Charles Lee (Attorney General)

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Charles Lee
3rd United States Attorney General
In office
December 10, 1795 – March 4, 1801
President George Washington
John Adams
Preceded by William Bradford
Succeeded by Levi Lincoln
Personal details
Born 1758
Leesylvania, Virginia, British America
Died June 24, 1815 (aged 56–57)
Fauquier County, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Federalist
Education Princeton University (BA)

Charles Lee (1758 – June 24, 1815) was an American lawyer from Virginia. He served as United States Attorney General from 1795 until 1801[1] and Secretary of State ad interim from May 13, 1800, to June 5, 1800.[2][3]

Charles was born to Henry (1730–1787) and Lucy (Grymes) Lee on his father's plantation of Leesylvania in Prince William County, Virginia. He was the third of eleven children and a younger brother of General Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, making him the uncle of Robert E. Lee. Another brother was Congressman Richard Bland Lee. A third cousin was Zachary Taylor. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1775, and then read law with Jared Ingersoll in Philadelphia before returning to Virginia.[4]

Charles married Anne Lee (December 1, 1770 – September 9, 1804), his second cousin and the daughter of Richard Henry Lee (his first cousin once removed), in 1789. Before her death in 1804 the couple had six children; Anne Lucinda Lee (1790–1845), infant son (Arthur) Lee (1791–1791), Richard Henry Lee (February–March 1793), Charles Henry Lee (b. October 1794), William Arthur Lee (September 1796 – 1817), and Alfred Lee (1799–1865). He married a second time in 1809, to Margaret Scott (1783–1843), and had three more children in this union; Robert Eden Lee (1810–1843), Elizabeth Gordon Lee (1813–1892), and Alexander Lee (1815–1815).

President George Washington appointed Lee the Attorney General after William Bradford died in office. After Senate approval he took office on December 10, 1795, and served through the rest of the administration. He was continued in office by John Adams and served through the entire Adams administration until February 19, 1801.

During his term in office Lee lived in Alexandria, which was then part of the capital district. He was an early advocate for the return of the southern part of the District of Columbia to Virginia, which finally happened in 1847. After his time as Attorney General, he became the port officer for the District of the Potomac and among the most prominent trial lawyers in Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Lee represented William Marbury and other appointees of John Adams in Marbury v. Madison, the landmark case against the Jefferson administration for unfulfilled political appointments. Simultaneously, he defended Hugh Stuart in Stuart v. Laird.

He declined Thomas Jefferson's offer to appoint him a justice of the Supreme Court.

Lee died in 1815 in Fauquier County, Virginia, aged 56 or 57, and is buried in the Warrenton Cemetery in Warrenton.


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Legal offices
Preceded by
William Bradford
United States Attorney General
Succeeded by
Levi Lincoln