Arthur Lee Gets Jealous And Starts Rumors
Arthur Lee was a Foreign Minister during the Revolutionary War.
Lee worked in Prussia, Spain and France, helping to secure the Treaty of Alliance with the latter.
Lee also caused some trouble, starting rumors about some of his fellow diplomats.
Born into the famous Lee Family of Virginia, Arthur Lee left home to study in England in his late teens.
The young man became a doctor but, as British taxation became more and more unbearable for the American colonies, Lee found himself becoming ever more entrenched in politics.
After publishing several essays in defense of the colonial resistance to the Stamp Act, Arthur studied a second profession: law.
Soon after passing the bar, Lee began working as a Colonial Agent for Massachusetts. In this position, he was responsible for representing Massachusetts to Parliament. He aired their grievances and lobbied for them to the Government.
During this time, Lee communicated directly with Samuel Adams who, as clerk of the colony’s House of Representatives, was responsible for sending Arthur’s instructions.
Additionally, Lee worked closely with Benjamin Franklin who was in London as the Agent for Pennsylvania. Arthur was not a fan of Franklin’s, criticizing his lavish spending and hedonistic lifestyle.
Soon after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Lee was chosen by the Continental Congress as the Minister to Prussia and Spain.
Although his efforts in Prussia and Spain did not bare much fruit, Lee did assist Franklin and Silas Deane in France. He signed both the Treaty of Alliance and Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the French.
These treaties secured support, both militarily and financially, for the United States as well as its recognition as an independent nation.
Stirring Up Trouble
While in France, Lee’s mistrust of Franklin also spread to Deane.
Truthfully, Silas Deane is one of the most important players in the American Revolution. Lee’s accusations were based almost entirely on his jealously of Deane’s success. The rumors which Lee began ended up tarnishing the reputation of an American Hero, and Silas’ life ended sadly in obscurity.
Deane’s recall and subsequent trial created one of the first great divides in the Continental Congress. Fortunately for Deane, he was found to have acted prudently the entire time and was totally acquitted.
Much to Lee’s surprise, he was soon also recalled.
Lee’s recall had a great deal to do with his false accusations regarding his coworkers. The Continental Congress needed people who could work together in France, as maintaining their confidence in the United States was paramount.
Lee returned home after twenty-five years abroad.
The recall did not affect Arthur too much, as he was still a member of one of the most powerful families in Virginia. He was elected to the Congress the very next year, serving through the end of the Revolutionary War.
Arthur Lee took a back seat to Revolutionary Politics after the war, though he did pen strong criticism of the Constitution during the Ratification Debates. He believed the new government would undoubtedly bring an aristocracy to the United States.
If you enjoyed this article, I suggest you read the stories I’ve written for two of his brothers: Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee. Francis’ piece in particular elaborates more on Arthur’s life.
To learn more about Arthur Lee (and early diplomacy with France in General) I highly recommend ‘Unlikely Allies.’ This is one of my favorite Founding Generation books, it’s a story that’s so unbelievable it is hard to believe that it’s true. I really can’t recommend this book enough. Pick it up from the Amazon link below and you can help support this site at no additional cost to you.
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