<br /> Lee Letter: b363

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: George Mason

Dear Sir,

I have waited until now to answer your favor of September 10th from Philadelphia, that I might inform you how the Convention plan of government was entertained by Congress. Your prediction of what would happen in Congress was exactly verified. It was with us, as with you, this or nothing; and this urged with a most extreme intemperance. The greatness of the powers given, and the multitude of places to be created produce a coalition of monarchy men, military men, aristocrats and drones, whose noise, impudence and zeal exceeds all belief. Whilst the commercial plunder of the South stimulates the rapacious trader. In this state of things the patriot voice is raised in vain for such changes and securities as reason and experience prove to be necessary against the encroachments of power upon the indispensable rights of human nature. Upon due consideration of the Constitution under which we now act, some of us were clearly of opinion that the Thirteenth Article of the Confederation precluded us from giving an opinion concerning a plan subversive of the present system, and eventually forming a new Confederacy of nine instead of thirteen States. The contrary doctrine was asserted with great violence in expectation of the strong majority with which they might send it forward under terms of much approbation. Having procured an opinion that Congress was qualified to consider, to amend, to approve or disapprove, the next game was to determine that though a right to amend existed, it would be highly inexpedient to exercise that right, but merely to transmit it with respectful marks of approbation. In this state of things I availed myself of the right to amend, and moved the amendments, a copy of which I send herewith, and called the ayes and nays to fix them on the journal. This greatly alarmed the majority and vexed them extremely; for the plan is to push the business on with great dispatch, and with as little opposition as possible, that it may be adopted before it has stood the test of reflection and due examination. They found it most eligible at last to transmit it merely, without approving or disapproving, provided nothing but the transmission should appear on the journal. This compromise was settled and they took the opportunity of inserting the word unanimously, which applies only to simple transmission, hoping to have it mistaken for an unanimous approbation of the thing. It states that Congress having received the Constitution unanimously transmit it, &c. It is certain that no approbation was given. This Constitution has a great many excellent regulations in it, and if it could be reasonably amended would be a fine system. As it is, I think ’tis past doubt, that if it should be established, either a tyranny will result from it, or it will be prevented by a civil war. I am clearly of opinion with you that it should be sent back with amendments reasonable, and assent to it withheld until such amendments are admitted. You are well acquainted with Mr. Stone and others of influence in Maryland. I think it will be a great point to get Maryland and Virginia to join in the plan of amendments and return it with them. If you are in correspondence with our chancellor Pendleton it will be of much use to furnish him with the objections, and if he approves our plan, his opinion will have great weight with our Convention; and I am told that his relation Judge Pendleton of South Carolina has decided weight in that State, and that he is sensible and independent. How important will it be then to procure his union with our plan, which might probably be the case if our chancellor was to write largely and pressingly to him on the subject, that if possible it may be amended there also. It is certainly the most rash and violent proceeding in the world to cram thus suddenly into men a business of such infinite moment to the happiness of millions. One of your letters will go by the packet and one by a merchant ship. My compliments, if you please, to your lady and to the young ladies and gentlemen. I am, dear sir,

Richard Henry Lee

Suppose when the Assembly recommended a Convention to consider this new Constitution they were to use some words like these: It is earnestly recommended to the good people of Virginia to send their most wise and honest men to this Convention that it may undergo the most intense consideration before a plan shall be without amendments adopted that admits of abuses being practised by which the best interests of this country may be injured, and civil liberty greatly endangered. This might perhaps give a decided tone to the business.

Please to send my son Ludwell a copy of the amendments proposed by me to the new Constitution sent herewith.

Notes:

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Printed in Kate Mason Rowland, The Life of George Mason, 2:185. Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 438 – 40. Another copy is in the Lee Papers, Virginia Historical Society.