<br /> Lee Letter: b199

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Nathaniel Scudder

Dear Sir,

I regret extremely, as well on public as on private account, that concurrence of accidents which has hitherto prevented, and will for sometime prevent me from seeing and conversing with you – I had intended myself this pleasure at your own house in September, and since at Williamsburg but have not been able yet to accomplish wishes. I am well aware that the present state of our affairs is distressing, and that the wisest are puzzled to point the way to relief. In this state of affairs, we know that the human mind is most liable to adopt systems without due examination Systems wh. may indeed be productive of much private emolument, but with certain public injury. If our affairs are badly situated, they demand the strongest exertions of wisdom & virtue to rectify them, and with care to avoid whatever may increase the evil. Great as is our debt, it has hitherto been our happiness & our safety, that this debt (a very inconsiderable part excepted) is due to our own Citizens – In most urgent situations, certainly foreign loans may and must be attempted, but reason and experience prove that these had better be obtained from Republics, than from Monarchies – The former are more apt to negotiate differences, and patiently to expect satisfaction by peaceable means – The latter with strong and quick hand to secure what they claim. Of the two Creditors every wise man wd choose the former. It does not lessen the danger because the contract is with Individuals of a foreign state, for the government may truly say that the subject has a right to demand the protection of the State in just claims, and that a Contract with our Assembly being a contract with Government, justice cannot be obtained in Courts of law but must be sought for thro the medium of power – This is an awful consideration and demands our most serious attention before we adopt engagements that may involve the most pernicious consequences – If I am not misinformed, there is now a letter shewing in Town from Mr. Beaumarchais which contains passages strongly corroborating this doctrine as I understand that Gentleman threatens in high tone to seize American Vessels if the demand he makes against the United States is not quickly paid. I will not now go into the nature of that demand, but I possess irrefragable documents to shew it in its true light. This instance is adduced to prove in what manner our Country may be exposed to the most dangerous insults by inconsiderate engagements. I enclose you a paper concerning Mr. Beaumarchais with this short observation – Mr. Williams is in known connection with some of those who promote Mr. Beaumarchais views, which gives great force to his accounts of that person, and Monsr. Montaudinne is known to be a Merchant of the first respectability in every point of view – Perhaps you may draw some lights from the inclosed reflections upon a Contract now existing with the Famous General – And I pray you to preserve the paper for me, as I have no duplicate of it. Every schoolboy can state a debt, and the annual payments necessary for its extinction, but an able Financier alone can point out resources that are adequate, that are most easy, and that consequently will be paid with the greatest certainty. Heaven would bestow a great favor upon us by furnishing this Country with such a Man, and Hell a certain curse by pulling one forward who should, on principles of private gain avail himself of the present distress to procure the adoption of measures that may hereafter plunge the community into the most fatal mischiefs. It has never lain in my way to search deeply into the learning of finance, perhaps there are none here who have done so. Being lately in conversation with a very sensible gentleman, he supposed that good effects might flow from calling in all the Plate in this State and paying interest to the Proprietors of it – To lodge this in the Treasury

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Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 164 – 67. The manuscript contains numerous changes.