<br /> Lee Letter: b186

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: John Dunlap

Mr. Dunlap, –

Mr. Lee “was dragged into the treaty with the utmost reluctance,” says S. Deane. I shall make it appear that, from the moment the treaty was taken up by the French Court, Mr. Lee was anxious for its conclusion, rejoiced in the event, and expressed most sanguine expectations from it. The success at Saratoga reached France December 4, 1777. On the 18th the Commissioners jointly, with equal warmth of expression, communicated to Congress the assurance of a speedy alliance. On the 19th, Mr. Lee writes to his brother Richard Henry: “Our joint dispatches will inform you how near we are to a conclusion of what must settle the question between Great-Britain and the United States for ever. I see no reason to doubt the good faith of what they promise here, and much to admire the substantial wisdom of it.” On February 5, 1788, to the same: “The delay of our dispatches enables me to add this to my former, and to assure you that the business has gone on with all possible dispatch, and that in all human probability my next will inform you of its happy conclusion.” On the 9th, to his brother Francis: “I congratulate you, with all my heart, on the treaties which Congress will receive by the frigate that brings this.” On the 17th, to the Hon. S. Adams: “Let me embrace you, my dear friend, on the accomplishment of all our labors by the treaties which will accomplish this, in which the Liberty, Sovereignty, and Independence of the United States are secured. I thought it absolutely necessary that we should urge the insertion of Sovereignty, that there might not hereafter be any question on that head, as there was long in the case of the United Provinces and the Swiss Cantons.” On the 28th, to the Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs: “Our general dispatches will convey to you the bills as they are now passing in the Parliament of Great-Britain, for appointing Commissioners to negociate with their deluded subjects, and declaring in what manner they will be graciously pleased in future to exercise the right of taxing us. It would not be doing justice to their bills to attempt any comment on them upon them. They speak for themselves, and loudly, too; but the Ministry of England give out that they have dispatched half a million of Guineas to pave the way to a favorable reception of their propositions. And I know from the best authority here that they have assured Count M. of their being sure of a majority in Congress. By such base arts do they endeavor to cover their nakedness and sustain their desperate cause. France has done us substantial benefits – Great Britain substantial injuries. France offers to guarantee our Sovereignty and universal freedom of commerce. Great Britain condescends to accept our submission and monopolize our trade. France demands of us to be independent. Great Britain, tributary. I do not comprehend how there can be a mind so debased or an understanding so perverted as even to balance between them.” On March 1st, to the same: “I was in hopes today’s post would have brought us news from England, and the acts for negociating with you. If we may judge of them from the bills, they will be an everlasting proof of the feebleness and folly of our enemies. I trust their Commissioners will return as they came, unless they have power and do acknowledge clearly and fully the Sovereignty and Independence of America as an indispensable preliminary.” On the 19th, to the Hon. Henry Laurens, P.S.: “Tomorrow we are to be presented to the King of France, and the English Ambassador quits this Court without taking leave. War must immediately be the consequence, as these movements have been determined upon from the treaty of amity and commerce which we have concluded with this Court having been announced in form to that of London. The consequence of this, in relieving our country from the chief weight of the war, cannot but follow, and I congratulate you upon it most sincerely.” On April 4th, to the same: “I trust he (Mons. Gerard) will conduct his negotiation ageeable to what appears to me to be the disposition of the Court and Ministers here – fairness and generosity.” I restrain myself from adding extracts of what Mr. Lee has written to Governor Henry and others, tending to illustrate the point of his sanguine expectations of the consequences of the alliance with France; having proved that he wished for it, and rejoiced at its completion, no one can doubt concerning the true ground of that wish and that joy.

