On June 7, 1776, it fell to Richard Henry Lee, delegate from Virginia at the Second Continental Congress, to offer the resolution that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States,” thereby initiating the Declaration of Independence. An aristocrat with an innate sense of his natural rights, Lee had long fought England’s attempts to undermine colonial liberties. He began his political career in the Virginia House of Burgesses, with a 1759 argument for an end to the slave trade because Black people were “equally entitled to liberty and freedom by the great law of nature."
When Lee’s resolution was adopted by the Continental Congress in early July 1776, he was in Virginia, helping to form a new state govern-ment. Lee later returned to Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence.