<br /> Lee Letter: b150

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Francis Lightfoot Lee

My dear Brother,

Since I wrote you by last Post, I have sustained a very severe fit of gout, brought on I imagine by the sudden change of weather lately from warm to Snow & frost. The swelling and inflamation of my foot now abates, so that I expect to be with you, as Merchants say, in all this month. At least my best endeavors shall not be wanting for this purpose. In my intervals of pain I have employed myself in looking over the numerous letters I had received since May last from our brothers, and which the pressure of public business at Congress prevented me from properly attending to. Thus whilst some, interest alone upon public duty, suffer not inferior considerations to interrupt them; others, bent on private views of emolument and advancement, are endeavoring to raise themselves on the general ruin. Careless of the latter if the former can be obtained. Besides the Gazette publication, Mr. Deane, it seems, had a thousand hand bills struck off, the better to dispose of his infamous Libel both against Congress and our family.

There was a man seen passing Nomony ferry lately with one of them in his hand, and 1 have been well informed that great care has been taken to place them in proper hands for adding to false and wicked innuendo, additional false and wicked suggestions. I send you inclosed a letter that I lately received from our York written by a brave, sensible and honest Whig. Col. Marshall sent me the Magazine on account of the curious paragraph contained in it, (and which is sent you,) and to show the greedy swallowers of Newspaper accounts how little faith is to be put on many of them. The industry practised in circulating this scandalous libel, confirms the old opinion that wickedness is ever more industrious than virtue. The latter trusting to its own intrinsic worth, the former depending for success upon activity, art and imposition.

We sometimes have handbills published to notify some great victory obtained over the enemies of our Country, but when have we taken pains to have them penetrate every part of the U.S.?

On Eagles wings invidious scandals fly,

Whilst virtuous actions are but born and die.

You have inclosed, copy of a letter from W.L. dated Paris July 31st, which, with Ross’s letter to Deane, a copy of which you have already, and Mr. Lee’s letter to Congress read last Oct. or Nov. do most clearly refute that part of the Libel which suggests culpable inactivity to Commercial business, arising from apprehensions of private injury – And the letter from Ross shews that Deane knew this inactivity arose from another cause than what he has suggested. Mr. Deane knows also, that the causes of not going sooner to Vienna arose from many wise and solid reasons of most public nature and not from what he has again in this instance suggested. The political wisdom of applying to Vienna & Berlin was known to Congress, but the particular temper of these Courts not understood when they appointed a commissioner to go thither.

When Wm. returned from Nantes to Paris in Oct. (for in his letter of the 7th. he says, I am just returned here from Nantes) and recd. his appointment of Commissioner, the return of Dr. Lee from Berlin with a true knowledge of the then temper of that Court (see the Dr’s account of his negotiations at Berlin to Congress) made it evident beyond a doubt that pressing our affairs there, would rather irritate than accelerate – The Prussian Minister having declared that they must wait until France & Spain had taken decisive steps – In the mean time Mr. T. Morris died, and Mr Deane himself signed a request to the Court to have the papers of Mr Morris put into Mr. Wm. Lee’s hands, and was, with the other Commissioners of opinion that Mr Lee ought to return to Nantes and arrange the pub. Commercial affairs before he set out for Vienna – When Mr Lee returned a second time from Nantes, he was compelled to wait the conclusion of affairs with the Court of France, to get the necessary papers for the better execution of his business, and also the requisite sum for defraying his expenses –

The latter Mr. Deane was particularly concerned in withholding, under pretext of no orders, and yet knowing all these things he would impose on the public a belief that private motives kept Mr Lee quiet.

Mr. Deane in his Narrative verbal (notes of which many as well as myself took) informed Congress that Cunningham had orders to sail North about to America, that his people mutinied and compelled him to take prizes – Is this a reason for those Vessels continuing so long to cruise on the French & Spanish Coasts, the prizes to be consigned to private hands, and the Vessels at last sold without order of Congress to private use? –

Looking over a paper sent me by Dr. Lee which is titled “Estimate d’c” I find that in order to quiet doubts about the expenditure of the public money, this paper contains on the debtor side all the large stores ordered by Congress, tho a fiftieth part was never sent, a heavy charge for the Ship built in Holland altho that Ship was taken off our hands and her cost paid by the Court, yet no credit appears. I wish we could see, and public justice demands it sh’d be produced, an exact account with vouchers, of the goods really shipped for pub. use and when & where by Mr. Deane’s order; the real expences incurred properly on account of the public, and then credit given for all the monies received on loan, for Prizes, and when Mr. Deane has received it, for Cargoes sent. The pretense is that he come suddenly away, and his accounts not redered – But the fact is indubitable that Mr. Lee frequently applied for a settlement, long before any account of Mr. Dean’s recall, and it was as uniformly evaded, and was the true and only cause of this accumulated enmity against him.

With regard to Mr. Deane’s numerous assertions, most certainly, every candid Man will demand other proof than his ipse dixit. It is curious enough to see this Libel criminating Dr. Lee for an ostentatious display of his commission, and Mr. Wm. for cautiously concealing his. How is this Man to be pleased, if you say nothing he blames, if you say anything he censures! After all the common practise here takes place – To avoid the settlement of his own Accounts, he means to turn all attention to Objects different and of his own Creation –

* * * I hope Congress will be better Huntsmen than to be thus eluded –

Col. Mason left me two days ago and is gone below the ferry, he returns here three days hence. The only Taylor we have here, and he a crazy one, has assured me that my cloaths shall be ready on the 20th. Our love to Mrs. Lee, the Shippens, and best respects to my worthy friends in Congress.

No letters or papers from Congress these two last Posts, a third day will arrive 2 days hence –

The Post has never come in – Sincerely


Richard Henry Lee


Lee PapersVirginia Historical Society

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 1 – 5.