<br /> Lee Letter: b151

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: the Editor of the Virginia Gazette


It is expected by the public that you will comply with your promise of publishing impartially the papers on both sides in Mr. Deanes controversy. If none but the collections of Mr. Deanes Tory friends and Mercantile Abettors are to appear before the public it is impossible that a fair and honest judgment can be formed. By particular desire you published in your Gazette of Jany. 22 a piece signed Senex, but you have never favored the public with a complete and sensible answer to Senex published also in the Pennsylvania Packet. Perhaps you never received the latter, when you do, you will shew a candid character by publishing it, as well as all the other pieces that have been written on this occasion. In the meantime, be so kind as to communicate thro your useful paper the following answer to Senex, which I pledge the reputation of an honest man to be the truth.

1 Question The first question of Senex is, “Whether Mr. Arthur Lee is, or is not, Commissioner both to the Courts of Versailles and Madrid”

Answer NO.

2d. question whether he was not an intimate acquaintance of Dr. Berkenhout Corresponded with him on subjects of a political nature during Mr. Lees residence at Paris, and gave him letters of Introduction to his brother the hon. R. H. Lee?

Answer Mr. R. H. Lee has already answered the latter part of this question in the most positive manner NO – And for the former part, it is incumbent on Senex to prove that being an intimate Acquaintance with Dr. Berkenhout was blameable, he should prove also that Dr. Lee corresponded with Dr. Berkenhout on political subjects, and that this political correspondence contained in it anything criminal. Otherwise a just and a candid Man, would suppose, until the contrary was proved, that Dr. Berkenhout was not an unworthy Acquaintance, and that, as Dr. Lee had displayed the strongest attachments to America his native Country, and had most ably supported its cause by his writings; if such a correspondence had existed that it was not only innocent but laudable. 3d. question – Whether Mr. Wm. Lee is, or is not, commissioner to the Courts of Vienna and Berlin, and commercial Agent for the Congress in Europe? Mr. Lees letter to his friend in Congress date Novr. 24, 1777 from Paris will give to this question the following decisive Ans.

Answer – “In fact the public business in this Country has been, & is likely to continue in Strange disorder nor is it likely to mend until the Secret Committee confine all their Mercantile business to their Mercantile Agent and keep the Commissioners to their Political duty which may be neglected from too much attention to private schemes of Commerce on public funds, and contemptible private jobs – I am now out of the question, therefore cannot be charged with partiality in my advice – I shall from henceforth take my leave of this department, keeping my attention entirely confined to the charge which is committed to my care

The truth is, that Mr. Lee understood, as did everybody else, that his political superseeded his Commercial appointment – The reason was evident – The scene of commerce was in France, that of politics far off in Germany. It is also true, that altho Mr. Wm. Lee had thus in Novr. as he expresses it, [“]taken his leave of the Commercial department” yet the Commissioners at Paris, whom were directed to furnish him with copies of the treaties to propose to Vienna and Berlin, delaying to do this: and other political obstructions intervening to stay Mr. Lees journey north, until the death of Mr. Thos. Morris, the then surviving Coml. Agent in France, obliged Mr. Lee to visit Nantes before he left France to put the pub. affairs in some order for which purpose Mr. Deane as well as the other Commissioners solicited & obtaind a royal order to put the papers of Mr. Morris into the hands of Mr. Lee – Whilst Mr. Lee was at Nantes he appointed Merchants of unquestioned reputation and fortune in the respective ports to do the public business, at each of them, until the pleasure of Congress should be known – This done, he returned to Paris, and thence to Vienna – Mr. Williams was not an Agent appointed by Congress or its Committee, therefore his Commission is not known here. And you Senex with Mr. Deane best know whether Mr. Dean is not concerned in trade with Mr. Williams – That Mr. Lee made such contracts with the Agents as Mr. Deane mentions no candid Man will believe until Mr. Deane produces proofs because he professes that he is writing against Men whom he calls his enemies – If friendship for the public is enmity to Mr. Dean these gentlemen are not to blame for it – They contend for the settlement of the public accounts that it may be clearly seen how the public treasure has been expended.

The next question concerning A. – 4th. Question – Whether this Gentleman did not, since his appointment to Offices of public trust under the United States, hold his Office of Alderman in the City of London, and whether he does not still hold that Office.

Ansr. Mr. Wm. Lee is a native of Virga. The bulk of his fortune, and that not inconsiderable is in Virginia. – He Sir is known both in America & London to have been the firm invariable friend of America and Opposer of the British measures – He was an Alderman of London, which place and his Aldermanship he quitted with all possible dispatch as soon as he knew his Country had occasion for his services on the Continent of Europe – In the same Vol where Senex and his party find Mr. Lee an Alderman of London, he may find Dunmore Govr. of Virginia, Tryon of New York, Martin of N. Carolina &cc. But the ideas of Whiggism & justice which govern Senex & his party incline them to condemn the friends of America for the publications of the Common enemy; it is to be presumed that the free and virtuous Citizens of America entertain very different ideas of justice. They will consider the characters of Men, not by what the enemy publish, or a factious junto, but will let them stand or fall in their opinion by facts clearly proved, and not by malicious suppositions, suggestions and dark innuendos – If the Servants oof the public are to be condemned in this manner, if such little Maneouvres are to destroy the reputation of Men who came into their Countries cause from the beginning & have been among the foremost in supporting it – If such shall be the case, I fear Virtue will retire, and the public affairs be conducted by Men whose councils will tread back with great quickness those steps to glorious independence which the characters now abused have trodden with so much uniformity.

Before I conclude I must observe that Dr. Franklin was appointed in the winter of 1776 Commissioner for Spain, and continued in his appointment for France at the same time. That in the summer following, Congress being informed by the Comrs that they had agreed Dr. Lee shd. go to Spain, and that he was actually gone there, the like powers were sent to him that were formerly sent to Dr. Franklin. When the conclusions of the Alliance had finished the business of the Commissioners in France, Congress appointed Dr. Franklin Minister Plenepotentiary to France, which most effectually superseded all former commissions as well to Mr. Adams as to Dr Lee. And this was done sometime before Mr. Ds. publications and not unknown to him it is presumed, as it was generally known in Philadelphia. What now Senex must the honest and candid part of the world think of you and your friend for thus attempting to impose upon the “free and virtuous Citizens of America”?



Lee PapersUniversity of Virginia Papers

Printed, with significant alterations, in the Virginia Gazette, date unknown. Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 5 – 11. Endorsed “Answer to Senex.”