concurred in them, and originated an association in Westmoreland in accordance with their spirit. The articles of this association, which were written by Lee, and are still preserved in his own handwriting, go beyond Henry's resolutions, and indicate in a very striking manner the advance of public opinion from May, 1765, to February, 1766. They pledged its members, "at every hazard, and paying no regard to danger or to death, to exert every faculty to prevent the execution of the stamp act." That the association was in earnest is shown by the prompt arrest of a person who had accepted the place of collector. Lee and his friends proceeded to his house, burned his commission and supply of stamps, and compelled him to take an oath not to offend in future. At the winter session of the burgesses in 1766, Lee openly took his stand with the extreme party for reform, at the head of which stood Patrick Henry, by making a motion that the offices of speaker of the burgesses and treasurer of the colony should thenceforth be separate.
It is difficult at this distance of time to imagine the profound sensation and the bitter resistance which this proposition aroused. The explanation may however be given in a few words. The death of Speaker Robinson, who also held the post of treasurer, had exposed an enormous deficit in the public accounts. This arose from the fact that Mr. Robinson, a gentleman of great wealth and the most amiable disposition, had lent to prominent members of the house, who were his friends, large amounts in government bills returned to the treasury, and directed by law to be burned. This had long been suspected, and as early as 1763 Lee had moved that a committee should be appointed to inquire into the state of the treasury. The speaker had "fixed his eyes with a dark and terrible frown " upon the youthful reformer, and the recipients of the loans had " turned their faces from him with haughty and disdainful airs;" but he had persevered. Nothing came of the motion, however, and the subject slept till 1766, when, as has been seen, Lee renewed his motion. It was powerfully opposed by the "aristocratic " party, many of whom had the strongest reasons for desiring its defeat; and by others, like Edmund Pendleton, who had been strongly attached to the deceased speaker.
Henry, however, came to Lee's assistance, and their united eloquence carried the motion. Mr. Robinson's ample estate, upon which he had relied to make good the deficit, satisfied the public claim, and the colony lost nothing; but a powerful engine of corruption was broken to pieces by the success of the measure. In 1767 Lee spoke with great ability against the acts levying duties upon tea and other commodities, and for quartering British troops upon the colonies. In 1768 he wrote from Chantilly, where he was then residing, to John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, suggesting a plan of private correspondence between the friends of liberty; and this scheme was enlarged and perfected by the appointment in 1773 of a committee of correspondence, to communicate with all the colonies. Lee was one of the five or six burgesses who in private meeting devised this plan, and is said to have originated the idea. The house promptly appointed the committee, and Lee was placed upon it. The great value of such a body was immediately shown. Acting under instructions from the house, the committee wrote to the sister colonies proposing a general congress.
The proposition was almost universally acceded to; and the " first congress " met at Philadelphia, Sept. 5, 1774. Lee was one of the delegates from Virginia, and his voice was the second which was heard upon the floor. Patrick Henry preceded him in a much admired speech, of which the tradition only remains; and little more has been retained of Lee's. It is said, however, that the congress was even more impressed by his comprehensive views and political knowledge than by the "fire and splendor " of his eloquence, of which great accounts had reached them. He immediately took the prominent position to which his great talents and zeal entitled him, and was placed upon all the more important committees: those to prepare addresses to the king, the people of England, and the colonies; to state the rights and grievances of the colonies; and to carry out the resolutions of non-intercourse with Great Britain. Lee was chairman of the first named committee, and reported its papers. Mr. Jay wrote the address to the people of England; that to the king was probably Lee's; but that Lee wrote the memorial to the people of British America is undisputed. This is one of the most masterly state papers of the period.
