<br /> Lee Letter: b148

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Printer of the Pennsylvania General Advertiser

I have just read in your paper of december the 5th. a long libel signed Silas Deane, but I have read it with that composure that ever attends a good conscience, and that satisfaction which arises from an additional proof that I have well done my duty as a servant of the public. Had the latter not been the case, had I winked at all information of public abuse, I do not think that I should [have] incurred Mr. Deanes censure. But whilst I am [honored] with public trust it shall be my constant endeav[or to] prevent the community from being injured, and c[ertainly] to insist that those who have fingered large sums [of the public] money should be called upon for fair and honest settlement. From the first origin of Congress to the present day, I have been constantly a Member of that body, and I can safely appeal to every gentleman with whom I have served, an to all who know me in private life, whether I have yielded to any of my Colleagues in zeal for the American cause, and industry to promote its success. Whether thro the various stages of prosperity and adversity my sentiments and conduct have not been uniformly warm for the freedom happiness, and independence of my Country. That the Alliance with France has been my constant wish and hope no man who knows me will deny, and those gentlemen of that country with whom I have had business can bear me witness of of my attention and regard to their affairs. With such unvarying conduct and sentiments when I had not a pulse but beat to independence, and with a mind filled with reverence and gratitude for France in consequence of her wisdom and goodness in allying with us, it seems hard to be attacked by an innuendo man for sinister designs in favor of a detested enemy against a good and able friend. But the case of Berkenhout is the foundation whereon this calumny rests. A worse foundation was never given to an abominable superstructure. It has already been related in a former paper, how I came to know that such a man was in America. The truth is that I was a total stranger to him. And when I received a letter from Gen. Maxwell informing me that such a person had been with him, it was some moments before I could recollect the name, only heared Dr. Lee say ten years ago that he was the author of a good pharmacopea, a person with he [was] acquainted, and who was a man of parts. I then immediately [read] the letter to Congress and informed them what I knew of Dr. [Berk] enhout, which is as above related. Soon after this he arrived in [town an]d sent me a ticket to know when he should wait on me. [Being] at dinner, when we arose from Table, I asked an honorable [memb]er of Congress (Colo. Scudder of New Jersey) to walk with me to [see him]. We went and after some general conversation, he asked me if I had received any letter from Dr. Lee concerning him. I answerd no, he appeared concerned, and imputed it, as my memory serves me, to his having left England too soon after requesting such introductory letter. This is a strong circumstance against the supposition that he brought letters for me; for if he had, why not then produce them. He brought neither letter nor letters for me, nor carried any from me, altho both are insinuated. The next day, I think, he came to my lodgings and informed me that his intention in coming to America was to provide a settlement for his family in a land of liberty, and to find a place where he could practice physick to advantage, on which subjects he asked my advice. I gave him the best in my power, and I promised to introduce him to the Delegate of Massachusetts that he might be informed whether Bos[ton affor]ded a good opening for a physician. I did so, as these gentlemen know and finished the afternoon by walking round a [square or two] of the Town and parted. After this I never [saw Dr. Berkenhout but] a few minutes in corn any [with other gentlemen in a public ro]om. I do declare upon the [honor of a Gentleman] and the [faith] of a Christian, that I had not the most distant cause to suppose that he had other views in coming to America than those already mentioned, which he related to me as the true ones. In all his conversation, which was sensible, he discovered strong attachments to America, and to confirm this opinion of him he gave me a pamphlet as written by himself and published in England in 1777 which strongly contended for the independence of North America. From once reading this pamphlet I thought it well written, and I believe it is now in the hands of a Member of Congress to whom I lent it – In this situation of things, it may be easily imagined that I was surprised at a publication in the Advertiser stating Dr. Berkenhout and Mr. Temple as Ministerial Agents from a newspaper publication in England. This I understood procured the arrest of the former. How long he remained in prison, when, and how he was discharged I am an utter stranger to. It is certain that his conduct and conversation had strongly impressed my mind with a belief of his attachment to our cause, and as a friendless stranger too, it is not to be wondered at that I expressed favorable sentiments of him whenever hewas m[enti]oned in conversation. If I think a man innocent, and [believe] him to be a friend of America, it appears to me both unjust [and] ungenerous not to say so, when I see him oppressed. Give [me] Satisfactory proof that any man willingly injures, and is an enemy to the interest and independence of America I am from that moment his enemy. It is said by Mr. Deane that D’ Berkenhout was sent back with the knowledge he had been able to collect – I am at a loss to discover what collection injurious to us he could have made in Jail, for I believe he was but a few days at large, and in a City where he was very little known. But it seems Dr. Berkenhout has said that by the Alliance with France, America was at liberty to make peace without consulting her Ally unless England declared war, and it is as confidently asserted that I have constantly and pertinaceously maintained this doctrine. Innuendo, mat Dr. Berkenhout got this information from me. I absolutely deny having ever conversed with him on any such subject, and I do as positively deny having ever maintained that America had a right by the Alliance to make [p]eace without consulting her Ally if England did not [dec]lare war. I know that war may be made without [de]claring it, and I have both within and without doors said, that if England would acknowledge the independence of America and not resent the part that France had taken, America was at liberty to make a similar treaty with England or any other Nation. And I should be glad to know if the Ministers of France have not made like declarations to the Courts of London & the Hague? Was not the fact so? But there is no bound to disingenuous and malevolent interpretation, nor to the dark work of innuendo and evil insinuation. I am to ask pardon of the public and of you Mr. Dunlap for having said so much on so frivolous an occasion. But I have such deep respect for the public opinion, and such desire not to be misunderstood or disesteemed by one worthy Man in the United States, that I shall not regard my trouble if I prevent a single honest, [frie]nd of America from being imposed on.

For the curious charges brought by Mr. Deane against Wm. Lee and Dr. Lee, he will be called to answer at another time and in another place. For the present I can say, that from a very intimate acquaintance with those gentlemen, and from their uniform public conduct so far as the same has come to my knowledge, I know them to be devoted to the cause of America. That they have made great sacrifices to this cause, and that their hopes rest alone upon its success. That their present political appointments did not arise from the solicitation of themselves or their relations, but from their known public and private attachment to their native Country and its liberties. Mr. Deane talks much about his great services and good conduct, but how happens it that of four Commissioners besides himself three are so clear and so strong in reprobating that [con]duct. And these three known friends of America, and two of them having good. But more of this in due time. Nor are these three Commissioners the only persons that have done so in France. But more of this hereafter. I [cannot help] concluding this Narrative with cautioning my Countrymen against falling in with the present Arts of the Enemy who are endeavoring by every means to traduce in every part the most uniform and firm friends to our glorious cause, and to throw the Councils of America into confusion and contempt. But I trust this their last hope will, with their other arts be frustrated by the wisdom of America.

Richard Henry Lee

Notes:

Lee PapersUniversity of Virginia Archives

Printed in the 1 January 1779 issue of the Virginia Gazette. A second copy is in the Lee Papers, University of Virginia Archives. Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 457 – 61.