Thomas Jefferson Papers

Richard Bland Lee to Thomas Jefferson, 2 August 1819

From Richard Bland Lee

Washington August 2d 1819


Having been unexpectedly called upon to deliver an oration commemorative of the declaration of our Independence in consequence of Mr Wirt from other engagements being prevented from performing the task on the 5th July last, I deemed it most proper to confine myself to a narrative of the difficulties which attended the birth and impeded the progress of our nation, than to indulge in Speculations on the theory and principles of our government. In doing this I endeavored to avoid the mentioning of names as much as possible being disposed rather to bestow praise on the general virtue and wisdom of my Countrymen, than to eulogise at their expence a few particular Individuals. Therefore only such persons are mentioned who were necessarily connected with the events narrated from their1 official Stations. Of course from the Conspicuous posts which you have filled, and the important events Connected with your public conduct, Your name has been introduced amongst others like yourself distinguished for their services and virtues. And this task has been performed without regard to those unhappy party feuds which so long divided our country, but which I trust are now forever banished from our Land, and that the only contest amongst our fellow citizens hereafter will be “who shall most faithfully serve their Country, who most valiantly fight its Battles.”

The necessary mentioning of your name must be my apology for troubling you with this letter, and of sending therewith a copy of the oration which I beg you to accept of as a token of my very great respect—With most sincere wishes for the continuance of your life and happiness I am yr most obt Sert

Richard Bland Lee

RC (NNPM); between dateline and salutation: “Thomas Jefferson Esq late President of the U. States”; endorsed by TJ as received 9 Aug. 1819 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Lee, An Oration, delivered July 5, 1819, In the Chamber of the House of Representatives [Washington, 1819], remembering “the storms by which we have been tossed, and … the perils from which we have escaped” (p. 1); praising George Washington’s influence on the Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention, and the Jay Treaty; remarking that among TJ’s acts as the third president, the “peaceable acquisition of Louisiana … would be sufficient to immortalize the name of Jefferson” (pp. 12–3); applauding the American people for uniting during the War of 1812 and bringing about “the present happy extinction of long continued party animosities” (p. 13); and looking forward to the further peace and security expected to result from the Adams-Onís Treaty.

Richard Bland Lee (1761–1827), public official, was born in Prince William County and attended the grammar school of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1774, most likely followed by another year in the college itself. He attended the College of William and Mary in 1780. Lee afterwards moved to Sully, a family plantation in Loudoun County (later part of Fairfax County), and represented Loudoun in the Virginia House of Delegates, 1784–87 and 1788. He went on to serve as a Federalist in the United States House of Representatives, 1789–95, casting a key vote in the compromise over federal assumption of war debt that eventually brought the nation’s capital to the Potomac. Defeated for reelection in 1795, Lee returned twice more to the House of Delegates, representing Loudoun, 1796, and Fairfax, 1799–1800. In 1815 he moved to Washington, D.C. That year President James Madison appointed Lee a commissioner to superintend the repair of the public buildings, and the following year he named him a claims commissioner for property lost or destroyed in the War of 1812. James Monroe appointed Lee a justice of the peace for Washington County in the District of Columbia in 1819 and a judge of the Orphans’ Court later the same year. He held both positions until his death in Washington (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Princetonians description begins James McLachlan and others, eds., Princetonians: A Biographical Dictionary, 1976–90, 5 vols. description ends , 1776–83, pp. 266–9; William and Mary Provisional List description begins A Provisional List of Alumni, Grammar School Students, Members of the Faculty, and Members of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. From 1693 to 1888, 1941 description ends , 25; Leonard, General Assembly description begins Cynthia Miller Leonard, comp., The General Assembly of Virginia, July 30, 1619–January 11, 1978: A Bicentennial Register of Members, 1978 description ends ; Linda Grant De Pauw and others, eds., Documentary History of the First Federal Congress [1972– ], esp. 14:901–6; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 42 vols. description ends , esp. 17:354–5; Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 14 Mar. 1815, 13 Mar. 1827; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 3:53, 179, 186, 188, 354, 359 [30 Apr. 1816, 2 Mar. 1819, 3, 5 Jan. 1820, 8, 29 Jan. 1824]).

who shall most faithfully … fight its battles is adapted from Lee’s Oration, p. 13.

On this day Lee sent similar letters and copies of his oration to John Adams and James Madison (MHi: Adams Papers; Madison, Papers, Retirement Ser., 1:493).

1Manuscript: “thier.”

Index Entries

  • Adams, John; works sent to search
  • Adams-Onís Treaty (1819); and U.S. relations with Spain search
  • An Oration, delivered July 5, 1819, In the Chamber of the House of Representatives (R. B. Lee) search
  • Constitution, U.S.; 1787Constitutional Convention search
  • Fourth of July; orations search
  • Jay Treaty (1795); mentioned search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Books and Library; works sent to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; as president search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; praised for search
  • Lee, Richard Bland; An Oration, delivered July 5, 1819, In the Chamber of the House of Representatives search
  • Lee, Richard Bland; identified search
  • Lee, Richard Bland; letter from search
  • Louisiana Territory; TJ’s role in purchasing search
  • Madison, James (1751–1836); works sent to search
  • politics; factionalism search
  • Revolutionary War; mentioned search
  • Spain; and Adams-Onís Treaty (1819) search
  • War of1812; and politics search
  • Washington, George; praised search
  • Wirt, William; mentioned search