It has been justly said to have "the double merit of including all the qualities which a public writing ought to possess, and of excluding all that it ought not," It was in speaking of this memorial and the addresses to the king and people of England, that Chatham pronounced his celebrated eulogy upon " the general congress at Philadelphia." Lee's memorial declares in the second paragraph, with solemn earnestness, that "in every case of opposition by the people to their rulers or of one state to another, duty to Almighty God, the Creator of all, requires that a true and impartial judgment be formed of the measures leading to such opposition; . . . that, neither affection on the one hand, nor resentment on the other, being permitted to give a wrong bias to reason, it may be enabled to take a dispassionate view of all circumstances, and to settle the public conduct on the solid foundations of wisdom and justice." The equally solemn conclusion is: "We think ourselves bound in duty to observe to you that the schemes agitated against these colonies have been so conducted, as to render it prudent that you should extend your views to mournful events, and be in all respects prepared for every contingency." In the spring of 1775 Lee was unanimously elected by his neighbors of "Westmoreland a delegate to the convention to meet at Richmond in March. He there powerfully supported Patrick Henry's motion for the prompt embodiment of the militia, and was placed upon the committee to prepare a plan of defence.
The convention, which had already passed a vote of thanks to himself and his associated delegates, then appointed him to the second congress. He accordingly proceeded to Philadelphia in May, and was placed upon the committees to prepare munitions of war, to encourage the manufacture of saltpetre and arms, and to devise means for the prompt transmission of intelligence between the colonies. As chairman of the committee appointed for the purpose, he drew up the commission and instructions of Gen. Washington as commander-in-chief of the armies of America. Lee's greatest public act at this time, however, was the preparation of the address to the inhabitants of Great Britain, the solemn and lofty tone of which places it in the first rank of American state papers. After a recital of the wrongs inflicted upon the colonies, it proceeds: "And shall the descendants of Britons tamely submit to this? No, sirs! we never will, while we revere the memory of our gallant and virtuous ancestors. . . . Admit that your fleets could destroy our towns, and ravage our sea-coasts; these are inconsiderable objects, things of no moment, to men whose bosoms glow with the ardor of liberty. . . . Your ministers (equal foes to British and American freedom) have added to their former oppressions an attempt to reduce us by the sword to a base and abject submission.
On the sword, therefore, we are compelled to rely for protection. Of this at least we are assured, that our struggle will be glorious, our success certain; since even in death we shall find that freedom which in life you forbid us to enjoy." In May, 1770, the Virginia house of burgesses directed her delegates to propose to declare the colonies independent; and at the request of his associates Lee accordingly moved "that these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown; and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved." Lee's speech upon introducing the resolutions is said to have been one of the greatest that he ever delivered. They were seconded by John Adams, and a fiery debate immediately sprang up as to the propriety of the resolutions at that time, which lasted from the 7th to the 10th of June. On that day it was resolved that the subject should be postponed until the first Monday in July, and meanwhile, as the resolutions might be agreed to, that a committee should be appointed to draft a declaration of independence.
Of this committee Lee, by established parliamentary usage, would have been the chairman; but on the evening of the 10th he received sudden intelligence of the dangerous illness of his wife, and returned immediately to Virginia. On the next day, the 11th, the committee was appointed, with Jefferson as chairman. In August Lee returned to his seat, and continued in the performance of his arduous public duties until June, 1777. During this time, indeed, he labored so uninterruptedly as seriously to injure his health. From the moment of his entrance into congress to the middle of the year 1777 he had served upon about 100 important committees, generally acting as chairman, and performing the greater portion of the labor of all. On June 5 it was ordered by congress, "that Richard Henry Lee have leave of absence, his health and private affairs requiring his return to Virginia." The private affair was a vindication of his character and public action from charges brought against him in the Virginia assembly, the effect of which had been to induce that body to leave him out in their recent appointment of delegates to the next congress. The indignation of Lee's friends was great.
His brother, Francis Light-foot Lee, and Mann Page, jr., then in congress, taking fire at the condemnation of their associate "in his absence, without opportunity of defence," wrote to the speaker of the house, tendering a resignation of their seats. The people of Westmoreland, ever true to Lee, had already elected him a member of the assembly, and he promptly made his appearance before that body and demanded an inquiry into his conduct. It was granted; the senate united with the house, witnesses were examined, and Lee was heard in his defence. The charges were, that he had demanded of his tenants payment of their rent in produce instead of money, with a design to depreciate the paper currency of the country; that he had favored New England to the injury of Virginia; and that, as a member of the secret committee in congress, he had opposed the publication of their proceedings from a desire to conceal the embezzlement of the public money. These charges were fully refuted. As to the main imputation, that he designed injury to the currency by receiving produce in place of money for rent, it was shown that the proposition was made to his tenants in 1775, when the non-intercourse associations had ruined the sale of produce, when scarcely any paper money had been issued, and when it was a great favor and convenience to the tenants, for whose relief the plan was devised.