It is proper here to notice the insinuations respecting an improper connection between Dr. Lee and Dr. Berkenhout. The ideas of the former as to an accommodation with Britain being a good appendix to the anecdotes of his strong attachment to our present allies. Dr. Lee not only communicated to his colleagues a part, as Mr. Deane says, but all of the correspondence alluded to, which concerned them jointly. He went further. He laid it before the French Ministry, and his answer was made by their unanimous consent. Very unlike this was Mr. Deane’s conduct in two cases, which may be hereafter mentioned. Nor was Berkenhout’s correspondence with Mr. Lee broken off by “Howe’s success,” but because the English Ministry understood there was a difference between Dr. Franklin and Mr. Lee, which rendered it useless to treat with them. This report had been propagated industriously both in France and England, during Mr. Lee’s absence at Berlin, indubitably by the man and the tools of the man who thought himself “saddled” with a colleague of strict honor and just economy. Mr. Deane tells that Berkenhout said, after his release from prison here, “that he had letters to the Hon. R. H. Lee, Esq. from the Hon. Arthur Lee, Esq. This falsehood may possib[l]y have originated with Berkenhout. Mr. Lee not only did not write a line by Berkenhout to his brother or any other person in America, but neither he nor Mr. Temple ever apprized Dr. Lee of their intentions of going. He was informed of it by others, just about the time of their sailing, and had some correspondence concerning it. A good American Whig, now in France, and the author of some late interesting notice to Congress, wrote to Dr. Lee from London, May 1st, 1778: “I hope you are satisfied about Ternple and Berkenhout; the doubts are great here. If you think they are right, let me know, that I may satisfy myself and others.” To which an answer was given, May 11th, “T. and Dr. B. never apprized me of their going. I thought well of their intentions in general, but this adventure gives no proof of the soundness of their judgment. I am of opinion they will not be suffered to land without taking the oath of allegiance; and it seems to me that their errand is somewhat dangerous on their part, and very foolish on that of their employers.” This shews what he thought ought to have been the consequence of their coming. It seems one of the men is yet in employ, for Dr. Lee writes, January 5th, 1779: “The inclosed copy is of a letter from Dr. Berkenhout, by which Congress will see how much our enemies are distressed, and yet how inveterate they are in their persuasion that because everything is venal among themselves, therefore it must be so among us. It looks like a visitation upon the King of England and his advisers, that experience never makes them wise. They see and have seen, or rather feel, the necessity of making peace. They have tried all undue means in vain, and yet they still persist in dishonoring and disgracing themselves by a repetition of ineffectual attempts, and neglect the only obvious means pointed out to them by Congress for obtaining upon honorable terms the pacification for which they will shortly be obliged to sue most humbly.

“Xmasday, ’78. Once more (as Ranger says) safe to the temple! I hate all your bloody-minded rogues on both sides the question. Peace, everlasting Peace, is my hobby-horse and my pride; illam Coluisse artem quae humanum genus conservare docet. I dreamt last night that you and I met somewhere on the Continent of Europe; whether it was at Paris, at Spa, at Bruxels, or at Aix la Chapel, I am not certain. I thought I had ten thousand things to communicate; that we entered deeply into several important disquisitions; that every obstacle vanished before us; that we restored the jarring world to harmony, and that emolumentsand honors were the rewards of our labour. If you have had any dream of this sort, tell me so, and I will meet thee at Philipi, be that where it may.

“These are times, my friend, when much may be expected, because much may be done. Do not treat this matter lightly. Tell me only that I may come with safety, that you wish to see me, and that, notwithstanding all you may have heard, you believe me when I swear by our ancient friendship that I am

“Semper Eadem.”

Mr. Lee as before, communicated his intended reply to his colleagues and to the Ministry. His letters to and from Mr. De Vergennes do him much honor, as well as the following answer sent to London:

“Paris. January 7, 1779. Your favor of the 25th did not reach me so soon as by the date it should have done. I congratulate the ladies very sincerely on your safe return from an expedition the fruitlessness of which I could easily have foretold. My waking opinion is, that a meeting anywhere will be equally fruitless on any other plan than that marked out by Congress; that without the concurrence of our allies, no Conference will be held or treaty made; that you will come with safety and effect, if armed with adequate powers, to acknowledge the Sovereignty of the United States, and are content with terms consistent with the most perfect good faith to our allies.

“On these conditions our jarring worlds may harmonize again; and I am persuaded that delay will only add to these demands, and render the blessed work of peace more difficult. However we may lament the calamities of war, we are determined it shall not end but in permanent peace and safety.

“You have always known me to be sincere, and you may be most assured that I never was more so than at present. Adieu.”

I fear I have already engrossed more than the portion you promised me of your paper.


Deane PapersNew York Historical Society

Printed in the 24 August 1779 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet. Printed also in New York Historical Society Collections, The Deane Papers, 4:73. Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 132 – 38.