<br /> Lee Letter: b361

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: John Adams

Dear Sir.

Since my letter to you of December 1785 from Chantilly in Virginia, in answer to the letters that you were pleased to write me on the 26th of August, 6th & 7th of September 1785, I have not been honored with any letter from you On my arrival here I met with and read with great pleasure your book on American governments – The judicious collection you have made, with your just reflections thereon, have reached America at a great crisis, and will probably have their influence in forming the federal government now under consideration. Your labor may therefore have its reward in the thanks of this and future genertions. The present federal system however well calculated it might have been for its designed ends of the States, had they done their duty, under the almost total neglect of that duty, has been found quite inefficient, and ineffectual. The government must be both legislative and Executive, with the former paramount to the State Legislatures in certain essentials to federal purposes. I think that there is no doubt that this Legislation will be recommended to consist of the triple ballance if I may use the expression to signify a compound of the simple forms acting independently, but forming a joint determination. The executive (which will be part of the legislative) to have more duration & power enlarged beyond the present. This seems to be the present plan expected and generally spoken of – I say expected, because the Convention is yet sitting, and will continue so to do untill the middle of this month. I was appointed to that assembly, but being a Member of Congress where the plan of Convention must be approved, there appeared an inconsistency for Members of the former to have Session with the latter, and so pass judgment at New York upon their opinion at Philadelphia. I therefore declined going to Convention and came here; where we lately have contracted for the sale of six millions of Acres on the N.W. side of Ohio in the ceded territory, for lessening the domestic debt. And now another offer is made for two millions more. I hope we shall at least be able to extinguish the domestic debt created by the late war, which is by far the greatest part of the debt. So many of our Members have lately gone from home to the Convention, that we have had but five States in Congress for a month past, which has prevented any determination on your application to return. It seems at present very doubtful whether there will be any Resident appointed to the Court where you are – Some being f or a Minister, some for a Charge, and some for neither – but a Consul only – How it will terminate can scarcely be conjectured yet. Permit me now Sir to entreat your attention, and good offices in the following affair – Mr Thomas Steptoe, concerning whom I formerly wrote to you, dyed on shipboard as he was returning home from the East Indies either in 1784 or 1785, and we are not certain whether he was in a Danish or Sweedish Ship; but it was one of these. Captain Miller who gave me this intelligence by letter and who is now at the Baltic, was not certain to which of these nations the Ship belonged. but he said it was supposed that Mr. Steptoe had a considerable property. His heirs in Virginia having heard nothing concerning this property, apprehend that it has been secured by the officers of the Ship wherein he dyed. The want of exact information concerning Mr. Steptoe’s affairs will render it difficult to procure redress – Perhaps a proper enquiry among those people in London who trade with the East Indies may furnish some light upon the business. Or an application to the Danish & Sweedish Ministers at the Court of London, might cause an enquiry to be made in their respective countries, so as that the holders of his property fearing detection may come forward and honestly deliver up this gentleman’s effects – and inform if he left any Will – It is not improbable that he left a Will somewhere which if procured would regulate the descent of his Virginia estate – I shall be singularly obliged to you my dear Sir, if you will interest yourself in this business, and let me know the success of your enquiries My compliments if you please to Col. Smith, and affectionate regards to my nephew Shippen. With every sentiment of esteem and friendship I am dear Sir,

sincerely yours.

Richard Henry Lee


Adams PapersMassachusetts Historical Society

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 433 – 36.