Lee's speech upon this occasion is represented to have been full of noble eloquence, and to have affected his listeners profoundly. Without any display of passion or unbecoming anger, he plainly stated that certain evil-disposed persons hated him for that very zeal which good patriots had commended in him; and that these enemies, in his absence, had deliberately planned his destruction, He is said to have shed tears during his speech. The result was a resolution of thanks to Richard Henry Lee "for the faithful ser-vices he has rendered his country, in the discharge of his duty as one of the delegates of this state in general congress." When George Mason, one of the recently appointed delegates, soon afterward resigned, Lee was chosen in his place; and thus his vindication was formally recognized as complete. Such is a brief relation of an event which enlisted the deepest feelings of the country at the time, and which still remains a vivid tradition in the popular mind. The motive of the charges it is difficult at the present day to arrive at.
Lee's prominent part in the exposure of Speaker Robinson's deficit, and the consequent hatred of the influential members who were involved in it, are said to have laid the foundation of a silent but bitter and profound hostility toward him; and the old application for a collector-ship under the stamp act, never allowed to sleep, may have had its influence. Lee returned to congress, and in 1778 served upon 37 committees, though laboring under serious ill health. He continued to sit till 1780. During this and the three succeeding years he remained in Virginia, and as county lieutenant of Westmoreland actively exerted himself in repelling the enemy, who were making incursions on the banks of the Potomac. He also sat in the assembly, and took a prominent part in the debates. In 1784 he resumed his seat in congress, and was elected its president. In 1786 and 1787 he sat in the assembly; was again elected to congress, and took his seat in the latter year; and when the federal constitution was adopted, was chosen one of the first two senators for Virginia, He was not a member of the Virginia convention to decide upon the adoption of the constitution, and was strongly opposed to that instrument, regarding it as a consolidation of political powers which would tend to destroy the independence of the state governments.
Nothing, he said, could have induced him to accept the appointment of senator, except his reverence for the liberties of the land, and "a thorough conviction of the danger these will be exposed to by the unamended state of the new constitution." He exerted himself to carry the proposed amendments, and like his great associates lived to form a more favorable opinion of the instrument. He became a strong supporter of the administration of Washington, and fully approved of his course in the Genest affair, and of his neutrality policy. The last letter which he wrote upon political affairs was a long and earnest one to Washington, warmly approving his measures. In 1702 he finally retired from public service, received a vote of thanks from the Virginia assembly, and returned to Westmoreland. - Lee had married early in life Miss Aylett, by whom he had two sons and two daughters; and after her death, Mrs. Pinkard, who is said to have been " every way worthy of him." He was a devoted member of the Episcopal church, and was twice thanked by conventions of that denomination for the interest which he had taken in its affairs.
His charity to the poor was extremely liberal, and no doubt largely contributed to his popularity in Westmoreland. This popularity never failed him, and he never suffered a political defeat in the county. His personal appearance was a valuable assistance to his oratory; it was eminently noble and engaging. His stature was tall, and the carriage of his body graceful and courtly. His countenance was of the Roman model, with a tall, narrow forehead, the head "leaning persuasively forward." By an accident resulting from the bursting of a gun, in shooting swans on the Potomac, he had lost the four fingers of his left hand, and always wore upon it a black silk bandage; but in spite of this misfortune his gesture was so graceful that he was thought to have practised it before a mirror. Lee's disposition was gentle and amiable. He no doubt possessed that pride of race and sentiment of class which then characterized every man of ancient ancestry, and his schol-arly habits probably made him appear exclusive and aristocratic in his feelings. There is sufficient proof, however, that he possessed a warm and kindly heart.
