Lee, Richard Henry

Lee, Richard Henry,

1732–94, political leader in the American Revolution, b. Westmoreland co., Va.; brother of Arthur Lee, Francis L. Lee, and William Lee. He served in the house of burgesses (1758–75), where he favored ending the slave trade. An opponent of the Stamp Act (1765), he was the leader in the formation of a nonimportation organization. To help unite colonial resistance further, he advocated, and helped to form, the intercolonial committees of correspondence. As a member (1774–79) of the Continental Congress, he was most active in promoting a nonimportation agreement. Lee was a member (with John Adams and Edward Rutledge) of the committee that placed George Washington in command of the Continental Army. He was also vigorous in arguing for independence and introduced the motion that led to the Declaration of Independence, which he later signed. Lee served again in the Continental Congress (1784–87). He opposed the U.S. Constitution because he feared that it would destroy states' rights. As U.S. Senator from Virginia (1789–92) Lee was largely responsible for adoption of the first 10 amendments (the Bill of Rights) to the Constitution.


See his letters, ed. by J. C. Ballagh (2 vol., 1911–14, repr. 1970); biography by O. P. Chitwood (1967).

Lee, Richard Henry

(1732–94) legislator, Revolutionary statesman; born in Westmoreland County, Va. He strenuously opposed the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts. He became a leader of the radical wing of the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he was associated with Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. In June 1776, he introduced the resolution in Congress which led directly to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Later, he continued to serve in Congress, but he refused to attend the Constitutional Convention (1787) and vigorously opposed the new Constitution. As a United States senator (1789–92) he worked for the ideas that were embodied in the Bill of Rights (1791).
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The resulting portraits of family members and relatives read like a soap opera or made-for-TV mini-series with their tales of dynastic struggles, disinheritance, political feuds, squandered wealth, alcoholism and gambling, drug addiction, love affairs, failed marriages, and thwarted careers (see Richard the Squire, Phil Lee, Billy Shippen, Tommy Shippen, Arthur Lee, Richard Henry Lee, Lighthorse Harry Lee, Charles Lee, for examples).