In early April Richard Henry Lee
updated the now retired Commander-in-Chief, George Washington, in this letter
that summarized the Congressional events of his Presidency.
New York, April 18, 1785: I should before this have thanked you for your
favour of March 15th, if I had not been in daily expectation that the arrival
of the packets would bring us some intelligence from Europe worth
communicating to you; the February packet has but just come in after a passage
of eight weeks, and neither she or other vessels in short passages, bring us
any thing interesting. War or peace in Europe, hangs yet in doubtful balance;
both parties arming with assiduity, and nothing determined upon. Mr. John
Adams, is sent plenipotentiary to the court of London, and Mr. Jefferson is
the minister at Versailles, Dr. Franklin having leave, at his own request, to
retire. Returning appearances of good humor, and a proposition first made by
the British court, to treat of our differences in London, has induced hopes of
an amicable adjustment of disputes. Mr. Gardoque is not arrived, but expected
about the last of this month from the Havana, to which place he went from
Spain previous to his coming here. If the commenced bickering between Madrid
and London on the Musquito shore should go on, we may probably have easier
work with both courts in our business with them.
have the honor to enclose you the report of a respectable committee on the
subject of selling the western lands, which has not yet been acted upon,
though it speedily will. What changes may be made in this plan before it
finally passes, cannot yet be told, but probably there will be some. Your idea
of settling a state at a time, would most certainly be the wisest and the
best, if the excessive rage for taking lands there could be possibly
restrained. But really it seems that either Congress must sell quickly, or
possession will be so taken as to render doubtful this fine fund for
extinguishing the public debt. It has been impossible to get a vote for more
than seven hundred men to garrison all the posts to be fixed in the trans-Alleghanian
country, from north to south; a number very inadequate, I fear, to the purpose
of even suppressing illegal trespasses upon the western lands. Our friend the
Marquis La Fayette, arrived after a short passage, but I believe it was a very
boisterous one. Your letter for Mr. Lee I sent after him to Virginia,
Whither he was returning before I received it. My best respects attend your
Richard Henry Lee still plagued by the War debt turned once again to enact an
Ordinance for the Northwest Territory to settle claims with the States. If
passed these new federal holdings would provide Lee's government with vast
lands to sell. Lee now firmly believed borrowing more foreign money was no
longer prudent and he abhorred the movement to establish new federal taxes. It
was the sale of these vast federal lands, he deduced, was the nation's only
hope to pay off the war debt and adequately fund federal government. Lee wrote
to his friend and colleague Samuel Adams on May 20th:
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
May 20th, 1785 Richard Henry Lee's Congress enacted the Land Ordinance of 1785
for a small section of the Northwest Territory. The hope was that as the
States and Indians relinquished their claims to the new lands that federal
surveyors would be appointed to divide the territory 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
would then be 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 schools 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 very acre of land in
each section. Richard Henry Lee ardently believed this was a sound survey
system for future development and that the income from these newly divided
lands would settle the public debt and fund the Confederation government. This
new survey system would expand from this small range in Ohio to the Pacific
Ocean and later into Alaska as the United States expanded its borders in the
next two centuries.
first portion survey 18th Century survey system became known as the Seven
Ranges in Ohio. The northern boundary was an east to west line beginning where
the Ohio River intersected Pennsylvania that also served as the first north to
south line. Eight lines, six miles apart were plotted in the first survey.
This resulted in the Seven Ranges that were seven north to south rows. This
surveyed land would now become available for sale to private individuals and
companies filling the coffers of the United States with raising taxes.
States did finally relinquish their right to this "test tract" of land.
Despite this and the new land ordinance, the Federal Government lacked the
resources to manage the new surveyed lands. Native Americans refused to
relinquish a large percentage of the plotted land and 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 of the new federal real estate. The federal
government had neither. Additionally the federal land that was not in dispute
by the Native Americans was eagerly occupied by western settlers as squatters
who had no faith in or respect for the United States in Congress Assembled.