The well authenticated instances of his open-handed charity, and the warm love which his brothers felt for him, indicate the amiability of his temper: and the many expressions of cordial affection in the letters addressed to him by his contemporaries, show that he had conciliated strong friendships. His "Life and Correspondence" was published by his great-grandson, R. H. Lee (2 vols. 8vo, Philadelphia, 1825).
II. Frauds Lightfoot, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, born at Stratford, Westmoreland co., Va., Oct. 14, 1734, died in Richmond in 1707. Owing to the death of his father, he was not, like his brothers, sent abroad to complete his education; but under the direction of the Rev. Mr. Craig, a Scottish clergyman, who acted as private tutor at Stratford, he acquired a competent knowledge of the classics, and a great taste for reading and study. His father had left him an independent estate; and he entered with zest into those social occupations and enjoyments which were then a marked feature in the country life of Virginia. He had engaging manners, and is said to have been a favorite with ladies. From this round of enjoyments he was aroused by the struggle in the house of burgesses against parliament, and in 1705 took his seat there as a member from Loudon county, where his estate was situated. He proved a useful member, but did not distinguish himself as a speaker. He continued to sit till 1772, when, his term having expired, he left the house, was married to Rebecca, daughter of Col. John Tayloe of Richmond, and settled at Monocan in that county.
In August, 1775, upon the resignation of Col. Bland, he was chosen by the house of burgesses a delegate to the general congress; and he was successively reelected in 1770, 1777, and 1778. During this whole period he seldom if ever appeared in debate, but acted upon many important committees, and frequently sat as chairman of the committee of the whole. His chief services in congress were the assistance he rendered in framing the old articles of confederation, and the stand which he took in favor of making the right to the northern fisheries and to the navigation of the Mississippi indispensable grounds in the conclusion of the treaty with England. These rights were finally guaranteed, and proved to be of primary importance. The gratitude of the New Englanders to the, Lees appears in the correspondence of the period. Aspersions have been cast upon the " Lees of Virginia," the family being represented as hostile to Gen. Washington. The journals of congress sufficiently refute these charges. Richard Henry Lee advocated the scheme of investing Washington with larger powers, and Francis Lightfoot, the only one of the family at that time in congress, voted for a confirmation of the sentence of the court martial against Gen. Charles Lee after the battle of Monmouth, for which reason the latter would never afterward speak to him.
He subsequently approved of and supported the federal constitution, on the avowed ground that " Gen. Washington was for it." In the spring of 1779 he retired from congress, and returned to plantation life. He was again called to represent his county in the senate of Virginia, but soon afterward finally abandoned the public service. His love of ease and fondness for social enjoyment rendered a life in the country more agreeable to him than any other, and he resolutely adhered to his determination not again to engage in politics. His wife had borne him no children, but he was the centre of a large circle of friends. His " gay good humor and pleasing wit" made him a favorite with all, and his plain and easy manners rendered him approachable by persons of every class. He died within a few days of the death of his wife.
III. Arthur, an American statesman, born in Westmoreland co., Va., Dec. 20, 1740, died in Middlesex co., Dec. 12, 1792. He was the youngest of the five brothers. After a brief course of tuition under a private teacher in Westmoreland, he was sent to Eton in England, where he formed intimate friendships with many youths who afterward became famous in public affairs. His father had designed him for the medical profession, and from Eton he passed to the university of Edinburgh, where he went through the course of general science and polite learning, studied medicine, receiving from the university the degree of M. D, and a diploma approving him a "general scholar," at that time esteemed a great honor. He also gained a gold medal for the best treatise "on some botanical subject," the subject of his paper being the character and uses of Peruvian bark. Leaving the university, he travelled through Germany and Holland, and finally returned to Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia, where he commenced the practice of his profession. He soon acquired reputation, but the threatening aspect of affairs drew him strongly toward political subjects. His brothers were already prominent in politics, and he determined to abandon his profession, return to England, and there embark in the struggle.
