<br /> Lee Letter: b372

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: – – – –

My Dear Sir –

Your favour of December 3d, in the last year, reached me the last of January following, and it should have been answered with my thanks long since, if the uncommon badness of the winter, stopping all communication, had not prevented. Your sentiments on the new political structure, are, in my mind, strong and just. Both reason and experience prove, that so extensive a territory as that of the United States, including such a variety of climates, productions, interests; and so great difference of manners, habits, and customs; cannot be governed in freedom – until formed into states, sovereign, sub modo, and confederated for the common good. In the latter case, opinion founded on the knowledge of those who govern, procures obedience without force. But remove the opinion, which must fall with a knowledge of characters in so widely extended a country, and force then becomes necessary to secure the purposes of civil government; hence the military array at Kamtschatka, at Petersburg, and through every part of the widely extended Russian empire. Thus force, the parent and the support of tyranny, is demanded for good purposes, although for ever abused to bad ones”that a consolidated, and not a federal government, was the design of some, who formed this new project, I have no doubt about. The dazzling ideas of glory, wealth, and power uncontrolled, unfettered by popular opinions, are powerful to captivate the ambitious and the avaricious. With such people obedience resulting from fear, the offspring of force, is preferable to obedience flowing from esteem and confidence, the legitimate offspring of the knowledge that men have of wisdom and virtue in their governors; and, above all, from the conviction that abuses may be rectified by the substantial checks that political freedom furnish. Massachusetts, I see, has adopted the plan; but proposes to insist perseveringly on amendments. If it were permitted an individual to question so enlightened an assembly, I would ask, why submit to a system requiring such amendments, and trust to creatures of our own creation, for the correcting of evils in it that threaten the destruction of those ends for which the system was formed? The fear of greater evils has been stated: but I cannot help considering such fears as being generated by design upon weakness. The objections to the present system, if accurately considered, will, I believe, be found to grow out of those temporary pressures, created by a long and expensive war, which time and prudence may remove. But, though it were admitted that some amendments to the present confederation would better promote the ends designed by it, why, for that reason, exterminate the present plan, and establish on its ruins another, so replete with power, danger, and hydra-headed mischief? The Massachusetts amendments are good, so far as they go. The first, third, and fourth amendments are well contrived to keep in existence the state sovereignties; and the first particularly proper for securing liberty from the abuse of construction, which the new plan most amply admits of. But why, my dear friend, was the provision in your seventh proposition of amendment, confined to causes between citizens of different states, since the reason applies to suitors of every country, and foreigners will be more apt than our own citizens to abuse, in the way, which, that part of the coffered plan permits, and which this amendment of Massachusetts is designed to prevent? England and Scotland are united for every good purpose of defence and offence, yet a foreigner cannot sue a resident Scotsman in England for debt contracted in Scotland: nor will any foreign nation upon earth grant a similar privilege to our citizens over theirs, of calling their people from their own countries to answer demands against them – the fixt idea of all the European nations being, that strangers are not to have privileges in their own country superior to what their own subjects enjoy.

Richard Henry Lee



Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 463 – 66.