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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
ARTHUR LEE (1740-1792), American diplomatist, brother of Richard Henry Lee, was born at Stratford, Westmoreland county, Virginia, on the 10th of December 1740. He was educated at Eton, studied medicine at Edinburgh, practised as a physician in Williamsburg, Virginia, read law at the Temple, London, in 1766-1770, and practised law in London in 1770-1776. He was an intimate of John Wilkes, whom he aided in one of his London campaigns. In 1770-1775 he served as London agent for Massachusetts, second to Benjamin Franklin, whom he succeeded in 1775. At that time he had shown great ability as a pamphleteer, having published in London The Monitor (1768), seven essays previously printed in Virginia; The Political Detection: or the Treachery and Tyranny of Administration, both at Home and Abroad (1770), signed "Junius Americanus"; and An Appeal to the Justice and Interests of the People of Great Britain in the Present Disputes with America (1774), signed "An Old Member of Parliament." In December 1775 the Committee of Secret Correspondence of Congress chose him its European agent principally for the purpose of ascertaining the views of France, Spain, and other European countries regarding the war between the colonies and Great Britain. In October 1776 he was appointed, upon the refusal of Jefferson, on the commission with Franklin and Silas Deane to negotiate a treaty of alliance, amity and commerce with France, and also to negotiate with other European governments. His letters to Congress, in which he expressed his suspicion of Deane's business integrity and criticized his accounts, resulted in Deane's recall; and other letters impaired the confidence of Congress in Franklin, of whom he was especially jealous. Early in 1777 he went to Spain as American commissioner, but received no official recognition, was not permitted to proceed farther than Burgos, and accomplished nothing; until the appointment of Jay, however, he continued to act as commissioner to Spain, held various conferences with the Spanish minister in Paris, and in January 1778 secured a promise of a loan of 3,000,000 livres, only a small part of which (some 170,000 livres) was paid. In June 1777 he went to Berlin, where, as in Spain, he was not officially recognized. Although he had little to do with the negotiations, he signed with Franklin and Deane in February 1778 the treaties between the United States and France. Having become unpopular at the courts of France and Spain, Lee was recalled in 1779, and returned to the United States in September 1780. He was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1781 and a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782-1785. With Oliver Wolcott and Richard Butler he negotiated a treaty with the Six Nations, signed at Fort Stanwix on the 22nd of October 1784, and with George Clark and Richard Butler a treaty with the Wyandot, Delaware, Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, signed at Ft. McIntosh on the 21st of January 1785. He was a member of the treasury board in 1784-1789. He strongly opposed the constitution, and after its adoption retired to his estate at Urbana, Virginia, where he died on the 12th of December 1792.
See R. H. Lee, Life of Arthur Lee (2 vols., Boston, 1829), and C. H. Lee, A Vindication of Arthur Lee (Richmond, Virginia, 1894), both partisan. Much of Lee's correspondence is to be found in Wharton's Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence (Washington, 1889). Eight volumes of Lee's MSS. in the Harvard University Library are described and listed in Library of Harvard University, Bibliographical Contributions, No. 8 (Cambridge, 1882).
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Arthur Lee'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/a/arthur-lee.html. 1910.
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