Similarities and Differences Between Richard Henry Lee and Abraham Lincoln A reserved man, Abraham Lincoln rarely talked about his childhood. He was “also embarrassed by his crude family background. ” (Gienapp, 1) He also knew little about his ancestry, save for what his father Thomas repeatedly narrated about his grandfather being killed by Indians “while laboring to open a farm. ” (Gienapp, 1) He was born in a one-room log cabin, built by his own father. He grew up on a farm, which was at first rented, but eventually was paid for by his father from his painstaking labor as carpenter and cabinetmaker.
Although he was barely literate, he performed several official duties and appeared several times in the local records of his community, having a scrupulously honest and moral reputation. On the other hand, Richard Henry Lee was the scion of one of the colony’s first families. The first Richard Lee came from Worcester, England where their family was into the manufacture and trade of cloth. Upon the deaths of his parents, their mother’s brother was awarded guardianship of him and his three brothers. Richard was sent to America to help expand the family business.
Twenty-five years since his arrival in Jamestown, Richard Lee had amassed 10,000 acreas, three plantations in Jamestown and established an impressive commercial empire that spanned both sides of the Atlantic. The civil war in England and the Cromwellian interregnum had little affected the Lee businesses. By the restoration, Richard had decided to move his family to England, grooming the eldest, John, for eventually assuming control of the family business in England and America. Upon Richard’s death at forty-five, he had successfully ensured that his three sons would continue the family’s flourishing transatlantic commercial empire.
John and Richard II returned to the colony and divided management of the business. The third son, Francis, stayed in London as their father wished, to be the family’s London commercial agent. This second generation of Lees shifted the family business from fur trading to tobacco, showing an adaptability to challenges within the economy and Virginia’s provincial government. When Richard II became the family’s patriarch, he learned the advantage of fostering cordial relations with the provincial government as the surest way of retaining royal patronage.
This practice was continued by the third generation of Lees. Thus, despite the disarray in their transatlantic interests following the death of their London sibling, Thomas, the third patriarch tended to political matters in Virginia and shied away from their London affairs. Thomas entered the political arena; with a short-lived first attempt, the second was not only successful in the House of Burgess but advanced further to the Council of State. His marriage produced six children, one of whom was Richard Henry.
Richard Henry Lee was ten when the family moved into the comfortable Stratford Hall. His boyhood was spent running “around the plantation grounds, making friends with the children of the slaves living on the plantation, unfettered by parental supervision”. (McGaughy, 17) In stark contrast, Abraham Lincoln’s life was that of a typical pioneer farm boy: doing chores, such as hauling water and chopping wood, and helping in the fields. The area was heavily wooded, and since he was remarkably strong for his age, the tall youngster was soon set to work clearing land with an axe.
He later recalled that from then “till within his twentythird year, he as almost constantly handling that most useful instrument – less, of course, in plowing and harvesting seasons. ” (Gienapp, 3) Thomas Lee devoted a “tremendous amount of time and energy making sure his sons were prepared to assume their legacy when the time came. (McGaughy, 18) He understood the value of providing his children with formal education. Three different tutors catered to the children’s needs in reading, writing, mathematics, Greek, Latin and religion.
In addition the children were introduced to dance, music appreciation and performance lessons seriously. They were later sent to England to continue their studies. This, perhaps, more than anything, else fostered a close bond between him and his children. The sudden deaths of both parents when Richard Henry was in his teens was strongly felt. He isolated himself from the rest of the family and articulated his feelings in a poem that was later inscribed on Thomas’ gravestone. The last verse was concluded with “what limit can there be to our regret at the loss of so dear a friend” (McGaughy, 32).
The other Thomas, Thomas Lincoln, on the other hand, was barely literate and did not put much value on education. Abraham and his sister Sarah attended local schools for short periods only and by the time he was seven, Abraham still could not write. Yet, even as a child, Abraham exhibited a burning desire for knowledge and self improvement. He was described to have no energy for anything except reading. He read and re-read the limited books that his stepmother, though illiterate herself, valued knowledge, brought to their house. His father did not approve of his constant reading.
“Thos Lincoln never showed by his actions that he thought much of his son Abraham when a boy,” one Hanks family member noted, adding, “He treated him rather unkind than otherwise. ” Dennis Hanks admitted that Abraham’s father sometimes “slash[ed] him for neglecting his work by reading. ”(Gienapp,7) This would explain Abraham’s closeness to his stepmother as his friend, rather than his father, unlike the Lees. “He later said that she had been his best Friend in this world and that no Son could love a Mother more than he loved her.
” (Gienapp, 5) He supported himself by manual labor until he reached twenty one and he had moved to New Salem, Illinois where he continued his self-education while working as storekeeper, militia captain and postmaster. He lost in his first bid for the state legislature but won a seat as a Whig 2 years later. He served four terms and gained state-wide popularity for his homespun wit and integrity. This time, Lincoln began his private study of the law, borrowing books from a local attorney, and earned his license to practice in 1836.
He settled in Springfield, the new capital, after his marriage to Mary Todd of Kentucky and became one of Illinois’ ablest lawyers. He was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1847 for a single term, during which he gained attention for his opposition to the Mexican War and the institution of Slavery. He switched to the new Republican Party in the next election and ran for the U. S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas, to whom he lost. The race attracted national attention because of the widely reported debates over the issue of slavery in the territories.
Ironically, his winning opponent had unknowingly granted him the break not only to resume his political career, but set him on his path to the White House. This was the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed the original prohibition of slavery in the region of the Louisiana Purchase and replaced it with popular sovereignty to decide on the status of slavery. The ensuing “ hell of a storm” (Gienapp, 49) correctly predicted by the proponent, Senator Stephen Douglas, brought together Whigs, Democrats, Free Soilers in indignant protest.
