<br /> Lee Letter: b176

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Editor of the Pennsylvania Packet

Mr. Dunlap, –

The public may now see by the printed Journals of Congress, that the Hon. Arthur Lee, Esq., continues in high confidential place in Europe, under the authority of these United States. They may see that there was an extraordinary division of sentiment among the Members of Congress, on April 3d, in regard to that continuance – 4 to 4, and 4 divided. They will doubtless conclude that the division was chiefly, if not intirely, a consequence of Mr. Deane’s publication in your paper of December 5, last year. And they may also imagine that the same cause will produce, in a degree, a similar effect on the minds of many persons in Europe. You have shown in your last paper that Mr. Lee apprehended this. But you quoted, from the Connecticut Courant, an uncorrect translation of his letter of February 8th to the Editor of the Leiden Gazette, of the 23d, which is truly as follows:

“I pray you, Sir, to give the public the following answer to the contents of a letter which hath appeared under the signature of Silas Deane, viz.: That I declare, in the most solemn manner, that all the accusations against me which it contains are absolutely false. A particular detail of the proof which will demonstrate not only that those accusations are false and scandalous, but also, that the accuser has, in all reason and justice, lost the confidence of the public, is due to the Delegates of the United States in Congress assembled, whose servant I am; and I cannot give this detail to the public without their permission. In the meantime I assure myself that a CLEAR AND POSITIVE DENIAL will be regarded by every honest and impartial person as a sufficient answer to BARE ACCUSATION, manifestly dictated by the rancour of a man displaced.

[Signed.] “Arthur Lee.”

The letter is introduced by a remark that an affair of Mr Deane’s with the Lee family had, more than anything else, contributed to give credit to the report of a division in Congress. The public, watchful for the prosperity of their own affairs, and at the same time justly tender of the honor and reputation of their official servants, seldom need more than to be furnished with a true state of facts, to enable them to draw the most judicious conclusions, and to distribute their praise or blame with conspicuous equity. If Mr. Deane’s insinuations against Mr. Lee have a solid basis, if his allegations can be supported by good vouchers, Mr. Lee ought not longer to hold a confidential Trust; but if traduced, the public countenance in his favor manifested by their continuing him in office, will at once be recompence and glory. An investigation of facts connected with this business is but a decent mark of respect, due to me people of these united States, from every individual who is in any way particularly capable of coming honorably at the truth of them. It is chiefly from a sense of this duty that I ask a column for tomorrow in your widely circulating paper. I have an inferior motive, which is a report that Mr. Deane will soon leave Philadelphia, being discharged from any further attendance on Congress. My patriotic endeavors may therefore become depreciated, on a delay, by a surmise that I waited for his absence before I chose to appear openly to counteract his publication above referred to. I would not indeed have rested even till now, if I could have dared to present to the public eye only the most glaring presumptions and uncontrovertible inferences. Facts alone suited me.

I believe I cannot, without being tedious, furnish for this time more than one specimen of the manner in which I mean to proceed; but that one will secure for me the public attention hereafter.

Mr. Deane says: “Immediately, on the arrival of the news of General Burgoyne’s surrender, a treaty with France seemed to the British Ministry more near and more probable; your Commissioners, therefore, were continually sounded, indirectly, – as to their dispositions for reconciliation. About this time Mr. Lee’s Secretary went to and from London, charged with affairs which were secret to your other Commissioners. Conjectures were formed, it is true, and with the more reason as Mr. Lee was dragged into the treasury with the utmost reluctance. it was agreed that this important matter should be kept a profound secret, yet, a few days from the signing, it was pointedly declared in the House of Commons by the Hon. Charles Fox, Esq., the friend of Lord Shelburne; this gave additional weight to the other circumstances.”

Here are several insinuations, one fact, and part of another. To which i contrast the following: On December 4th, 1777, Mr. Jonathan Loring Austin arrived in Paris with the Saratoga Convention. Astonishing as it may appear after Mr. Deane’s assertion, Doctor Lee had not any Secretary at that time, Mr. Sayer having left him the June before at Berlin. He did not take another till late in January, 1778, when he employed a Major Thornton, who had been chosen by Messrs. Franklin and Deane to carry a letter from the Commissioners to Lord North, Mr. Lee never having before seen or heard of him. On December 11, 1777, Dr. Franklin writes to Sir Grey Cooper:

“We have prevailed with a gentleman, Major Thornton (to us much a stranger, but who appears to be a man of humanity) to visit the prisoners, and give from us some relief. This gentleman remained in London part of the 3d of January, as appears by some of his letters; an unlucky letter, as I shall show hereafter. I cannot tell exactly the day of his return, but having behaved with laudable spirit on this occasion, he was sent to England by Dr. Lee on February 11th, and a second time on April 30th, 1777, for purposes seasonably communicated to proper persons in France, and known now to Congress. I proceed to the insinuations of half fact: Charles Fox is made the ‘friend,’ while others say he is notoriously the family-foe of Lord Shelburne; and the speech of C. Fox is omitted. Why? Because he declared he had seen a letter of Dr. Franklin’s, in which that Commissioner of America says to his correspondent at London, ‘ten days ago the Deputies of Congress signed, with the French Ministry, a treaty of commerce wherein all the formalities customary between nation and nation contracting have been solemnly observed’.” Vid. Courier. de 1’Europe, Feb. 24,1778. If we suppose Mr. Deane did not early know as well as others what C. Fox had uttered in February, let it be kept in mind that Mr. Deane did not publish till the December following.

I have only taken up the paragraph of the publication now, as connected with the insinuation that Mr. Lee had betrayed to the enemy “an important matter agrees to be kept a profound secret.” I leave the candor of the public time to weigh the veracity of Doctor Lee’s accuser as to the facts advanced therein, and to assay exactly the value of his current innuendos. But it is proper here to mention that the missions of the Secretary to London have been insinuated to be for stock jobbing purposes; and that Doctor Lee, disdaining the suggestion, has been happy enough to trace out a curious scene, in which the crime falls back upon the pate of the accusers, as I shall endeavour to shew in considering again that letter of Thornton’s which I have called “unlucky.” I shall not<e> what is said of Doctor Lee’s being “dragged into the treaty with the utmost reluctance.” And I shall show the very honorable nature of the only two letters which he has written to Lord Shelburne, after parting from him in London to become our Commissioner, his Lordship not having directly or indirectly attempted to draw a third from him.




Printed in the 10 August 1779 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet. Printed also in New York Historical Society Collections, The Deane Papers, 4:49. Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 108 – 12. “Rowland” is the pen name used by Richard Henry Lee.