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The men of Stratford Hall - Insights for today


Image: Christopher Cunningham/Courtesy Stratford Hall, Virginia

In City Journal, an American quarterly, Myron Magnet describes the men who lived at Stratford Hall, Virginia, and how "they became, paradoxically, conservative revolutionaries who fought ito preserve long-cherished British liberties from despoilment by the British government.

But first the family made an enormous amount of money, from the 17th century to the 18th century, and so did many others in the colonies, though not the slaves -

Colonel Phil loved music and filled the house with it. Musicians played from the observation platforms between the chimneys; music, not the standard gong or bell, announced dinner; trumpeters atop Phil’s carriage heralded his comings and goings. . . .

Richard Henry Lee, the younger brother of Colonel Phil, was a different man. For one thing, he hated slavery -

Despite the stage fright that plagued him until the eve of the Revolution, he rose to support a motion to tax the slave trade heavily enough to end it, and he delivered eighteenth-century America’s most stinging denunciation of slavery itself.

Slavery is wrong as a matter of policy, he began. Just look at how the free colonies, settled later and with no richer soil than Virginia’s, have outstripped us economically because “with their whites they import arts and agriculture, whilst we, with our blacks, exclude both.” Worse, the resentment that burns in slaves every minute that they see the “luxury” and “liberty” we enjoy, “whilst they and their posterity are subjected for ever to the most abject and mortifying slavery,” must make them “natural enemies to society, and their increase consequently dangerous.”

. . .But beyond even this, R.H. continued, is the moral evil. How can we believe that “our fellow-creatures . . . 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?” We profess Christianity: Why don’t we live up to its precepts? It’s time, he concluded, to “convince the world that we know and practise our true interests, and that we pay a proper regard to the dictates of justice and humanity.”

Magnet covers ground - and colourful details - swiftly. Americans at the time certainly had a keen sense of the English Constitution - the same Constitution, by the way, which the British Government is determined to ignore today.

Read on to discover what happened to "the Walpole-Pitt vision of an empire based on entrepreneurship and freedom".

Insights for today

When Britain imposed the 1765 Quartering Act on New York, for example, it assumed that the other colonies, relieved to have escaped, would keep silence. But “a prudent man,” R.H. wrote, “should lend his assistance to extinguish the flames, which had invaded the house of his next door neighbour, and not coldly wait, until the flames had reached his own.” He was the first to suggest, writing in 1768 to Philadelphia lawyer and pamphleteer John Dickinson, that the colonies should form committees of correspondence to inform and support one another and that “lovers of liberty in every province” should keep in touch privately, too".

That, we trust, is what we all do.

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