Accordingly, about 1766 he proceeded to London, where he began the study of the law, which presented far greater allurements to his active mind than the practice of physic. He plunged with ardor into the angry current of newspaper debate. With a young student like himself he formed an intimate connection; this was William (afterward Sir William) Jones, and the correspondence between the friends was long and confidential. He was admitted to the bar in 1770, and began a successful and lucrative practice. He exerted himself in the cause of his native country with extraordinary vigor. His letters, under the signatures of "Junius Americanus" and "Monitor," became widely popular, and procured him the acquaintance and friendship of many of the most distinguished friends of American liberty. His opposition to the act declaratory of the right of parliament to tax the colonies, and to the subsequent stamp act, was warm and persevering; and such was the eloquence of one of his pamphlets, entitled "An Appeal to the English Nation," that it was long regarded as the work of Lord Chatham. As a member of a society of gentlemen of the opposition who styled themselves "supporters of the bill of rights," he drew up a preamble and resolutions setting forth the principles upon which the dub was founded, and these papers were commented upon and praised by "Junius," who declared that Lee was "plainly a man of abilities, though a little unreasonable." In order to vote in municipal elections, he purchased the freedom of the city of London, and exerted himself actively in the opposition.
By his influence, the complaints of America were introduced into Wilkes's Middlesex petition; and he obtained the passage of a resolution by the " supporters of the bill of rights " that the members of the club would support no man for parliament who would not give pledges in favor of permitting America to tax herself. About this period Lee was elected a fellow of the royal society, an honor which he resigned at the commencement of the war, on the ground that he could not consent to continue his connection with an English institution requiring pecuniary as well as literary contributions from its members, when England was at war with his native country. Lee's activity in the assertion of American rights soon brought his name prominently before the people of the colonies; and in 1770 he was appointed by the assembly of Massachusetts agent for that colony in case of the absence or death of Dr. Franklin, then holding that position in London. Between Franklin and himself a strong intimacy had sprung up. and the agent and his alternate consulted and acted in unison. The statement of his appointment is made by Lee in his manuscript entitled " Memoirs of the American Revolution," which he commenced in his latter years, but did not live to finish.
When Franklin left England in 1774, Lee became sole agent for Massachusetts, and continued as such until he went to Paris. In 1774 he presented the addresses of congress to the people of England and to the king. Lord Dartmouth, to whom the petition to the king was presented, returned that " no answer could be given." whereupon Lee expressed to him his "sorrow that his majesty had adopted a measure winch would occasion so much bloodshed." In November, 1775, congress appointed a committee of secret correspondence with the friends of the colonies in England and other countries, and Lee was chosen agent for the purpose in London. He applied himself to the duties of this commission with great activity; and in 1776, by order of the committee, he proceeded to Paris, to open friendly negotiations with the French government. His labors met with fair success. The count de Vergennes presented a memorial to the king, suggesting that it would be sound policy " to facilitate to the colonies the means of procuring, in the way of commerce, the articles and even the money which they needed; but without departing from neutrality, and without giving them direct succors." Through the French ambassador at the English court, Lee finally obtained the assurance that the government would secretly furnish to the colonies £200,000 worth of arms and ammunition, to be transported from Holland to the West Indies. In September, 1776, congress proceeded to establish diplomatic intercourse with foreign nations; and Lee, Silas Deane, and afterward Dr. Franklin, were appointed commissioners to France. Lee had already accomplished two important objects.
He had set on foot a private correspondence with the Spanish government, with the design of prevailing upon that court to unite with France in supplying the United States with money and arms; and had actually procured for the state of Virginia, from the royal arsenal of France, warlike stores of the value of nearly £260,000. The commissioners met in Paris in December, and decided that it was important for one of their number to proceed to Madrid. Lee was chosen, and set out in February, 1777. Soon after his departure, Franklin received from congress the appointment of commissioner to Spain, but declined it, and in May Lee was chosen in his place. As soon as the appointment became known in London, the English government, who were well acquainted with Lee's character, and no doubt divined the objects which he had in view, instructed their minister at Madrid to protest against his reception. Lee was accordingly met at Burgos by a messenger directing him not to proceed further. He returned an animated protest against this order, and the Spanish court finally withdrew it, permitting him to repair to the capital.
