<br /> Lee Letter: b149

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Henry Laurens

Dear Sir,

I returned from Williamsburg yesterday evening to this place where I found myself honored with your favor of the 15th instant, for which be pleased to accept my thanks. I should much regret your quitting the Chair, if I were not certain that your able services on the floor will greatly avail the public Pardon me Sir for expressing the honest dictates of a mind that has been attentively observing men and things for some years past. Since I had the honor of your acquaintance I have expected great public advantages from your ability, and virtuous attachment to the American cause, a cause to which, sacrificing every consideration of private and very dear interests, I have long since devoted myself. Of all the pervertions which the wicked heart of man is capable of, I never expected to be charged with that which more than any other my soul abhors. A coalescence with our enemies against our friends. You Sir, have rightly termed Mr. Deanes publication a “pernicious and und unproked libel” The Congress is possessed, on paper and in memory, of facts that absolutely disprove the greater part of it, and of course divests of credit the remainder, which rests solely on assertion, and calumnious innuendos. Mr. Wm. Lee is charged with remaining inactive in France because he apprehended mischief to his private affairs. Mr. Deane knows perfectly well that the cause of this inactivity was the injurious and culpable detention from Mr. Lee of his appointment to the commercial Agency. Of this, Mr. Lee complained to Congress in a letter laid before them at York in Octr. or Novr. last, which produced the resolution that the Commissioners should have power to displace any Agent acting improperly &c. I think my brother Frank can shew you the copy of a letter from Mr. Ross to Mr. Deane at Paris, which confirms this fact and puts the matter in the clearest point of view. With respect to the delay in going to Vienna, Mr. Deane knows that he approved of Mr. Lee going first to Nantes after the death of Mr. Thos. Morris to arrange the public commercial affairs, and you know Sir that both Mr. Izard & Mr. Lee have complained that the money necessary to defray their expences was long witheld, and Mr. Deane was one of the Withholders. These, with other public reasons, detained Mr. Lee & Mr. Izard. When Mr. Lee left London, he left his family, and almost the whole of his European fortune in posseesion of the enemy, yet willing to risk all for the good of his native country and the cause he had so uniformly and publicky espoused, he was greatly chagrined to find himself, on coming to France, deprived of power to rectify the abuses he saw, because his appointment to the agency was withheld from him. But Mr. Lee is continued in the list of Aldermen, so is every person else under the old arrangement. The foolish pride of our enemies will not suffer them to suppose that anything we have or can do will work a change. Besides is Mr Lee answerable for what our enemies do, or do not? God forbid. So much for this part of the Libel, which going on, represents, that Dr. Lee, by a wanton display of his errand, gave great and just cause of distrust to the Court of Madrid, & he returned, having gone no further than Burgos. The former part of this Sentence is assertion without proof, and the latter part Congress knows to have arisen from the Court of Spain being then not in condition to break with England. But Congress also know, that the same Court, in that negotiation, agreed to assist us with money and stores, which has been done – See Dr Lees transmissions to Congress on this subject. All this Mr. Deane knows as well as Congress. No man can answer for his doors and locks being forced, which the British Envoy procured to be done at Berlin, but which the speedy application of Dr. Lee prevented him from profiting by, and threw him into disgrace at that Capital. The number of injurious and scandalous insinuations of suspicions having fastened on Dr. Lee for being in the British interest &, being unsupported by evidence, will not be regarded by any person of sense, justice, or candor. We need not refer to a letter supposed to be written by Dr. Lee on the day the Treaty was signed, for the means by which Mr. Fox gained his knowledge. My brother Frank can shew you copy of a certificate by which a Mr. Livingstone declares he read a letter in [Lon]don from Dr. Bancroft (whose hand he knew, and who is the friend and Counseller of Mr. Deane) which advised his Correspondent to push his speculations, for the Teaty (he had it from the best authority) would be signed the 5th or 6th of Feby. This letter from Dr. Bancroft is dated, I think, soon in January. The libel supposes that Mr. Deanes recall was founded on Dr. Lee’s transmissions to America. Congress knows that it was founded on the contracts made by Mr. Deane with foreign Officers, and many of its Members know that I advocated Mr. Deanes cause on that occasion, and upon the very principles that he has since defended himself. The truth is Sir, that until I returned to Congress in May last, I never had received a suggestion of any varience among the Commissioners, and then I got copies of Mr. Lloyds of So. Carolina (then at Nantes, his letter to Dr. Lee, Mr. Stephensons and Mr. Thorntons letters to Dr. Lee, informing him of Mr. Carmichaels charges against Mr. Deane, when the former was at Nantes in his way to America. The substance of which I laid before Congress, and copies of which letters are now in my brother Franks possession. The injury I thought done to the public from the account contained in these gentlemens letters, and from a variety of other circumstances, induced me to press for a settlement of Mr. Deanes accounts, and to take the part I did in Congress. And it is this that has drawn on me the most ill founded and most improbable of all calumnies. A calumny which every part of my public and private life most pointedly contradicts. As well might it have been attempted to persuade the world, that part of it which knows me, that a Miser had leagued with a third person to rob himself of his beloved gold! Mr. Deane is too vain in supposing that Providence had unfolded to him in particular the transactions in that affair. His providential relations were many of them immediately known to several persons. In ten minutes after I received Gen. Maxwells letter informing me of Berkenhouts arrival, I read it openly in Congress. Told them the Man was a perfect stranger to me – He applied to me as the brother of a person he had formerly been acquainted with. He told me a very plain story, and seemingly a very honest one concerning the causes of his coming here; which I have sent to the Philadelphia and Virginia Presses, the former of which I beg leave to refer you to. By our own rules persons coming to settle in America are not to be obstructed. And from every thing Dr. Berkenhout said to me I firmly believed his design was realy to fix among us with his family as the friend of this Country, and a detester of British tyranny. These are the sentiments I love, and no [wo]nder I expressed my favorable opinion of him, when a newspaper publication onl[y] represented him in another light. I could not penetrate his heart to know his secret designs if he had any. If Mr. Deane knew any ill of the man, he was unpardonable in not communicating it immediately to the executive council. But he was waiting for the inspirations of Providence – Rediculous idea! The morning of the day that Dunlaps paper came out, mentioning from an English paper that Mr. Temple and Berkenhout were in Ministerial employment, the latter came into a public breakfasting room where I was, and I never saw him since. I have a great deal more to say upon the subject of this Seditious libel, but I will not trespass further upon your patience. No person can credit it, except my particular enemies, (and even they I believe do not) the enemies of America, and some who are disposed to believe stories because they are altogether incredible. The public interest and the honor of Congress makes it necessary that Mr. Deanes conduct and accounts should be thoroughly investigated, and these his charges properly exposed. Bad as the season is, I will return to Philadelphia as soon as I can here get a warm suit of cloaths made, and the pains both of out and rheumatism in my foot and shoulder permit. Travelling from Williamsburg in the Snow and extreme cold weather has injured my health, but whilst I live I will strain every nerve to secure the independence, interest, and happiness of my country against all attempts to the contrary. Permit me to admire the generous, Roman resolution you have made and declared “at the hazard of life fortune, and domestic happiness, to contribute, by every means to the perfect establishment of our Independence.” I hope you will have many generous Minds to assist you in the noble work. And that you may meet with complete success may Heaven in its goodness grant. I am, with the greatest respect and perfect esteem, dear Sir

your most obliged and most obedient Servant.

Richard Henry Lee


Laurens CorrespondenceLong Island Historical Society

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 462 – 67. Endorsed “Recd not till the 9th of febry – “