<br /> Lee Letter: b258

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: William Whipple

My dear Friend,

I was unfortunate enough to be from home, attending our General Assembly, when Capt Palmer did me the honor to visit this place with your favor of April the 17th, and the fish you were so kind as to send me. The Captains obliging manner of executing this business gives me a high idea of his polite attention, and was very pleasing to his family – I hope that Capt Palmer will favor me again with his Company when he comes to this River, for I shall now be certainly more at home than the late tempestuous season permitted. It is very true that I much like your Fish, but it is also true that I receive it with infinitely more pleasure when it comes as a token of friendship from a Gentleman who I shall never cease to respect and esteem, whilst I live. For I am very sure that if my labors in the vineyard of Liberty have contributed to the glorious success of our Common Country, that yours have done none less so – And if the Friendships of the world being too often confedericies in vice or leagues of pleasure, are but short lived; the duration of ours will be as certainly lasting as it is certainly founded on the certain principals of virtuous love for our Country. There is no Circumstance in life that would make me happier than to see you at Portsmouth and our old Friends in Boston. I hope to do so, if the necessary attention to a numerous family (for I have nine children) Does not prevent me.

But will you suffer me to hope also that we shall see you here, for there is not a limb of my family but what will rejoice at it. What think you of the late address of Congress to the States on the subject of 5 per cent impost? To me it seems, and I am sorry to be compelled to think so, too early and too strong an attempt to over leap those fences, established by the Confederation to secure the liberties of the respective States. Where the possession of power creates as it too frequently does, a thirst for more, plausible arguments are seldom wanting to persuade acquiescence. Thus the excellent plan of the Confederation which leaves the apportioned sum “to be laid and levied by the authority of the Legislature of the several States &c” is to be gradually sapped and the all important power of the purse, vested (under arguments, some only of which are plausible) in an Aristocratic Assembly. For, give the purse, & the sword will follow, and with these the wheel of rotation so much relied on, will presently be trashed, to use the phrase of Mr. Harrington, and that liberty which we love and now deserve, will become an empty Name. Let us be cautious how we introduce such radical defects into our system, as may furnish the most distant pretext for foreign troops to interpose in favor of Government against the people, as hath lately happened in Geneva! So long as the question shall be for increasing the power of Congress, I would answer with the change of a word only, as the discerning men of old did, when the Imperial Law was proposed to be introduced upon the ruins of the Common Law. “Nolumus leges Confederationis mutare.”

The General Assembly of this State adjourned the other day, without adopting the plan of Congress proposed in the address. But in their Law for appropriating the Public revenue, they have appropriated from the Land & Slave Taxes 400,000 Dollars annually for the Treasury of the United States, which is the sum demanded of us by the address.


Langdon CollectionHistorical Society of Pennsylvania

An extract of this letter is in the Sparks Mss., Harvard University Library. Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 283 – 85.