Here he exerted himself with his accustomed activity, and presented to the government an eloquent memoir on " the present state of the dispute between America and Great Britain," the object of which was to establish the propriety of formally receiving a commissioner from the United States, and opening diplomatic intercourse with that country. He also drew up the plan of a treaty, and placed himself in communication with leading statesmen, persistently urging the adoption of a policy favorable to the cause of America. The government assured him of the good will of the king and the people, but adhered to a course of secrecy and caution. Ambiguous promises were plentifully made; but the only tangible success which Lee achieved was permission to make contracts for arms and ammunition with Spanish merchants. His residence at Madrid was of no slight importance, however, to the American cause. He impressed upon the minds of the statesmen of that country a high idea of the prospects and resources of America, and induced the court to instruct the Spanish minister at Paris to keep up a close and confidential intercourse with the American commissioners; and this intercourse finally enabled him to obtain a large and important loan.
He returned to Paris, and found that his associates had during his absence opened negotiations with the Prussian minister. William Lee, brother of Arthur, had just been appointed commissioner to the court of Berlin; but as he already tilled the post of representative of the United States in Holland, where his services were needed, it was resolved that Arthur Lee should, without waiting to hear from congress, take his commission and instructions, and proceed immediately to Berlin. He accordingly left Paris in June, 1777, and repaired to the court of Frederick the Great. The obstacles before him were serious and discouraging. Prussia was not bound in any way to America, and was under treaty obligations with England. The objects of the commissioners were the establishment of commercial intercourse between Prussia and the United States; the prevention of assistance from Prussia to England in procuring German auxiliaries; the prohibition of the passage of such through the dominions of Frederick; and authority to purchase warlike stores from subjects of Prussia. In all these designs Lee fully succeeded.
Frederick refused to receive him officially, and thus recognize the independence of the United States; but he was permitted to reside at Berlin as a private person, to carry on a secret correspondence with Baron Schulenberg, the minister of state, and to urge the claims of America as effectually as if he were her formally recognized representative. That his presence in Berlin speedily became known, and was regarded with suspicion and apprehension by the English envoy, is proved by an incident which occurred soon after his arrival. In his absence from the room which he occupied his door was opened by means of a false key, and all his papers were carried off. The servant of the English envoy lived at the same hotel, and Lee immediately addressed a communication to the minister, stating his suspicions, and complaining of the robbery. A note was returned by the king himself, declaring that the police would investigate the matter; and immediately afterward the papers were returned in the same mysterious manner. The affair was traced so clearly to the envoy that, at the king's request, he was recalled by his court.
In his note on this occasion, Frederick tells Lee that he may speak without reserve to Schulenberg, and " assures him by the present of an inviolable secrecy, and that profound silence shall be observed with regard to those things that he shall communicate in this manner." When Lee left Berlin he was desired to keep the Prussian court well informed of the progress of the war in America, and assured that Prussia "would not be the last power to acknowledge the independency" of the United States. Thus the American commissioner had met with excellent success. He had accomplished every aim, except the formal recognition of his diplomatic position, and secured results of the first importance to America. On his return to Paris, a new field for his energetic exertions presented itself. Private letters from England informed him that some American prisoners there had been treated with great cruelty, and Lee set about correcting this wrong with his accustomed vigor. He immediately brought the matter to the knowledge of his colleagues; and it was determined to address a memorial to Lord North, protesting against this harshness.
The paper was drafted by Lee, and he also drew up a letter to Lord Shelburne, and despatched both papers to England. A memorial on the subject was also presented to the French court, aiming to secure the interposition of that government, nearly at the same moment when the American congress published its manifesto, proclaiming and justifying its determination to retaliate these cruelties. When the action of congress became known to the commissioners, they promptly announced it to the French and Spanish courts; but the whole subject was ere long overshadowed by the stirring intelligence of the surrender of Bur-goyne at Saratoga. Lee despatched the good news to his hundreds of correspondents in Spain, Prussia, and other countries, and applied himself with renewed and ardent vigor to the task of inducing the governments of the continent to espouse the cause of America. The consequences of the triumph at Saratoga soon displayed themselves. The tone of the French court suddenly changed; and negotiations were at once commenced for the formation of a treaty of commerce and alliance. The progress of the negotiation was retarded by a dispute upon some points which Lee objected to.