The settlers were correct in their assessment as the federal government was
even unable to muster capital to pay magistrates and pay troops to enforce the
$1.00 per acre fee required from the settlers for a clear federal 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
June a despondent Congress turned their attentions to other matters and
appointed a new federal court to decide on a South Carolina-Georgia boundary
dispute. Most of the June dealt with the appointment of Indian commissioners
in a effort to negotiate Native American Treaties to settle the territory and
discharged the only garrison capable of enforcing the land ordinance with
squatters at Fort Pitt. Congress ordered inquiries into the offices of the
former Superintendent of Finance and the treasury administration. As the
government departments grew in New York the undefined office of President of
the United States steadily lost power. On June 13th President Lee wrote
his nephew an interesting letter that gives some insight into the
strengthening of the Executive Office of Foreign Secretary at the expense of
the U. S. Presidency:
Your favor of June the 11th has been just now put into my hands, and had it
come sooner would have rendered unnecessary some parts of my letter to you of
yesterday, which, with this will be delivered by Mr. Joseph Harrison. I am
very sure that without incurring the smallest danger of being charged with
self applause, I can safely appeal to all those acquainted with my political
progress, for a full testimonial that neither indolence, inattention or
neglect have marked my proceedings; And most certainly I should not have first
commenced such practice with so respectable a character as Doctor Franklin.
When Congress determined to indulge the Doctor, upon his request, with leave
to retire, the business of communicating that determination was expressly
assigned to the Secretary for foreign Affairs among the other duties of his
Office; And did not enter at all into my business. In me it would have been a
work of Supererogation and I think myself warranted in doing justice to the
honorable Secretary for foreign Affairs by assuring you that his information
was sent by the earliest good opportunity that offered after the Act of
Congress passed. I thank you for your obliging attention to my affairs; but
you say nothing about the covering for my Chariot; is it gone, or in what
State is that affair? The Gout shoes are come & I believe will answer well.
God bless you. Farewell, Richard Henry Lee
Early July brought the
celebration of Independence and the establishment of the Dollar as the money
unit of the United States on the 6th with these resolutions:.
Resolved, That the money unit of the United States of America be one dollar.
Resolved, That the smallest coin be of copper, of which 200 shall pass for one
dollar. Resolved, That the several pieces shall increase in a decimal ratio.
in July began debates on granting the federal government intrastate and
foreign commerce power to raise revenue and settle state disputes. That month
they abolished the commissary of military stores and the entire quartermaster
department as they continued to debate the requisition bill from the states.
Cutting costs was the only option left to the Delegates in this era of debt.
New York City was a bustling city whose
post-war growth was unprecedented in America during the 18th Century. The
relocation of the Federal Government to Manhattan, in what is now known as the
Wall Street district, attracted tidal waves packed with diplomats, politicians
and enterprising businessmen seeking housing, office and retail space close to
the United States in Congress Assembled. In
late July, Congress, at the request of Richard Henry Lee, passed an unusual
resolution that was directed to N. Y. C. Mayor James Duane and signed by the
New York July 20th, 1785: I have the honor to enclose an Act of Congress that
has been prompted by the daily interruption given to their discussions by the
almost unceasing noise of passing Carriages. Your long acquaintance with
public business and your wish to see it discharged with propriety and
dispatch, will secure your approbation of the proposed remedy if it shall be
found to consist with the police of the City.
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 teamed
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, on the 25th, greater latitude in negotiating with Don
Diego de Gardoqui, the Spanish minister to the United States to end the tide
of Mississippi tariffs that plagued the southern territories and States. This
attempt to negotiate a commercial treaty with Gardoqui resulted in nothing.
This stonewall was not forgotten by the old members of Congress when Thomas
Jefferson purchased the
Louisiana Territory from France. The King of Spain in 1803
protested that Napoleon's territorial title was worthless. Napoleon Bonaparte
planned a new French empire in the Americas with Louisiana as its focal point.
In 1800, Bonaparte forced Spain to return Louisiana at the secret Treaty of
San Ildefonso for a fairly large amount of money. Spain was never paid and in
1803 Napoleon sold the land to the United States. Spain had, in the opinion of
the founders, exacted a heavy toll from a fledgling nation through the
confederation period on the Mississippi and readily turned a deft ear to the
protests of the King.
Meanwhile, Richard Henry Lee who left New York City recuperated under the
watch of his friend Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia. Despite his illness
President Lee did attend to his duties as evidenced by this letter to
Secretary Charles Thomson::
"Philadelphia August 21st. 1785: The letter that you favored me with on the
18th instant reached me yesterday after the post had left the City, so that
the papers enclosed for my signature must be detained until next post day,
unless Doctor Gardener should afford me an opportunity of more quickly
conveying them. With the returned papers you will receive also enclosed a
letter from the honorable Mr. Rutledge, and one from Lt. Colo. Harmer, both
which I received yesterday. I pray you Sir to accept my thanks for your
obliging wishes for the recovery of my health, which is certainly better than
when I left New York."
