<br /> Lee Letter: b235

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: James Lovell

My dear Sir,

After acknowledging the receipt of your favor of May 29th. last I beg you to accept my thanks for it – It is now a long time since I have been of opinion that our plan of secrecy in Congress was productive of consequences fatal to the American Cause and fertile of good to its enemies only – For whilst good men obey the injunction of secrecy, bad ones communicate without reserve such intelligence to our enemies as benefit them whilst the friends of America by being kept in the dark are exposed to ruin eer they are aware of danger – I have not been able to explain your enigmatical Letter by any communications that our delegates have made so far as their informations have reachd me. My mind is therefore perplexd with an infinity of doubts without having any certain clue to guide me thro’ the Labarynth – I have not seen the Gazette you mention & therefore want my “pole” – but it is impossible for a person so attentive as I have always been not to know that the final & fierce designs of our Enemy’s are levelled at us, and thro’ us, I apprehend at the liberties of North America – for however feeble the resources of this Country may have been under republican Government, if once it is placed under the Sword of a Conqueror such efforts and such resources will appear as to put the liberties of the rest in very eminent peril. I love liberty and wish that the whole human race enjoy’d it; and I have a peculiar affection for that of the eastern part of this Union. Let me entreat you therefore Sir, & your worthy Associates from the east, not to slumber a moment over our present actual State; dicision, dispatch, and much wisdom are indespensably necessary, or I verily believe we shall soon be lost to ourselves and to you. I do not write under any influences of vain apprehensions, but from the cool, considerate dictates of judgment, founded upon good materials. A very great majority of the people of this Country are good whigs & very determined to maintain their independence, and being so, how they came into their present state of thraldom is beside my present purpose to enquire. Like good physicians the Congress will consider that the inordinacy of the symptom must be subdued, before application can with safety be made to the cause. The fact is, the enemy by a quick collection of their force, & by rapid movements, are now in the center of Virginia with an army of regular infantry greater than that of the compounded regulars and militia commanded by the Marquis & with 5 or 600 excellent cavalry – that our new assembly has from various causes not yet convend – that before the Legislature had fully assembled at Charlottesville in the very heart of our Country they were dispersd by the british Cavalry 500 in number with as many mounted infantry – that Governor Jefferson having resignd, and no successor appointed, and the next to him in authority Mr. Digges having been made prisoner, this Country is, in the moment of its greatest danger without government, abandond to the Arts & the Arms of the Enemy, both which are push’d with the greatest zeal & clearly see that in this State of things that wanting a rudder in the storm, the good Ship must inevitably be cast away – Congress alone can furnish the preventive – The temper of the people here, and a thousand other considerations point to the remedy – Let Gen. Washington be immediately sent to Virginia, with 2 or 3000 good Troops – Let Congress as the head of the Federal union, in this crisis, direct that until the Legislature can convene and a Governor be appointed, the General be possessed of Dictatorial powers, and that it be strongly recommended to the Assembly when conven’d to continue those powers for 6. 8 or 10 months as the case may be. And the General may be desired instantly on his arrival in Virginia to summon the members of both houses to meet where he shall appoint to organize and resettle their Government – You may be assured Sir, that if this is quickly done, and Arms & Amunition forwarded that the Enemies possessions in the South will be very few, and the prospects they may propose to themselves from a Truce thus renderd abortive. Whilst this system is pushed, it will be of great consequence to press hard for or a superior marine force to cover these Southern waters – I well know your philanthropy, and I am sure that you will exert every power you possess to prevent the immediate ruin of this State and of course the danger that will ensue to the rest – Let the friends to the South, and the eastern wise Men be assembled, and consider of this plan – let it be proposd and pushd into immediate execution in Congress – The time is short, the danger presses, and commensurate remedies are indispensable. The influence, the judgment, & the experience of General Washington will command infinite exertions here – but then he ought to be well supported with all that Congress can do. We have some reason to fear that our collected stores in the North forke of James River under protection of Baron Stuben with 7 or 800 Men new levies have been seised and destroyed by a superior force of the enemy – You advise me to use all my “Oratory” – I have exerted every influence to secure my Country, and those among whom I live are sufficiently Zealous, but the people of this Country are dispersed over a great extent of Land and unhappily we have no press in the State, as we hear that the last remaining one has been destroyed near Charlottesville – God bless you – Let other business sleep until this is put in a full and fair way.

Sincerely and affectionately yours. –

Richard Henry Lee


George Washington PapersLibrary of Congress

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 235 – 38.