To the Electors of the Congressional District Composed of the Counties of Stafford, King-George, Westmoreland, Richmond, Northumberland and Lancaster.
FELLOW CITIZENS—I DECLARE myself a Candidate for the honour of representing you in the next Congress.
As I am actuated by no sordid motive, I shall not attempt, by pretensions, to glide into your confidence, or to overreach your good sense. I profess, what I feel, a desire to advance your welfare, an ambition to be distinguished by your preference, and a devotion to the free principles of our Constitution.
Between my competitors and myself, judge as Citizens of one common country, not as members of adverse parties. I ask no more. If you inherit the freeborn Spirit of your Fathers; if your bosom beat with the pure patriotism which created this Republick, and by which alone it can be preserved—you will extend this justice to me, and discharge this duty to your country.
Every well organized government depends for its duration upon the free exercise of its functions. The State is kept sound by the brisk action of its constitutional powers, throwing off external, and expelling intestine griefs. The maxim deducible from this proposition acquires force, in proportion to the distresses of the community to which it is applied. How impressively then must a reference to the situation of our own country, urge us to its observance!
But let us not look back. Let us forget the policy, which, in spite of our valour, our victories and good fortune, robbed war of its glories, and stripped her blessings from peace. Let us close the annals of misgovernment, and if possible arrest its practice.
To get a clear insight into the condition of a country, the readiest way is to examine its finances ; as nothing touches in so many points, the interests, feelings and habits of a people, or so fully detects the spirit and character of their rulers. An enormous public debt, consuming an immense revenue, and this supplied by taxes that devour the country—extravagant expenditures, increased salaries, multiplied offices, exorbitant duties, a degraded currency—add to this, that the demands of the General Government this year, amount to the prodigious sum of Forty-two Millions, and you have an imperfect view of our finances. Remember too, that the Farmer is bowed down with a weight of bounties, to foster premature and pernicious manufactures. Can you behold with indifference this scene of ruin? Wasted by war, scourged by pestilence, overrun by the troops of the Treasury, and threatened with famine, will you still be the dupe of demagogues—the prey of stockjobbers?
That a nation may be poor, and yet free, is true. Greece, Italy and Switzerland afford examples. But can that nation be said to be free, whose poverty is not the effect of nature, but of legislative obstruction, and complicated fiscal extortion? The terms of the question convey its answer.
You will be told that these grievances are temporary, and your complaints will be lulled with promises of relief. It is one of the arts of dominion to suspend oppression, and of its parasites to persuade, that relenting tyranny is reviving freedom, and that mitigated rapacity is actual justice.
In Republican Governments, the right of the People to elect their Chief Magistrate, is essential to the Commonwealth, and dear to the Citizen. But of this right, as if dangerous from its importance, we have been deprived by the stratagems of faction. Our Presidents are no longer elected : they are appointed by Caucuses. Even the other day, a conventicle of this sort, a fragment of Congress, proclaimed a successor to Mr. Madison. Yes, Fellow-Citizens, the right of filling the office in which the dignity, the power, and the mercy of the nation are represented, is usurped by the very men who have since, in the wilds of the west, begged pardon for an act of publick robbery. Thus they fasten on the heart of the constitution, and shoot and ramify corruption through every member of the union. From the American People, their proudest privilege is torn. The eagle of the empire is unplumed. Where is your respect for right ; your love of virtue, the vital air of liberty ?—where your consciousness of sovereign power?—Is it to sleep forever, like a sword in its scabbard?
The best way to prevent evil, is to remove its cause. You need not be told, that party-spirit is the source of all our woes. Arouse from its domination, and with the favour of Heaven, they vanish. The occasion calls for diligence, as well as decision. Cases soon run into rules ; and examples of folly in one administration, may become precedents for crime in another. Open your eyes and your hearts to the public good. When men are equally honest and patriotic, employ the services of the most capable. A new administration approaches. A judicious choice of representatives by the people may make it a prosperous one. Disdain to contribute to the disastrous triumphs of a party. Let the honour of the country enlist your zeal—its prosperity unite your exertions : or yours will be the fate of those nations, that have loaded mankind with misery, and heaped all history with ruins.
I am, Fellow-Citizens, your most obedient servant,
HENRY LEE, jun.
Westmoreland County, October 28, 1816.
Source: The Archives of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, Papers of the Lee Family, Box 2, M2009.125, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 May 3