• The Lees of Virginia
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The Lee Family Digital Archive is the largest online source for primary source materials concerning the Lee family of Virginia. It contains published and unpublished items, some well known to historians, others that are rare or have never before been put online. We are always looking for new letters, diaries, and books to add to our website. Do you have a rare item that you would like to donate or share with us? If so, please contact our editor, Colin Woodward, at  (804) 493-1940, about how you can contribute to this historic project.


 

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Lee Family Digital Archive

My dear Sister,                                                                                    Chantilly March 17, 1778

 

Distressed as my mind is, and has been, by a vast variety of attentions. I am illy able by letter to give you the satisfaction I could wish on the several subjects of your letter. Reasonable as you are, and friendly to the freedom and happiness of your Country, I should have no doubt about giving you perfect comfort in a few hours conversation. You complain that Widows are not represented, and that being temporary Possessors of their estates, ought not to be liable to the Tax. The doctrine of representation is a large subject, and it is certain that it ought to be extended far as wisdom and policy can allow. Nor do I see that either of these forbid Widows having property from voting, notwithstanding it has never been the practice either here or in England. Perhaps ’twas thought rather out of character for Women to press into those tumultuous Assemblies of Men where the business of choosing Representative is conducted. And it might also have been considered as not so necessary, seeing, that the representatives themselves as well as their immediate Constituents, must suffer the Tax imposed in exact proportion as does all other property Taxed and that therefore it could not be supposed the Taxes would be laid where the public good d[illegible] absolutely demand it. This then is the Widows security as well as the never married Women who have lands in their own right, for both of whom I have the greatest respect, and would at any time give my consent to establish their right of Voting, altho I am persuaded that it would not give them greater security, nor alter the mode of Taxation you complain of. Because the Tax idea does not go to the consideration of perpetual property, but is accommodated to the high prices given for the Annual profits. Thus, no more than ½ percent is laid on the Assessed value, altho produce sells now three and four hundred percent above what it formerly did. Tobo. sold 5 & 6 years ago for 15/ & 2d, now ’tis at 50, & 55. A very considerable part of the property I hold is like yours temporary, for my life only, yet I see the propriety of paying my proportion of the Tax laid for the protection of property so long as that property remains in my possession and I derive use and profit from it. When we complained of British Taxation we did so with much reason, and there is a great difference between our case and that of the unrepresented in this Country. The English Parliament nor their Representatives would pay a farthing of the Tax they imposed on us, but quite otherwise, their property would have been exonerated in exact proportion to the burthens they laid on ours. Oppression therefore without end, and Taxes without reason or public necessity would have been our fate had we submitted to British ursurpation. For my part, I had much rather leave my Children free, than in possession [illegibile] at nominal wealth, which would infallibly [illegible] been the case with all American possessions had our property been subject to the Arbitrary Taxation of a British Parliament. With respect to Mr. Fauntleroy, if he spoke as you say, it is a very good reason why he ought not to be an Assessor. But if he should be, the law has wisely provided a remidy against the mistakes or the injustice of Assessors by giving the injured Party an Appeal to the Commissioners of the Tax, which Commissioners are annually chosen by the Freeholders and Householders, and in the choice of whom then, you have as legal a right to vote as any other person. I believe there is no instance in our new Government of unnecessary Placemen, and I know the rule is to make their Salaries moderate as possible, and even these moderate Salaries are to pay Tax. But should G. Britain gain her point, where we have one Placemean we should have a thousand, and pay pounds where we pay pence; nor should we dare to [illegible] of Military execution. This, with the other horrid concomitants of Slavery, may well persuade the Americans to loose blood and pay taxes also, rather than submit to them. My extensive engagements have prevented me from adverting to yours and Dr. Halls subscriptions for L.[ord] Camdens picture not having been refunded, as the [illegible] have long since been, but the money is ready for your call.

I am, my dear Sister most sincerely and affectionately yours

 

Richard Henry Lee

 

P.S. Dr. Steptoe & myself returned last night from a ten days confinement at Belleview where our brother Thos. has been in very great danger of losing his life by obstinate fever.[1] I have the pleasure to inform you we left him out of danger.

 

R. H. L.

 

 

Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 2, M2009.057, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2015

 


[1] Thomas Lee died 1778 April 13.

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