The first project of the treaty did not contain a recognition of the "sovereign" character of the United States; and the importance of this recognition was strongly pressed by Lee upon his colleagues. He also objected to those articles in which it was stipulated that no duties should be charged by the respective governments on any merchandise exported to the French West Indies which yielded molasses, or on the molasses exported thence to the United States. Lee opposed these articles as far too favorable to France, and declared that they gave her the right " to tie both of our hands," with the privilege in return on our part " of tying one of her fingers." It was finally determined that the decision should be left to congress, and the treaty was signed with this understanding by the commissioners. It was received in America " with the liveliest emotions of joy and gratitude;" but when its details came to be coolly considered, the objectionable articles were expunged, in accordance with the views of Lee. The treaty was nevertheless ratified by the French court, and the vexed questions were left open for subsequent negotiation.
Soon after the signing of the treaty by the commissioners, Deane, between whom and Lee strong dissensions had occurred, was recalled, and John Adams was appointed in his place. It was through the exertions of Samuel Adams that Lee's early appointment of secret agent for the Massachusetts assembly had been conferred; and between himself and John Adams commenced a warm friendship never afterward interrupted. This was a matter of some importance to Lee, inasmuch as the relations between him and Franklin were by no means amicable, and indeed soon became openly inimical. During the years 1778 and 1779 Lee continued in active employment, urging upon Spain and Holland the interests of America, and corresponding with the court of Prussia. He also acted as agent for Virginia in negotiating supplies of arms and stores. But a singular reward for his long devotion to the cause of America was about to be bestowed upon him. In the latter part of 1779 it became expedient to appoint a minister plenipotentiary to the court of Spain, and one or more commissioners to negotiate the proposed treaty of peace with England. Lee was nominated, but left out of both appointments. This affront was due to the machinations of his enemies.
His colleague Deane on returning to the United States had published an address, in which he spoke of Lee in the grossest terms, and charged him with obstructing the alliance with France and disclosing the secrets of congress to British noblemen. The subordinate agents of America in Europe, employed to conduct the commercial details of public affairs, united also to attack Lee, whose vigilant eyes had detected and exposed their peculations. Through their correspondents in America they disseminated vague calumnies against him, and so persevering were their assaults that they ended by producing a strong effect upon the public mind, and even in shaping the action of congress. When Lee heard of his rejection by that body, he immediately resigned all his appointments, and in August, 1780, sailed for America, to demand an inquiry into his official conduct. He was received at Boston with indications of the highest esteem and respect; and these evidences of public regard were displayed everywhere on his journey to Philadelphia. He had prepared an elaborate report of his entire official proceedings as the agent of the United States, exposing the calumnies circulated against him, and now demanded of congress an opportunity to vindicate himself. His opponents, however, remained silent.
It was no part of their plan to make an open accusation against him. The revulsion in Lee's favor seems to have been complete, for congress declared that no charge had ever been entertained against him, and that they had never intended to fix censure upon any portion of his public conduct. As a mark of their confidence, he was requested to lay before them his views, and the information which he possessed, upon foreign affairs. This was done, and Lee added a strict account of all the moneys received or disbursed by him for congress or the state of Virginia; and further published "Extracts from a Letter to Congress, in answer to a Libel by Silas Deane." He then returned to his native state, but was not permitted to remain in retirement. In the spring of 1781 he was elected from the county of Prince William a delegate to the general assembly. He was a landholder in the county, but did not reside there, and an election under these circumstances has always indicated in Virginia extended public confidence. The assembly appointed him a delegate to congress, and in that body he served from February, 1782, till 1785. Like his brothers, with the single exception of Richard Henry, he was an indifferent speaker, but took a large share in the business of the body.
