Richard Henry Lee was born January 20, 1732 in Stratford, Virginia; first cousin of Henry Lee II who would become the grandfather of Robert E. Lee.
At the age of 16, Richard Lee left Virginia for Yorkshire, England to complete his formal education.
By the age of 25, Richard had been appointed justice of the peace in the same Virginia county he was born in.
Then in 1758, Richard was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he met Patrick Henry.
An early advocate of independence, Richard Lee became one of the first to create Committees of Correspondence among the many independence-minded Americans in the various colonies.
In 1766, almost ten years before the American Revolutionary War, Richard Lee is credited with having authored the Westmoreland Resolution which was publicly signed by prominent landowners who met at Leedstown, Westmoreland County, Virginia on Feb. 27, 1766.
In August 1774, Richard Lee was chosen as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
In Richard Lee’s Resolution on the 7th of June 1776 during the Second Continental Congress, Richard put forth the motion to the Continental Congress to declare Independence from Great Britain, which read (in part):
Resolved: 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.
Richard Lee had returned to Virginia by the time Congress voted on and adopted the Declaration of Independence, but Richard signed the document upon his returned to Congress.
Richard Lee served in Congress through the course of the War, while also serving in the House of Burgesses.
Richard’s accomplishments as a delegate from Virginia did not go unnoticed by his colleagues in the United States Congress.
On November 30, 1784, members convened at the French Arms Tavern in Trenton, New Jersey and elected Richard Lee the 6th President of the United States in Congress Assembled.
Richard Henry Lee’s Presidency was a busy one, attending to the needs of the new nation.
Richard Lee’s candor and straightforwardness bore few secrets.
In a November 18, 1784 letter to Samuel Adams, Richard Lee wrote;
“I shall be extremely happy to be aided by your counsels during my residence in Congress.”
Richard Henry Lee’s letters are abundant and well-published and consequently we know that President Lee favored low taxes by funding the debt with foreign loans.
Richard Lee, in fact, reviled duties and was a staunch opponent of Congress’ willingness to tax the citizens at a Federal level. Instead, Richard led the effort to fund the federal government and retire the Revolutionary War debt with federal land sales in the Northwest Territory.
In January 1785, after the USCA relocated to New York, Richard championed the urgency of western land sales because borrowing more foreign money was no longer viable and he abhorred any congressional attempts to establish new federal taxes.
It was the sale of these vast federal lands, Richard deduced, that was the nation’s only hope to pay off the war debt and adequately fund the federal government.
President Richard Lee wrote to his friend and colleague Samuel Adams:
“I hope we shall shortly finish our plan for disposing of the western Lands to discharge the oppressive public debt created by the war & I think that if this source of revenue be rightly managed, that these republics may soon be discharged from that state of oppression and distress that an indebted people must invariably feel.”
The Western Land Ordinance of 1785 became the mechanism for selling and settling this land. Federal surveyors divided the land into carefully planned individual square townships. Each side of the township square was to be six miles in length containing thirty-six square miles of territory. The township was then divided into one-square mile sections, with each section receiving its own number and encompassing 640 acres. Section sixteen was to be set aside for a public school and sections eight, eleven, twenty-six, and twenty-nine were to provide veterans of the American Revolution with land as payment for their service during the war thus greatly reducing the war debt. The government would then sell the remaining sections at public auction at the minimum bid of 640 dollars per section or one dollar for an acre of land in each section.
The Federal Government, however, lacked the resources to manage the newly surveyed lands because Native Americans refused to relinquish a large percentage of the platted land and most of the territory remained too dangerous for settlement.
This either required troops to eject the Native Americans or capital to purchase their land “fairly” insuring the peaceful sale and settlement. Additionally the small amount of federal land that was not in dispute by the Native Americans was enthusiastically being occupied by western settlers that had no faith in or respect for the USCA government as a federal authority.
These settlers just claimed the land as squatters and the USCA was unable to muster the capital for magistrates let alone troops to enforce the $1.00 per acre fee required for a clear federal land title.
With the States no longer in control of the lands and no federal magistrates or troops to enforce the laws, a tide of western squatters flowed into the Northwest Territory.
Richard Henry Lees’ plan to fill the federal treasury with the proceeds of land sales failed.
As the July summer percolated into a steamy New York City August meaningful work in Congress slowed to a trickle despite the chained-off area as the city teemed with the new country’s business. Richard Henry Lee decided to leave the Capitol due to an undisclosed illness and in his absence Congress granted Secretary John Jay greater latitude in negotiating with Don Diego de Gardoqui, the Spanish Minister to end the tide of Mississippi tariffs that beleaguered the U.S. southern territories and States.
From September 13 to the 17th Congress focused on and passed the 1785 Requisition. October saw the return of President Richard Lee to New York from Philadelphia and it was a very busy month with the dispatch of troops to attend western Native American negotiations, exhorting states to meet financial quotas and coping with the shipping threats of the Barbary States.
The USCA failed to achieve quorum on three occasions in late October so Richard Henry Lee’s term ended with the postponement of convening a court to settle the Massachusetts-New York western border disputes and the recruitment resolution for 700-troops to be sent west and either collect the $1.00 per acre federal land fees or evict squatters from the newly surveyed territories.
With this Richard Henry Lee’s term ended November 4, 1785.
From March 4, 1789 – October 8, 1792, Richard Lee served as United States Senator from Virginia. Richard also served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate from April 18, 1792 – October 8, 1792.
“To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”
Richard Henry Lee retired due to illness, and soon after died June 19, 1794 at the age of 62.
Now WE know em