early September quorum problems, once again, plagued Congress with the
President in Philadelphia. Lee still managed some Presidential business and
wrote John Jay on September 11th regarding the negotiations with Spain:
"I had the honor of receiving this morning your favor of the fourth instant
concerning the letter from Count de florida Blanca to the President of
Congress, which was delivered to me by Mr. Gardoque. Having considered that
letter as a public one, I delivered it to Congress, and it now remains with
their Secretary, if he has not sent it to your Office. I do not precisely
remember the contents of the letter, and viewing it in the light of a public
one, I have two difficulties, which I pray your assistance to remove. As a
public letter, it would seem that the sentiments in answer should be dictated
by Congress; As a private one, I should know exactly its contents which I do
not. I shall be very happy to have your sentiments on this occasion after you
have seen the letter; and I will readily pursue that course which your better
knowledge of such business shall point out to me. Be pleased Sir to accept my
thanks for your obliging wishes for the restoration of my health which is much
mended since I have drank the waters in the vicinity of this place. My
compliments, if you please, to Mr. Gardoque."
September 13th to the 17th Congress focused on the 1785 requisition. Finally
after six months of hearings and debate they adopted the 1785 Requisition
“Resolved, That for the services of the present year, one thousand seven
hundred and eighty five, for the payment of one year's Interest on the foreign
and domestic debt, and as a provision to discharge the balance of the estimate
of April twenty seventh, one thousand seven hundred and eighty four, above the
sum called for by the resolve of Congress of that date, it will be necessary
that Three Million of dollars, in addition to 649,880 dollars, hereafter
provided for, be paid into the common treasury, on or before the first day of
May next, to be appropriated to the following purposes:
.• Dollars ...
department ... 122,331
department ... 187,224.32
.• Purchases of
Indian rights of soil,and the incidental expences ... 5,000
Contingencies, the expences under which head shall, on the first of January
annually, be transmitted by the board of Treasury, to the Legislature of each
State ... 90,000
.• Dollars ...
10,000,000 livres loaned in Holland and guaranteed by France, one year's
Interest thereon ... 74,074
ditto, public French loan, one year's
florins, first Dutch loan, one year's Interest thereon ... 96,527.5
ditto, second Dutch loan, one year's Interest thereon at 4 per cent ...
livres to the farmer's general of France, one year's Interest thereon ...
dollars, one year's Interest thereon ... 631,042.6
.• Loan Office
dollars issued to the 1st Sept. 1777, equal to specie, one year's Interest
thereon ... 226,734
dollars issued between 1st Sept. 1777, and 1st March, 1778, which sum is
subject to liquidation by the scale, but the Interest is payable on the
nominal sum, one year's Interest thereon ... 207,540
5,146,330.8 dollars, specie value of uncancelled loan office certificates,
issued after the 1st March, 1778, one year's Interest thereon ... 308,780.6
4,823,724 dollars, estimated amount of certificates issued and to be issued to
the lines of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia,
one year's Interest thereon ... 289,423.4 348
1,141,551.5 dollars, balance of the estimate of the 27th of April, 1784, above
the sum called for by the resolution of Congress of that date ... 1,141,551.5
estimate ... 3,649,880
.• Balance to
be called for ... 3,000,000
the end of September the eastern boundary dispute between New York and
Massachusetts was still not settled so they authorized a commission complete
the matter. October saw the return of the President to New York from
Philadelphia. Richard Henry Lee was very busy in October with the dispatch of
troops to attend western Native American negotiations, exhorting states to
meet financial quotas and dealing with the shipping threats of the Barbary
States. Unfortunately congress 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 determine Massachusetts-New York western land claims
dispute and the suspension of recruitment for 700-troop establishment that was
direly needed to collect the $1.00 per acre federal fee or evict Land
Ordinance squatters in the newly surveyed territory.
