<br /> Lee Letter: b387

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Samuel Adams

My dear friend,

I find that the goodness of your own mind has already, in the engagements of mine, found an apology for my silence – it is indeed a just one, and to that mentall engagement I owe a return of the ill health that afflicted me some years ago. Altho, I thank God, not yet in so great a degree. I do very much approve and admire your idea of supporting “the authority and dignity of the state governments within their respective jurisdictions, as far as consists with the purposes for which the fed. government is designed”; And I perfectly agree with you in opinion “that they are but petit politicians who wish to lessen the due weight of the state governments.” I saw something of this sentiment published in your speech to the G. Court on your late election – I then expressed my approbation of it, and have only been prevented by business and illhealth from transmitting to you my wish, that others, in stations similar to yours, might take frequent opportunities of inculcating the same salutary sentiment.

The idea is supported by reason and experience – So extensive a territory as that of the U. States, including such a variety of climates, productions, interests; and so great difference of manners, habits, and customs; cannot be governed in freedom, unless formed into States sovereign sub modo, and confederated for common good.

In the latter case, opinion, founded in the knowledge of those who govern, procures obedience without force. But remove 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 society. Hence the military array at Kamts-Chatka, at Petersburg, and thro every part of the widely extended Russian empire – Thus force the parent and support of Tyranny, is demanded for good purposes, as it should seem, altho for ever abused to bad ones. But so wonderfully are mens minds now changed upon the subject of liberty, that it would seem as if the sentiments universally prevailed in 1774 were antediluvian visions, and not the solid reason of fifteen years ago! Among the many striking instances that daily occur, take the following communicated to me by an honble. Member of the H. of R. here. You well know our former respected, republican friend, old Mr. Ro – g – r – Sh – n of Con, whose person, manners, and every sentiment appeared formerly to be perfectly republican. This very gentleman, our old Republican friend opposed a motion for introducing into a bill of rights, an idea that the Military should be subordinate to the Civil power – His reason, as stated, was “that it would make the people insolent!” This was in a committee of the H. of R. for reporting amendments to the Constitution. The subjects of Amendments is now under consideration of the same house – how they will terminate I cannot say – But my wishes are stronger than my expectations – My respect for your opinion and recommendations is so great, that if it had in any manner depended on me, not one of those you proposed for office would have failed. I never was, and probably never shall be, a Courtier. – The constitutional interference of the Senate in appointments, may possibly be of public service on some rare occasions – but ordinarily it seems to amount to nothing. The vast patronage of these U.S. is in one only. When wise and virtuous men possess it there can be no injury to the public, but other qualities may render the power dangerous to mankind. It has been labored here to increase the same power by giving to the P. the sole right of removing all officers at the pleasure, under a fancy that such was the fair construction of the Constitution. For what purpose is it said in the 2d. Sect. of 2d. Article “He may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties o f their respective offices” I ask again for what purposes can it be imagined, that the above power was given, if the same instrument designed that he should remove these Executive Officers at pleasure? – The absurdity seems to me to be too strong – The greater includes the less power, and therefore I am forced to conclude that it is an eroneous construction of the constitution to suppose it gives the P. a right of removal at pleasure – I could not learn where Mr. Church lodged until Mr. Gerry informed me a few days ago – I went immediately to his lodging but he had set out on his return to Georgia.

The office of Marshall will depend on the passage of the Judiciary bill which is yet not certain. The Nomination, as usual, will be with the president – If I can find an oportunity of serving Mr. Keith, I will certainly not let it pass me. Such has been the extreme heat of the weather here, that business and weak health added thereto, I am only now, on the 15th. of the month, finishing a letter begun on the 8th. With my respects to Mrs. Adams, I remain,

as usual sincerely your friend.

Richard Henry Lee


Samuel Adams PapersNew York Public Library

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 495 – 97.