Attorney General: Charles Lee

Artist: 
Cephas Giovanni Thompson
Charles Lee

Third Attorney General 1795-1801

Charles Lee was born in Leesylvania, Virginia, in 1758. He received the degree of A.B. at Princeton University in 1775. He went on to study law in Philadelphia with Jared Ingersoll and was admitted to the bar in June of 1794. He was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and served as a naval officer in the District of the Potomac.

President Washington appointed Charles Lee Attorney General on December 10, 1795 to succeed Attorney General William Bradford who had died in office. Lee continued as Attorney General under President Adams, serving until March 4, 1801. Lee then served one year as a circuit court judge before establishing his own law practice, taking up several important cases. Most notable of these cases was Marbury v. Madison, representing William Marbury against the United States in 1803. He would also successfully defend Associate Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Chase, before the Senate in 1805 in Justice Chase’s impeachment, and former Vice President, Aaron Burr, in Richmond when Burr was tried for treason in 1807. Charles Lee died in Fauquier County, Virginia, on June 24, 1815.

About the Artist: Attributed to Cephas Giovanni Thompson (1809-1888) Thompson was born in Middleboro, Massachusetts, but spent most of his life in New York City. He began doing portraits at the age of 18, and studied art in Italy (1852-60) while living there with his family. His collection of portraits of famous American authors is now owned by the New York Historical Society.

It is thought that the Justice Department painting may be a copy of the Charles Lee painting by Thompson owned by the National Portrait Gallery.

Updated July 1, 2022