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Collection Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789

Richard Henry Lee

Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794). Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Oil on canvas, c. 1784. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-92331.


Virginian Richard Henry Lee was a born aristocrat. An active participant in many key events in the Revolutionary War, Lee protested the Stamp Act in Virginia (1765), sat on the committee that named George Washington Commander-in-Chief of the Continental army (1775), and introduced the motion that led to the Declaration of Independence (1776). While in the Continental Congress (1774- 1780, 1784-1787) he also worked to stop importation of slaves into the American states.

Yet, despite his experience in the Continental Congress -- America's national legislature -- Lee distrusted a strong national government, fearing that the individual states would lose rights and power. Unconvinced that the Constitution was the answer to the country's problems of government, he worked against its ratification. In Lee's words: "To say that a bad government must be established for fear of anarchy is really saying that we should kill ourselves for fear of dying."