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Richard Henry Lee - One of America's Founding Fathers

Posted on Thursday, December 12, 2019

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Birth: January 20, 1732
Death: June 19, 1794 (age 62)
Colony: Virginia
Occupation: Politician
Significance: First person to formally propose Independence to the Second Continental Congress; Signed The Declaration of Independence (at the age of 44); served as United States Senator (Virginia) from 1789 to 1792.

Portrait of Richard Henry Lee hanging in the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery

Richard Henry Lee was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Born in Virginia to the very prominent Lee family, Lee was sent to England as a teenager to receive the best possible education. Lee returned to Virginia in 1753 after completing his studies. In 1758, Lee was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and began his career in politics that would last decades.

In 1774, Lee was chosen to be one Virginia's representatives to the First Continental Congress. The following year, Lee also served in the Second Continental Congress. While a member of the Second Continental Congress, Lee was the first person to formally propose independence to the Second Continental Congress. On June 7, 1776, Lee stood before the Second Continental Congress and boldly declared,

"These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States!"

Lee was back in Virginia on July 2, 1776, and thus he was unable to vote on his own proposal for Independence, but he returned in time to sign The Declaration of Independence. After signing The Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776, Lee continued to serve in the Continental Congress for many years, eventually becoming the President of the Continental Congress (Congress of the Confederation) in 1784.  

Lee eventually left the Continental Congress in 1787 and returned to Virginia. But soon afterwards, he was selected to serve as one of Virginia's two U.S. Senators, a position he held until 1792.  

Richard Henry Lee in Philadelphia

Lee arrived in Philadelphia as a Delegate to the First Continental Congress which met at Carpenters' Hall in September 1774. Lee returned the following year in 1775 as a Delegate to the Second Continental Congress. While serving as a member of the Second Continental Congress, Lee worked at Independence Hall, and he signed The Declaration of Independence. A plaque commemorating Lee for signing The Declaration of Independence can be found on Signers' Walk on the 600 block of Chestnut Street (between 5th and 6th Streets). Starting in 1790, when the Capital moved back to Philadelphia, Lee returned to Philadelphia as a United States Senator (Virginia), and Lee worked in Congress Hall during this time.

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