one of his last letters as President of the United States, Richard Henry Lee
took the time to write Marquis de Lafayette, once again, who acted so boldly
in Lee's home state of Virginia during the dark days of 1780 and 81:
thank you, my dear marquis, for your very affectionate letter, by Mr. Houdon;
that gentleman arrived in Philadelphia, and proceeded immediately to Mount
Vernon; he has been ever since with General Washington, so that I have not yet
had the pleasure of seeing him in this city. It is very happy for America,
that events of such high importance should have taken place here as to invite
artists, of Mr. Houdon's great reputation, to visit us. I hope that he will
find every thing here agreeable to his wishes. As I take strong part in every
thing that conduces to your happiness, so I have contemplated with pleasure,
the great satisfaction you must have received at the review of those excellent
troops of the emperor and of Prussia. A philosophic mind is apt, however, to
regret that such fine exertions of human art should so often be employed for
the destruction of the human species. I will comfort myself here by hoping,
that these will be used to suppress and control, not to promote the bad
purposes of ambition. It raises high the glory of Louis the Sixteenth, that
his reign has been so eminent for promoting the good of mankind, whilst
sovereigns in general, employ their power to increase the miseries of human
nature! Will it not happen, during the reign of this glorious monarch, that
those lawless pirates, upon the African coast of the Mediterranean, will be
compelled, by some proper system, to respect the rights of men, and the laws
of nations, instead of receiving annual stipends for not doing what it is
really infamous to do. I mean roaming about to injure, oppress, and destroy,
their unoffending fellow creatures. Among the many leagues that are formed,
why may not one be made for the purpose of protecting the rights of humanity.
I hope, sir, that you have not forgotten your design, again to make us happy,
by your return to these United States.
The journals of the United States
in Congress Assembled report this summary of Lee’s Congress:
--- December 3 Registers commission of
Swedish consul Charles Hellstedt; orders redeployment of Fort Stanwix troops
to West Point. December 7 Countermands
redeployment of Fort Stanwix troops, who are ordered to Fort Rensselaer.
December 8 Receives Massachusetts and New
York agents assembled to select judges for hearing land claim dispute between
the two states. December 11 Rejects motion
to adjourn from Trenton; commends the marquis de Lafayette.
December 14 Postpones election of treasury
commissioners; directs Benjamin Franklin to delay signing consular convention
with France. December 15 Receives Spanish
announcement closing Mississippi River. December 17
Elects chaplain to Congress; resolves to appoint minister to Spain.
December 20 Overturns decision to create
two capitals; appropriates $100,000 for capital buildings.
December 23 Adopts ordinance for fixing upon
a place for the residence of Congress." December 24
Certifies selection of judges for hearing Massachusetts-New York land claim
dispute; adjourns to New York City.
--- January 11 Reconvenes, five states
represented. January 13 Achieves quorum,
seven states represented. January 18 Accepts offer of New York City Hall for
the use of Congress. January 20
Communicates to states intelligence on the precariousness of United States
credit abroad. January 24 Orders
preparation of a requisition on the states for 1785.
January 25 Elects treasury commissioners; tables L'Enfant plan for
establishing a corps of engineers. January 27
Adopts ordinance "for ascertaining the powers and duties of the Secretary at
War." January 31 Resolves to appoint
minister to Great Britain. February 1 Ratifies terms of a two-million-guilder
February 2 Adopts
proclamation urging states to penalize counterfeiting.
February 7 Approves lease of public buildings at Carlisle, Pa.,
to Dickinson College; orders removal of War Office, Post Office, and Treasury
offices to New York. February 10 Elects
Philip Schuyler commissioner for planning federal capital.
February 11 Adopts regulations for the office
for foreign affairs, conceding to Secretary Jay's demands.
February 18 Limits terms of ministers abroad.
February 21 Resolves to send commissioners
to the Illinois Settlements. February 24
Appoints John Adams minister to Great Britain. March 4 Opens debate on western
March 7 Authorizes
Benjamin Franklin's return to America; resolves to appoint minister to the
Netherlands. March 8 Elects Henry Knox secretary at war.
March 10 Elects Thomas Jefferson minister to
France. March 11 Adopts instructions for
negotiating with the Barbary states. March 15
Adopts instructions for the southern Indian commissioners.
March 16 Rejects motion to limit slavery in
the territories. March 17 Imposes 12-month
limit for submission of claims against the United States.
March 18 Adopts instructions for the western
Indian commissioners. March 21 Elects
southern Indian commissioners; thanks king of Denmark for offer to ordain
American candidates for holy orders. March 28
Receives report on granting Congress commerce powers.
March 31 Adopts ordinance for regulating the
office of secretary of Congress; receives report on 1785 requisition.
April 1 Debates
Continental military needs. April 7
Authorizes military establishment of 700 troops.
April 14 Reads revised western land ordinance.
April 18 Accepts Massachusetts western land
cession. April 22-28 Debates western land ordinance.
April 29 Appeals to states to maintain representation.
May 2-6 Debates western
land ordinance. May 9-10 Fails to achieve
quorum (five states). May 12 Fails to
achieve quorum (six states). May 13 Receives coinage report.