In 1784 he was appointed by congress one of the commissioners to conclude a treaty with the Indians on the N. W. frontier, and prepared a valuable account of the character of the country through which he passed. Lafayette accompanied the expedition, and assisted it by his name and advice. Lee remained with his associates at Fort Stanwix throughout the winter, and treaties were concluded to the satisfaction of congress and the country. On his return he was appointed to the board of treasury with Samuel Osgood and Walter Livingston, in which he continued from 1784 to 1789. In 1786 he was chosen by the general assembly of Virginia one of the commissioners to revise the laws of the commonwealth, and aided greatly in that task. When the board of treasury was dissolved in 1789, he retired finally from public employment, and, purchasing an estate in Middlesex county, applied himself to agricultural pursuits. He continued however to take an interest in politics, and " solemnly investigated " the character of the new federal constitution. He regarded the original instrument with jealousy and dislike, as too strongly tending toward consolidation; but the subsequent amendments greatly changed his opinion of it.
During his latter years he carried on an extensive and interesting correspondence with many of the distinguished personages with whom his official career had thrown him in contact. Among these were Burke, Col. Barre, "Wyndham, Sir William Jones, the marquis of Lansdowne, and the earl of Buchan; and on the continent, the baron de Breteuil, the abbe Raynal, the duke de la Rochefoucauld, and others. He also corresponded with many persons of literary and political eminence in the United States. This correspondence has been published, and is highly interesting. He was devoted to the improvement of the grounds around his hospitable mansion, and in planting an orchard contracted a pleurisy which proved fatal. - The career of Arthur Lee was one of the most important and useful to his country which the history of that day records. The transient cloud which rested upon his name, from the machinations of those whose peculations of the public money he had exposed, soon passed away without effort upon his part; and when he retired from public affairs, he carried with him the respect and confidence of the best and most celebrated men of his epoch.
His face was striking and handsome, his eyes blue and brilliant, and his person pleasing.
His acquirements, exclusive of his medical knowledge, seem to have been extensive, He has been justly styled "the scholar, the writer, the philosopher, and negotiator," and in all these capacities he labored faithfully for the public good. He never married. - His "Life and Correspondence " was published by his grand-nephew, R. II. Lee (3 vols. 8vo, Boston, 1829).
I. Sophia, an English authoress, born in London in May, 1750, died at Clifton, near Bristol, March 13, 1824. ' She was the daughter of an actor, who was originally a lawyer, and made her first appearance before the public in 1780 as the author of a comedy entitled " The Chapter of Accidents," which was brought out at the Haymarket theatre with great success. In the succeeding year she removed with her sisters to Bath, where she devoted the profits of her play to the establishment of a young ladies' seminary, over which she and her sister Harriet presided for many years. In 1785 she published " The Recess," a historical tale of a rather sombre character, which attained considerable popularity, and which was followed by " Almeyda," a tragedy, performed with moderate success; " The Life of a Lover," a novel in 6 vols.; and an unsuccessful com-edy, " The Assignation." She also furnished " the Young Lady's Tale " and " The Clergyman's Tale" to the series of "Canterbury Tales," written by her sister Harriet and herself, which are considered her best productions. She gave up her seminary in 1803, and passed the remainder of her life in retirement.
Her conversational powers were remarkable.
II. Harriet, sister of the preceding, born in London in 1756, died at Clifton, Aug. 1, 1851. Her first appearance as an authoress took place in 1786, when she published "The Errors of Innocence," a novel in 5 vols., succeeded by several others now forgotten. In 1797 appeared the first volume of the " Canterbury Tales," followed at intervals of a few years by four others under the same title, the contents of which were for the most part of her composition. They enjoyed a great popularity in the early part of the century; and a new edition was published in New York in 1856-'7 (3 vols. 12mo). One of the most remarkable is "The German's Tale: Kruitzner," from which Lord Byron borrowed not merely the plot and the machinery down to the most trivial incidents, but in some instances the language, of his " Werner." She also produced two dramas, "The New Peerage" and "The Three Strangers," the latter of which failed at Covent Garden in 1835.