« ПредишнаНапред »
centre, when General Braddock, with reinforcements from England arrived, and summoned the governors of the colonies to meet him at Alexandria, in Virginia, to devise means for the public safety.
Thither Mr. Lee led the troops of his native county, and tendered his own services with those of the gallant band who had volunteered in the cause of their country, but the blind courage of Braddock could not see that their assistance was necessary, or his insolent contempt of provincials induced the belief that it would be useless; his death in the first battle was the forfeit of his presumption or his ignorance, wbile Mr. Lee returned to his home and to those civil duties which have given him a place in history and his name to the remotest posterity.
As death approaches, the solicitude of a parent for his children's welfare frequently absorbs that which a rational creature might be supposed to feel for bimself, when touching the confines of a new and untried existence; it is often so intense, that the excitement which it gives to the powers of the intellect has been thought the result of an approximation to the omniscient mind, in more intimate communion. To many in such moments, the integrity, the knowledge and the influence of Mr. Lee, so strongly recommended him, that even at this early age he was selected by them for the guardian of the fatherless and protector of the helpless. For such employments, and for the .cultivation of his mind, his independent fortune afforded him sufficient leisure, till in 1757, the voice of
the people attracted the attention of the government, and he was appointed justice of the peace for the county ; but his election to the house of burgesses, which happened in the same year, was derived from a more legitimate source of power. The petition of the other magistrates to the governor, praying, that the commission of Richard Henry Lee might be so dated, aš to permit his election to the office of president of the court, before the time which his appointment legally allowed, proves if not his fitness for office, their conviction, that he had discharged his duty in an efficient and satisfactory manner. Not to mention, that the county courts of Virginia were then without limit to their jurisdiction, both in law and equity, might induce some to undervalue this appointment, but to develop their powers would be to digress from the subject of this memoir.
Want of confidence, induced by philosophic research and solitary study, or dissatisfaction, from the manner in which business was done in the house of burgesses, retarded Mr. Lee's advancement as an orator or leader of a party, but not his
but not his progress in knowledge or his attention to the interests of his constituents. With the resources and revenues of the colony, and the state of the treasury, he became thoroughly acquainted in the first session after his election, and the result of his investigation proved to him, that in the council his services would be more productive of advantage to his country. At present, he who would obtain an office ought to show him
self a good citizen, and able to discharge the duties of it, and condescend to no other solicitation; at that time patrons bestowed it, and it was requisite even for Richard Henry Lee to engage the interest of his friends in London in his behalf; but the only motive which he urges for this purpose is, “his laudable ambition to do his country service.” The motive was weak, or the influence of his friends ineffectual, and he was left in the house of burgesses till conflict with his colleagues removed his natural diffidence, till the strength of his mind was excited by the important duties of his station, and he acquired for himself the well merited title of the Cicero of America.
The first debate in which he took an active part, was on the limitation of slavery; a subject which has since threatened to shake the union to its centre. The evil of slavery was entailed on us by our forefathers; it is the only stream of bitterness, from the fountain of kingly power, which has not been made sweet, by throwing into it the tree which the Lord God has shown to us, the tree of liberty. The classic purity, conciseness and strength of argument which this speech exhibits, may justify, perhaps, its introduction here, as the first and one of the few, which survive him who is said to have spoken a nation into existence.
The question before the house was, “ to lay so heavy a duty on the importation of slaves as effectually to stop that disgraceful traffic ;” and Mr. Lee
chus addressed the speaker in favour of the imposition.
“ As the consequences, sir, of the determination which we must make in the subject of this day's debate, will greatly affect posterity as well as ourselves, it surely merits our most serious attention. If this be bestowed, it will appear both from reason and experience, that the importation of slaves into this colony, has been and will be attended with effects dangerous to our political and moral interest. When it is observed that some of our neighbouring colonies, though much later than ourselves in point of settlement, are now far before us in improvement, to what, sir, can we attribute this strange but unhappy truth? The reason seems to be this, that with their whites, they import arts and agriculture, while we with our blacks, exclude both. Nature has not particularly favoured them with superior fertility of soil, nor do they enjoy more of the sun's cheering influence, yet greatly have they outstript us.
“ Were not this sufficient, sir, let us reflect on our dangerous vicinity to a powerful neighbour; and that slaves, from the nature of their situation, can never feel an interest in our cause, because they see us enjoying every privilege and luxury, and find security established, not for them but for others; and because they observe their masters in possession of liberty which is denied to them, they and their posterity being subject for ever to the most abject and mortifying slavery. Such people must be natural enemies, and
consequently their increase dangerous to the society in which they live.
“ This reasoning we find verified in the Grecian and Roman histories, where some of the greatest convulsions recorded, were occasioned by the insurrections of their slaves; insomuch, says a Roman historian, that Sicily was more cruelly laid waste by the war, with ihe slaves, than by that with the Carthaginians. This slavish policy still continuing at Rome, at length increased the number of slaves so much, that the Romans were obliged to make for their government laws so severe, that the bare recital of them is shocking to human nature.
6. Nor, sir, are these the only reasons to be urged against the importation. In my opinion, not the cruelties practised in the conquest of Spanish America, not the savage barbarities of a Saracen, can be more big with atrocity.than our cruel trade to Africa. There we encourage those poor ignorant people to wage eternal war against each other; not nation against nation, but father against son, children against parents, and brothers against brothers; whereby parental and filial affection is terribly violated; that by war, stealth or surprize, we Christians may be furnished with our fellow creatures, who are no longer to be considered as created in the image of God, as well as ourselves, and equally entitled to liberty and freedom, by the great law of nature, but they are to be deprived, for ever deprived, of all the comforts of life, and to be made the most miserable of all the human