May 18-19 Debates western land ordinance.
May 20 Adopts western land ordinance; appeals
to North Carolina to repeat western land cession. May
24 Fails to achieve quorum (four states).
May 27 Renews appointment of geographer of the United States;
appoints 13 continental surveyors.
June 1 Authorizes
appointment of federal court to decide South Carolina Georgia boundary
dispute. June 3 Publishes treaties with
the Indians negotiated at Fort Stanwix and Fort McIntosh.
June 6 Authorizes negotiation of an Indian
treaty at Vincennes. June 7 Discharges
Fort Pitt garrison. June 14 Responds to
French announcement of the birth of a second heir to the throne.
June 17 Orders John Jay to plan audience for
the Spanish plenipotentiary Diego de Gardoqui. June
20 Orders inquiry into the administration of the late
superintendent of finance. June 21 Orders
annual inquiry into treasury administration. June 23
Appoints William Livingston minister to the Netherlands (declines).
June 29 Asks Virginia to provide military
support for Indian commissioners. June 30
Orders a study of mail transportation.
July 1 Rejects motion
to abolish court of appeals, but terminates salaries of the judges.
July 2 Receives Diego de Cardoqui.
July 4 Celebrates Independence Day. July 5
Appoints John Rutledge minister to the Netherlands (declines).
July 6 Adopts the dollar as the money unit of
the United States. July 11 Continues
rations for Canadian refugees. July 12
Receives Post Office report. July 13-14
Debates granting Congress commerce power. July 18
Debates 1785 requisition. July 20
Abolishes commissary of military stores. July 22
Debates 1785 requisition. July 25
Abolishes quartermaster department. July 28-29
Debates 1785 requisition.
August 1-3 Debates 1785
requisition. August 5 Orders removal of
the treasurer's office to New York (by October 1) .
August 10-13 Recesses. August 15
Thanks king of Spain for sending Gardoqui mission.
August 17 Appoints Samuel Holten chairman in the absence of
President Lee (through September 29) for the recovery of his health; Secretary
Thomson to re port delegate attendance monthly.
August 18 Endorses conduct of Massachusetts governor James Bowdoin
in controversy with British naval captain Henry Stanhope.
August 25 Grants John Jay greater latitude in
negotiating with Gardoqui. August 29
Abolishes committee of the week (duties transferred to secretary of Congress.
September 2-3 Fails to
achieve quorum (five states and two states) .
September 5 Receives John Jay report on British occupation of
northwest posts. September 7 Authorizes
John Jay to inspect the mails when ever required by United States "safety
or interest" ; approves the conveyance of mails by stage carriages.
September 13-17 Debates 1785 requisition.
September 19-21 Debates appeal of Connecticut
settlers in the Wyoming valley. September 22-26
Debates 1785 requisition. September 27
Adopts 1785 requisition. September 29
Authorizes commission to settle Massachusetts New York eastern
October 5 Orders
postmaster general to extend system of posts. October
7 Debates threat of western separatism.
October 12 Authorizes troops to attend western Indian negotiations;
exhorts states to meet fiscal quotas. October 17-18
Mourns death of Virginia delegate Samuel Hardy (age 27).
October 20 Receives John Jay report on naval
threat of Barbary states. October 21-22
Fails to achieve quorum (six states and one state) .
October 25 Fails to achieve quorum (four states).
October 27 Rejects proposal to create
consular establishment. October 28 Confers
consular powers on ministers abroad.
November 2 Postpones
convening of court to determine Massachusetts-New York western land claims
dispute; suspends recruitment for 700 troop establishment.
November 4 Congressional session expires.
Richard Henry Lee, the man who wrote the resolution for Independence,
distrusted the central government and in 1788 fought against the ratification
of the new US Constitution seeking to preserve the old confederation
government. In an October 1787 letter to George Mason, Lee warned that the new
Federal government would "… produce a coalition of monarchy of men,
military men, aristocrats and drones, whose noise, impudence and zeal exceeds
all belief". Lee summed up his philosophy to Samuel Adams in a March 14,
1785 letter two years earlier stating:
think sir that the first maxim of a man who loves liberty should be, never to
grant to Rulers an atom of power that is not most clearly and indispensable
necessary for the safety and well being of Society.
