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humble attitude of petition, to the solemn hour of the crisis, when the resolution was moved in Congress, by R. H. Lee, " that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; and that all political connexion between them and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
We can only refer our readers to these letters themselves, published with these memoirs; and must glance rapidly over the services of Mr. Lee, up to the period of the Declaration of Independence. He was regularly returned as a member of the House of Burgesses ; and his biographer thinks that the original suggestion of corresponding committees in the several legislatures, as well as corresponding societies to protect the rights of the people in the several states, belongs to him. The first of these committees in the Virginia Assembly, was appointed in 1773, of which Mr. Lee was a member. The resolutions brought forward by him in that body, and adopted by them, in relation to the last usurpation of Parliament, had previously occasioned its dissolution by the Governor, as had happened before with the New York legislature. The necessity of the other colonies making a common cause with New-York, was enforced with argument and eloquence by Mr. Lee in his letters and speeches. Among his political labours, however, it is worthy of notice, in passing, that the subject of internal improvement engaged the attention of his active mind. In the session of 1769, as chairman of a committee, he brought in a report on the subject of “opening and improving the navigation of the river Potomac, as far as Fort Cumberland, as it was then called.” More than half a century has elapsed, and the accomplishment of this object is still a desideratum.
“ The very object of Mr. Lee's report is, at this moment, likely to become a national one, and of incalculable benefit to a large portion of the country. It is believed that he was the first person who digested any plan of the kind, in this country; certainly the first who formed a plan for the improvement of the navigation of the Potomac river, as high up as Fort Cumberland.”—p. 78.
In the first General Assembly of Virginia, which met in 1774, after the dissolution of the House of Burgesses, it was resolved to recommend to the colonies an immediate meeting of a General Congress, and deputies were chosen from Virginia.
“ After several days had been spent in the examination of the credentials of the members, and in other preliminary arrangements, the House was at length completely and solemnly organised. The day on which it was to commence its deliberations arrived. It met, and a long and deep silence is said to have followed its organization.* Patrick Henry was
* Life of Patrick Henry, p. 106.
the first speaker on this 'occasion. He was followed, says his biogragrapher, by Mr. Richard Henry Lee, who charmed the house with a different kind of eloquence. Chaste, classical, beautiful, his polished periods rolled along without effort, filling the ear with the most bewitching harmony, and delighting the mind with the most exquisite imagery.”
The exhibition of moral energy, as has been justly asserted by a philosophical poet, transcends, in sublimity, all the grandeur of the physical universe; but his illustration, drawn from the assassination committed by the younger Brutus, is but tame and unworthy, compared with the spectacle presented by that assemblage, where the fathers of our country “sate in close divan,' to deliberate on the solemn question of establishing a new empire. When the mind grasps at once the interest of the moment, the magnitude of the territory that was to be wrested from the sway of England, and the ultimate influences on the political situation of other kingdoms, to which these consultations were to lead—there is more than enough to dilate, with kindling majesty,' the strongest conception.
The proceedings of this august body wore, however, for some time, an aspect of humility and negotiation, which ill suited the settled purpose, and, what might then have been deemed, enthusiastic views of Lee and Henry. At this day, however, we have reason to rejoice, that there was a coolness and temperance in those earlier councils, which gave dignity to resistance, while its necessity became obvious, and made the mother country wholly responsible for the premature occurrence of an inevitable issue. The same spirit, too, was transfused into the subsequent proceedings of the general legislature; and to its tone of moderation and firmness, America owes her unrivalled prosperity.
Our biographer vindicates, for Mr. Lee, the authorship of the petition to the king, reported by a committee, of which he was a member, in the Congress of 1774, which has been ascribed, heretofore, to the pen of Mr. Dickenson. This document, and the address to the people of England, as this writer justly observes, “cannot be too often read by the countrymen and descendants of their authors." The address to the Colonies, the composition, unquestionably, of Mr. Lee, is also a masterly exposition of the wrongs our countrymen had sustained, and the dangers that were before them. The address, which also was written by him in the Congress of 1775, to the inhabitants of Great Britain, breathes a spirit of manly eloquence, worthy of the cause which inspired it. Lord Chatham acknowledged the power of these appeals, and did justice in his private correspondence to their merits, while he paid a pub
lic tribute of respect to the wisdom and virtue of the men who composed the Congress at Philadelphia, in his well-known eulogy on that body, in the House of Lords.
