John Lee (Attorney-General)

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John Lee, Esq.
John Lee Counsellor 1786.jpg
Mezzotint Portrait by Samuel William Reynolds, 1838
(reprod. of Painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1786)
Born 1733
Died 1793

John Lee, KC (6 March 1733 – 5 August 1793), was an English lawyer, politician, and law officer of the Crown. He assisted in the early days of Unitarianism in England.

Life[edit]

Born in Leeds, Yorkshire, on 6 March 1733, he was the youngest of ten children of cloth merchant Thomas Lee and his wife, Mary (née Reveley).[1] After his father died in 1736 he was principally brought up by his mother, a Dissenter and friend of Thomas Secker, later Archbishop of Canterbury. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn and joined the Northern Circuit, where eventually he gained an equal share with James Wallace of the leadership. He was a king's attorney and serjeant for the County Palatine of Lancaster from 1782 until his death.

In April 1769 he appeared before the House of Commons as counsel for the petitioners against the return of Colonel Henry Luttrell for Middlesex; the petition failed. The government offered him a seat in the house and the K.C. in 1769, and in 1770 K.C. with the appointment of solicitor-general to the queen, but he refused both offers on political grounds. On 18 September 1769 he became, however, recorder of Doncaster. In 1779 he was one of the counsel for Admiral Augustus Keppel, 1st Viscount Keppel when he was tried by court-martial for his conduct in the Battle of Ushant. In 1780 Lee became a king's counsel, and in the second administration of Lord Rockingham was appointed Solicitor General for England and Wales, and sat in parliament for Clitheroe. Subsequently he was elected for Higham Ferrers and sat for that constituency till he died.

In 1774 he played a crucial role in assisting Rev. Theophilus Lindsey establish the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in England. Lindsey, who had resigned his living in the north of England because of scruples of conscience, had moved to London to find a place to preach. At this point it was illegal to deny the doctrine of the Trinity, and remained so until the passage of the 1813 Act; however, the temper of the times allowed for some latitude, with care, and Lee knew just how to manage the matter. He persuaded the relevant justices to register the chapel at the Quarter Session, and attended Lindsey's inaugural sermon at Essex Street Chapel with some satisfaction.[2]

In line with mainstream legal opinion at the time, Lee was opposed to the movement for the abolition of slavery. In 1783, Lee represented the owners of the slave ship Zong in court, after its owners tried to force their insurers to pay them for the loss of 132 slaves murdered by the ship's crew.

He resigned office on Rockingham's death, but returned to it under the Duke of Portland, and on the death of Wallace at the end of 1783, he was promoted to be Attorney General for England and Wales, and held the office till the Duke of Portland was dismissed. In politics he was a thoroughgoing party man. One of his maxims was, 'Never speak well of a political enemy.' John Wilkes spoke of him as having been in the House of Commons 'a most impudent dog'; Nathaniel Wraxall called him coarse and abusive, though he acknowledged his intelligence: 'a man of strong intellectual parts, though of very coarse manners'.[1] At the bar he was known as 'honest Jack Lee', was distinguished for his integrity, and amassed a large fortune. He died from cancer on 5 August 1793 and was buried at Staindrop, Durham, a seat which he obtained by his marriage with Miss Hutchinson, by whom he had one daughter, Tabitha.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b G. M. Ditchfield, 'Lee, John (1733–1793)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 30 Jan 2012
  2. ^ chapter 2 The History of Essex Hall by Mortimer Rowe B.A., D.D. Lindsey Press, 1959

References[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Thomas Lister
John Parker
Member of Parliament for Clitheroe
1782–1790
With: Thomas Lister
Succeeded by
Sir John Aubrey
Penn Curzon
Preceded by
Viscount Duncannon
Member of Parliament for Higham Ferrers
1790–1793
Succeeded by
James Adair
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir James Mansfield
Solicitor General
1782
Succeeded by
Richard Pepper Arden
Preceded by
Richard Pepper Arden
Solicitor General
1783
Succeeded by
Sir James Mansfield
Preceded by
James Wallace
Attorney General
1783
Succeeded by
Lloyd Kenyon