<br /> Lee Letter: b171

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Henry Laurens

My dear Sir

The favor that my honorable friend suggested would come by express having not arrived, I am inclined to think it has miscarried – The post appears to me the most certain conveyance, because his route is near me, and because I send regularly to the Office, with and for letters. We still continue to be flattered here wth. favorable accounts from Charles Town of Gen. Lincolns success. I wish we could see the confirmation. I have packets from France, with newspapers only, to the 9th. of february, the written letters Raving been undoubtedly taken out. The papers breathe nothing but war – That between the Emperor & Prussia is stated as going on, & the English papers say that Spain has notified the Court of London of her intending to comply with the demand of France to furnish her with the troops stipulated by the family compact, hoping nevertheless that it would not interrupt the friendship between London & Madrid! A gentleman of Maryland lately arrived from the W. Indies says he came there in a fleet from old france that brought over 10,000 troops – These, except the German war, are favorable accounts for us, since they will probably furnish employment for our enemies in other parts of the world.

I observe the runners for Ministry had reported in London, that Georgia & the two Carolinas had “returned to their allegiance” – this was about the time of opening the Budget, in order to have the contents swallowed with less repugnance – I hope that e’er this you will have received good accounts from Europe – I despair of wise determinations either respecting finance or foreign affairs – To be disappointed in these would make me happy. To be sure there cannot be so much depravity as to pay Mr. Silas Deane any money under the idea of defraying expences, until he has settled a fair and full account – I will protest against it in all circumstances and in every situation. Pray Sir, how much money has already issued for Mr. Presidents table, and does that source of expence remain still undefined and uncircumscribed? I hear you have lately been relieved by the arrival of Hercules, or extreme opposites to one another; The author of this Rhapsody being vice in the abstract and the others men of consummate virtue. Let us call him then M1 a instead of Cato; He begins with agreeing “that an anonymous detractor is the serpent of society” yet he proceeds immediately to enact this very serpent, by grossly traducing some by name, others by innuendo, and signs himself Cato. A fulsome eulogy of himself, and some others almost as bad as himself, marks another part of his production. It has been the practice of bad men, deceivers of the public, in all ages, to accomplish their nefarious purposes, by mixing some truth with much falsehood, by loud mouthing at times in favor of the public cause and public men. Thus Sempronius will be loud for Rome and Cato. And M will scribble for the American Fabius. He will bluster for peace, be against renewing the cries of the widow and orphan, to encrease the number of those who groan in Captivity; to add weight to their chains, and aggravate the aff[l]ictions of the afflicted. This milky mildness he supposed, would never be imagined to come from one whose heart is known to be harder than Adamant, who cares as little for orphans, captives or the afflicted, as he greatly cares for and glories in every refinement upon vice. M is of opinion that “every other our Representatives in Congress has a right to expect protection, from the virtuous whigs of America, while in the execution of his duty.” He would insinuate by this that a member of Congress must necessarily do his duty, and therefore at all events deserve protection &ca. This is no doubt a fine doctrine for a Galloway, an Alexander, an Allen, and all such as may resemble them. But the doctrine of Truth will teach us, that no man deserves protection from the “Virtuous Whigs of America,” whether he is in or out of Congress, unless his virtuous, innocent or able conduct entitle him to it. The cloven foot of M is fully exposed to view whilst he labors to persuade that the right of fishing on our own coasts, need not be stipulated in a Treaty of Peace. He admits that this important right should not be given up in the “most distressful situation of our affairs, – that the God of nature has made it a common benefit.” For this then we have the great authority of a scribler in the evening Post, who at the same time admits that Selden? . . . & the King of Great Britain and his predecessors, have in divers public acts affirmed the contrary. Which then must America rely upon, the opinion of this misnamed Cato, or that of Selden and the King of Great Britain? or are we not to conclude, that unless our right be stipulated by treaty, the latter will continue to assert their exclusive claim, and say to us hereafter: “You knew our claims and you also knew that this speculative right which you rely upon, has ever been esteemed so trifling, that the wisest nations have deemed it necessary to have both the right and the limits of this Fishery fully and fairly described in Treaties of Peace. Your silence therefore on this subject in a treaty of peace, wherein you specifically mark out your rights, is a full and complete cession of the Fisheries in the American seas to those who by former Treaties had considered them in the light of exclusive property described by certain metes and bounds. By the Treaty which terminated the last war between France and Great Britain, altho’ the latter joined to her claims of “Mare Clausum” the much better title of North-America to these fisheries, yet she deemed it necessary to have the point fixed by express acknowledgement in the Treaty. Nor would France be satisfied without a description in the same Treaty of such parts of the Fishery as she might use. All this would have been unnecessary upon the principles of this Pseudo-Politician because “if after a peace Great Britain should disturb us in the exercise of that right, I conceive (says he) such disturbance to be among those lawful causes of war, which would justify us in a declaration of it, and in calling upon our Allies to assist us.” How ridiculous is this writer! but such is the nature of Error. He thinks it absurd to call upon our ally to prosecute the war for this purpose now, but it would be a very just cause hereafter. Now, when our great and good Ally has freely engaged not to conclude either Truce or Peace with G.B. without the formal consent of his American Ally first obtained, it would be unreasonable to desire his aid, for the prosecution of our Independence, as well in matters of Commerce as of Government; but hereafter, when a peace shall have been concluded, and all obligation to contend for this Commercial Independence, cease, then it will be a clear right in us to call upon our ally to enter into a new war for the attainment of this branch of our Commerce, which will have been tacitly yielded, by an unpardonable silence on our part, at the very moment when the practice of Nations has evinced the necessity of being unequivocally clear and express. Without the aid of a Maratime Power, and without a navy of our own, (for we shall thus have foolishly given away our only nursery of seamen) we must begin a sea-war with one of the greatest maritime Powers in the world. Fine policy this, and well worthy of a man who affecting to know all things, really knows little of any thing! These Fisheries were first discovered by our Ancestors: they are contiguous to our Coasts: they have been uniformly enjoyed by our Ancestors and ourselves; they are indispensable to our existence, as a people who would carry on an independent Commerce. Our good and Powerful Ally has declared the object of his Alliance with us to be, to maintain effectually the liberty, sovereignty and Independence, absolute and unlimited of the United States, as well in matters of Government as of Commerce, and that neither of the two parties shall conclude either truce or peace with G. Britain, without the formal consent of the other first obtained. It has been the policy of the wisest nations, to have those rights of fishing described in Treaties. In defiance of all these, a Scribbler in the Evening Post, would persuade us to say nothing about it, but go directly to war again with Great Britain if she molests us in the exercise of a right, which the Author of Nature has made common. I am dear Sir,

your much obliged friend and obedient servant.

Richard Henry Lee

P.S. Surely, the Justice of Congress will incline them to give Dr. Lee’s Defence to the Public. They cannot mean to keep their Constituents hoodwinked on a point of so much consequence as the innocence or guilt of the public Servants.

Dogmatic as M is, his impudence cannot be great enough to insist on this as proper, and affrontive as he is, he knows himself too well to assume a place among those. . . .


Laurens CorrespondenceLong Island Historical Society

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 90 – 97. Addressed to Laurens “Member of Congress, at Philadelphia.”

1 Here and subsequently in this document where the letter M stands alone, Lee wrote and struck through “orisiana”