<br /> Lee Letter: b390

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Patrick Henry

Dar Sir,

I have written two letters to you since my receipt of yours dated March 23d, both which I enclosed to our friend Mr. George Fleming, at Richmond, and he has informed me of their safe arrival, and that he had forwarded them to you. I have since waited to see the issue of the proposed amendments to the constitution, that I might give you the most exact accounts of that business. As they came from the house of Representatives, they were far short of the wishes of our convention, but as they are returned by the Senate they are certainly much weakened. You may be assured that nothing on my part was left undone to prevent this, and every possible effort was used to give success to all the amendments proposed by our country. We might as well have attempted to move Mount Atlas upon our shoulders. In fact the idea of subsequent amendments, was little better than putting oneself to death first, in expectation that the doctor, who wished our destruction, would afterwards restore us to life. I am grieved to see too many look at the rights of the people as a miser examines a security, to find a flaw in it. The great points of free election, jury trial in criminal cases, and the unlimited rights of taxation, and standing armies, remain as they were. The most essential danger from the present system arises, in my opinion, from its tendency to a consolidated government, instead of a union of Confederated States. The history of the world and reason concur in proving, that so extensive a territory as the United States comprehend, never was, or can be, governed in freedom under the former idea; under the latter it is abundantly more practicable, because extended representation, knowledge of characters, and confidence in consequence, secure that good opinion of rulers, without which fear, the offspring of force, can alone answer; for all free government resting on opinion, if that fails force must succeed; hence standing armies and despotism follow. I take this reasoning to be irrefutable, and therefore it becomes the friends of liberty to guard with perfect vigilance every right that belongs to the states, and to protest against every invasion of them, taking care always to procure as many protesting states as possible; this kind of vigilance will create caution, and establish such a mode of conduct as will create a system of precedent that will prevent a consolidating effect from taking place by slow but sure degrees. A sufficient number of legislatures cannot be got at present to agree in demanding a convention, but I shall be very much mistaken indeed, if ere long a great sufficiency will not concur in this measure. The preamble to the amendments is really curious. A careless reader would be apt to suppose that the amendments desired by the states had been graciously granted, but when the thing done is compared with that desired, nothing can be more unlike. Some valuable rights are indeed declared, but the power to violate them to all intents and purposes remains unchanged.

The southern Indians having repeatedly declared the little confidence they had in the justice of the bordering states, it was thought that sending commissioners from hence to treat with them who were totally unconnected with the parties and their disputes, would be the most likely way to gain the Indian confidence, and thereby obtain a secure and lasting peace. Upon this idea three gentlemen have been sent from hence to treat with the Creeks, when probably some measures may be taken with the Cherokees also. In this mode of doing business there was no opportunity for suggesting General Martin; and those gentlemen who have gone, are only appointed pro hac vice, and return here when they have done the business. It is probable that this treaty will end in a large cession of territory to Georgia which may cause a cession of some part to the United States; in either case those who choose may have an opportunity of obtaining grants in that country, said to be a very fine one. As the laws that have passed Congress this session will all be sent to Richmond, where I am happy to hear you will be in the Assembly, it is unnecessary for me to say anything of them in this letter, already I fear too long. It is now proposed to adjourn on the 22d inst. But I think it will be the first of October, before this result takes place. I am sure that nothing I write politically to you, will be improperly communicated. I am with most cordial esteem and regard, dear sir,

your most obedient and very humble servant,

Richard Henry Lee



Printed in William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry, 3:399. Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 501 – 4.