Richard Henry Lee was the only true "radical" to win the Presidency of
the United States in Congress Assembled. To his dismay the new executive
departments had weaned away the power of the President's office to a shadow of
what it was when Samuel Huntington became the 1st U.S. President in 1781.
the end of his presidential term Lee returned to Virginia and remained active
in state politics until 1787 when he was re-elected to the Confederation
Congress as a delegate. Lee voted to revise the Articles of Confederation
resulting in the convening of the 2nd Constitutional Convention.. The
convention was chaired by George Washington who agreed with Madison and other
key founders to discard the 1st U.S. Constitution completely and form a
entirely new plan for the federal government. The new plan was signed by
Washington and the other founders on September 17, 1787. When the new
constitution was reported to congress on September 20th, Richard Henry Lee
vehemently opposed its adoption. Despite this and President's St. Clair's
disappointment in the document's complete dismantling of the Articles of
Confederation, the new constitution was sent to the States for ratification
without any modifications by the United States in Congress Assembled.
are divided on the reasons why members, like Richard Henry Lee, didn't insist
on modifying the Constitution before submitting it to the states. Some
scholars maintain that opponents in the United States in Congress Assembled
were sure the 13 individual legislatures would reject a plan that so
boldly usurped State authority so modification wasn't necessary. Other
members who opposed the new Constitution chose not to add or alter sections
out of respect for George Washington's chairmanship. Whatever the reasons the
United States in Congress Assembled, despite having the power to alter the
plan, added nor deleted a word. The new constitution was now left
to the States.
Richard Henry Lee did warn the Delegates that the new constitution's
consolidation of national power would ultimately replace the state governments
with centralized despotism. His correspondence at this time with Samuel Adams,
who was inclined to entertain the same fears, is very instructive as many of
his fears and predictions are now 21st Century realities.
These misgivings were also shared by Patrick Henry and many other patriotic
Virginians. Despite this James Madison managed to broker Virginia's
ratification of the new constitution with the State delegation by promising to
introduce their 17 amendments in the 1st Congress. These amendments, Madison
maintained, would be introduced in the 1st session of Congress by him
personally. True to his word, Madison was elected to the House of
Representatives and submitted all 17 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The
new U.S. Congress voted to submit only 12 of the 17 amendments for approval by
the States. Ten were ratified and are now referred to as the Bill of Rights.
first U.S. Senators elected by Virginia were Richard Henry Lee and Grayson, in
opposition to James Madison and a fellow Federalist. Madison who is often
called the "Father of the Constitution" was soundly defeated by Lee and
forced to challenge James Monroe for the open seat in the House of
Representatives. This House election is and will always remain one of the most
pivotal legislative victories in U.S. History due to Madison's success in
introducing the Bill of Rights.
U.S. Senator, Richard Henry Lee wielded the language of the tenth amendment to
the Constitution in these words: "The powers not delegated by the
Constitution to the United States, nor prohibited by it to the states, are
reserved to the states respectively." The amendment, as adopted,
substituted the word "granted" for "delegated," and added at the
end the words "or to the people."
Though at first an Anti-Federalist, Mr. Lee came to be a warm supporter of
Washington's administration, and especially approved of his course in the
affair of "citizen" Genet. In 1792 Senator Lee was obliged, by failing
health, to resign his seat. He retired to his estate at Chantilly, where he
spent the last two years of his life.
Lee was described by his peers as tall and graceful in person and striking in
feature. His voice was clear and rich, and his oratory impressive. He did not
waste time in flowery rhetoric, instead speaking briefly and to the point. His
ideas were so lucid and expression so forcible that when he sat down after a
few weighty words fellow representatives often remarked that
there was no more to be said on the subject. His capacity for work was
daunting, though sometimes limited by poor health; as Dr. Rush said, "His
mind was like a sword too large for its scabbard."
Richard Henry Lee was married twice. His first wife was Aylett Lee bore two
sons and two daughters. His second wife, Pinkard, also birthed two daughters.
For more information on his family, a definitive work in two volumes,
"Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee," Philadelphia, 1825, was written
by grandson, Richard Henry Lee, of Leesburg, Virginia.
2004 this author led the effort, as a member of the James Monroe Foundation, to acquire the birthplace James Monroe who was also born in
Westmoreland County Virginia. It was discovered that Westmoreland residents
were very found of touting that two U.S. Presidents, George Washington and
James Monroe, were born in their farm laden county. Today residents are now well
aware of Richard Henry Lee's standing in the United States and have the
distinction of being the only county birthing three U.S. Presidents.
President Richard Henry Lee’s grave can be found in a quaint farm field just
off a sandy lane in Westmoreland County on the grounds of his former estate
with the epitaph "We Can Not Do Without You.".
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