In the Virginia Convention, Messrs. Lee and Henry proposed and carried resolutions for organising and arining the militia, in opposition to the doubts and fears of those who could not yet realise the emergency of the crisis. Being again returned as a delegate to Congress, his labours in that body were unremitting; and his constant devotion to business impaired his constitution,
“During the sessions of 1774-5-6-7-8, Mr. Lee_was at the head, or a member, of every military and naval committee. The reinark is equally applicable to nearly every committee on finance and foreign affairs. Besides serving on inany others, which have been omitted, he was, during the sessions of 1774-5, a member of fourteen committees to draw papers; five about military matters, and nine about miscellaneous affrirs In the session of 1776, he was on two committees to draw papers, fifteen-on military and naval concerns, and thirteen on miscellaneouis matters; in the session of 1777, he was on two coinmittees to draw papers, twelve on military and naval, and twenty on miscellaneous subjecis ; in the session of 1778, he was a member of four committees to draw papers, thirteen military and naval, and twenty miscellaneous. During the three last sessions, he had been absent, in consequence of ill health, from one to three months. It is believed that his labours were pot confined to those subjects, which had been referred to his consideration, for the author remembers to have heard a gentleman of the highest respectability, repeat a conversation between Dr. Shippen, of Philadelphia, in whose house Mr. Lee lodged, while he was a member of Congress, in which the Docfor observed, " that there was a constant procession of members repairing to his chamber, to consult about their reports.” He was the author of many of the publications of the Old Congress, from some of the most important of their addresses, down to the commission of their mili. tary chief.– Vol. I. p. 215, 216.”
A domestic circumstance had recalled Mr. Lee to his family at the time when the committee was appointed to draught the Declaration of Independence. Otherwise, having introduced the original motion, he would have been appointed chairman, according to the usage of the House.
In the discussions which took place in relation to an alliance with Spain, the importance of our rights in the fisheries, and the free navigation of the Mississippi, were regarded by Mr. Lee with enlightened views of future probabilities, which have since become realities. His correspondence on these subjects, with the statesmen of the day, discovers the clearness of his judgment, and the extent of his foresight. In 1780, and the two succeeding years, he devoted his services to the aflairs of his native state. In his character of lieutenant of the county, he was called upon by the General Assembly, to assume The command of the militia of Westmoreland. He succeeded
in organizing and establishing a discipline among them, which preserved the country from the inroads of the enemy. In 1784, he again took his seat in Congress, and was elected Presideut, when the chair became vacant. When the constitution was reported to Congress, in 1787, by the convention at Phila'. delphia, he was opposed to its adoption, in its then existing form. His views concurred with those of Patrick flenry, and many other of the warmest patriots of the time, who dreaded the consolidation of authority in the hands of the general government, and wished that the powers of the states not expressly ceded, and the personal legal privileges of individuals, should be accurately defined, and secured by a bill of rights. The tenth amendment of the constitution is said to have been offered by him, by which the powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the stales, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” The last words were not in the amendment, as originally offered by him. The letters between Mr. Lee and Samuel Adams, on this subject, are well worthy of perusal. The gloomier forebodings of the foriner, we have reason to rejoice, have ncver been realized.
A recent angry vindication of the rights of a state sovereignty, has particularly called the attention of the community to this subject. Neither time nor inclination permits us now to dwell on the topic.
After a life spent in constant and laborious attention to the best interests of his country, full of honours bestowed by his native state, and the confederation, Mr. Lee died at his scat, Chantilly, in the year 1794, in the sixty-fourth of his age. He united the accomplishments of a scholar and the enlightened piety of a Christian, to the zeal of a patriot and wisdom of a statesman. But few and imperfect specimens of his eloquence remain. The enthusiastic pen of Mr. Wirt has ascribed to it a character of no common order. What he has left, however, in the public documents, of which he was the author, and in his epistles, is a legacy which should be duly appreciated by all those by whom his inemory is cherished.
Art. V.--National Tales. Vol. II. New-York. A. P. Houston, &c. &c.
1825. The first volume of this work, which, as our readers may perhaps remember, we noticed in our third number, was made up of tales " translated or compiled from different authors;" and although the editor did not deign to tell us where he picked