Pondering Douglas’ motivations and the significance of this legislation, Lincoln seemed more withdrawn than usual on the circuit. Back home in Springfield he began reading the congressional debates on slavery, taking notes at the State Library for future use. (Gienapp, 49) On February 27, 1869, he delivered his famous Cooper Union speech, where he lambasted the federal government on the slavery issue, to an influential audience. In July, he won the nomination for presidency on the third ballot at the Republican convention. The following November, Lincoln won over 3 other candidates with only 40% of the popular vote.
This was unacceptable to Southern politicians; South Carolina, quickly followed by 10 other states conveniently used this pretext to secede from the Union. When he arrived in Washington for his inauguration as the country’s sixteenth president, the Confederate States of America had been formed. In 1747 Thomas Lee had been appointed president of Virginia’s Council of State. Two years later, he assumed the governorship. As a tobacco planter, he was concerned with having access to western lands, target for England’s and France’s rivalry for dominance in North America.
With other planters, they directed their efforts toward trade and cultivation of new lands for tobacco production. Thomas established the Ohio Company of Virginia, which had been likened to the Virginia Company established in 1606, from which the Jamestown settlement sprung. His will gave one of his two full shares to his eldest son, Philip. The second full share he divided equally among the younger sons led by Richard Henry. The two oldest sons realized the significance of active association in the Ohio Company and in Virginia politics.
In their father’s absence, they could only achieve any gains if they put family above personal interests. Richard Henry decided to fulfil his father’s aspirations. Richard Henry and his cousin Richard “Squire” won a seat each in the House of Burgesses. They were shortly followed by Thomas Ludwell and Francis, both Richard Henry’s brothers, and another cousin Henry. Within one election cycle, the Lee family once again emerged as a powerful voting bloc in the House of Burgesses, especially when combined with their many friends and allies, (McGaughy 42)
Richard Henry became the spokesman of his family and the Northern Neck proprietors in the capital. He served on several important committees that soon put him in a position that challenged Speaker-Treasurer John Robinson’s role as leader in provincial politics since 1738. While the governor and the Speaker-treasurer disputed over provincial leadership, Richard Henry worked actively to continue the war against the French. Among his duties was monitoring the British and colonial forces by regular correspondence with the highest ranking officers in Virginia’s colonial militia.
By the time the Board of Trade had authorized the immediate separation of the offices of speaker and treasurer, the governor had announced vacation of his post and returning to England. Richard Henry’s role in the effort to separate the offices of speaker-treasurer helped establish his leadership position in the House. His former tutor Alexander White wrote to congratulate him, though surprised, “at how quickly Lee had challenged the established leadership in the House so soon after winning his first election. ” (McGaughy, 44).
Abraham Lincoln entered the presidential office conscious of his lack of administrative experience. But as president and commander in chief, he learned from his mistakes. In his Inaugural address he tried to woo the Secessionists back to the Union, which responded with bombarding Fort Sumter. Lincoln reacted with a firm hand; he declared a blockade of Southern ports, authorized the suspension of Habeas Corpus in areas threatened by pro-secessionists. Lincoln’s conservatism made him accept the fact that only a vigorous war would restore the Union, which was his primary aim.
This strengthened his will to win, despite enormous battle casualties and strong political opposition, from his own cabinet members and radical fellow Republicans. He was careful not to alienate his basic constituency, the citizenry of Northern and Western states, while advancing the progress of the war. He carefully worded his Emancipation Proclamation to avoid offending loyal but slave owning states in the Union. Like Lincoln, Richard Henry Lee had a similar affinity for books, which was revealed most when he became a family man and had his own home, Chantilly, away from Stratford Hall.
He built an impressive library with almost 100 titles, covering historical topics and biographies, not to mention scientific, theological and philosophical studies, plus various literary works of Shakespeare, Milton, Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne. He had conservative views about slavery, himself. … like many of his contemporaries, (Lee) expressed contradictory views toward slavery, expressing their hatred of the institution yet refusing to abolish it because he and other planters needed slave labor to run profitable tobacco plantations.
(McGaughy, 63) Richard Henry’s defiance of convention is best exemplified by his reaction to the enactment of the Stamp Act. He launched his own protest separate from his peers; he led a procession to the county courthouse parading effigies of Mercer, the Crown-appointed stamp distributor for Virginia and George Grenville, Britain’s lord of the treasury. Ultimately, Richard Henry’s concerns for his and fellow planters interests overtook the interests of the Crown in Virginia and the colonies.
A series of legislations made for the evolution of Richard Henry from loyal British subject with the interests of the Crown at heart (in the footsteps of his father and grandfather) to American revolutionary. Their distinct childhoods and family backgrounds in no way prevented the occurrence of similarities in their personalities, ambitions, careers, and family lives, not to mention their fathers with the same first names. The antislavery borne out of Abraham Lincoln’s parents’ Baptist faith had been internalized in him that he could not not fight for it.
His gentle nature was overcome by his fierce resolve to win the war. But, as mentioned above, he also exercised prudence in words to avoid rocking the boat of his constituents who may have been loyal but were still slaveowners. As a revolutionary, Richard Henry Lee evolved. It could be described as almost like a natural evolution, if one traces a person’s loyalty and interests originate from the self, radiating to the family, to the immediate community and the larger community.
When it came to a conflict of interests between his own as a planter, a family man, and Representative of his community as opposed to the interests of the Crown, it is easy to deduce whose side he would take. More so, when the interests of the Crown were to the detriment, loss and eventual harm to his family and community. The goals of both Abraham Lincoln and Richard Henry Lee reveal their deep patriotism and mature adherence to what their country (province, as in Lee’s case) had evolved into. Their political careers were run within a framework of what can be now termed “public service” in their hearts.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 23 September 2016
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