<br /> Lee Letter: b391

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Patrick Henry

Dear Sir,

Yesterday’s post brought me your favor of Augt. the 28th, and also the general letter to the representation of Va, concerning the P. E. Academy. As Congress adjourns the day after tomorrow, when we shall return to Virginia, it will not be much in our power before the next meeting, to attend to that business as we wish to do; however, what can be done shall be done. The letter you state to have been written previous to this upon the subject of the academy has not come to hand. We propose to advertise in the most read Gazette, that such a character is wanted, stating the terms generally, and to propose that the person willing to accept the trust either go to the Trustees, or by letter to settle the point with them as far as can be done in that manner. I fear that such a person as would be is not easy to be found disengaged, and at all events that he will expect a very considerable salary, since very large salarys are given in these parts on such occasions. My third letter to you on the 14th inst will satisfy you how little is to be expected from Congress, that shall be in any ways satisfactory on the subject of amendments. Your observation is perfectly just, that right without power to protect it, is of little avail. Yet small as it is, how wonderfully scrupulous have they been in stating rights? The english language has been carefully culled to find words feeble in their nature or doubtful in their meaning. The power of displacing officers was contested with a zeal and constancy that the nature of it deserved. In the Senate we were divided, so that the V.P. determined the question, as you will see in the Journal. This is one of the ill consequences derived from giving a person the right of voting in the Senate who is not a member of it, and who has so probable a prospect, as he may think, of coming to the possession of that power which he agrees to magnify! The contenders for this measure insisted that the Constitution gave the power, this was at once to make it both absurd and arbitrary, because it expressly gives the P. a right to call upon the officers for information in writing concerning their departments – how ridiculous this, if it intended him the power to remove them from office at pleasure? What! vest a right to give political death, and say that the person so vested may demand a paper from him over whom he can exercise destruction. The next attempt, and which will probably succeed, is to send forth all process in the name of the P. instead of the U.S. only. Here is another absurdity. In England; they say the King can do no wrong. But here the P. may be impeached. There, process in the name of the culprit is not to issue for bringing witnesses to try him at the bar where he is put upon his defense, but here it may. But where consolidation is the plan, the state’s authority must be kept out of view as much as possible, and the head of the empire shewn as much as may be. These things demonstrate the vigilance necessary to guard against encroachments as was suggested in my last letter. The appointments to offices in the great and influential departments are pretty universally among the most zealous federalists, the salaries are vast and the state departments and supports weakened by the drafts in this way made from them. Consolidation must therefore inevitably take place in process of time, without great care and much wisdom on the part of the states. The cause of public liberty and the success and strength of the Union depending essentially, in my opinion, upon the system of confederated republics, every wise and proper measure should be invariably pursued by the friends of freedom, both in the state and federal governments, to secure from invasion the just rights of the former. Let us take counsel from what we see, and fill our state offices with men of known attachments to radical amendments, and whose firmness and abilities may serve as a counterpoise to any attempts that may be made against statistical rights. Upon this principle, which appears to me to be not only wise but necessary, I recommend my brother A. Lee, Esq. to your friendship. He is devoted to liberty, and has greatly suffered in its cause. He has been thoroughly bred to law, he has taken the Barrister’s Gown, and has plead with applause at the English Bar, before he quitted it to serve his country as a foreign minister of the U. States. He has been deeply versed in politics, and intimately knows those of America. I refer you to him for a more lengthened detail of politics and opinions here than it is convenient for me to write. If his opposition to the constitution should have been a cause for rejecting his abilities and long public services from this system, it seems to be a powerful reason for admitting him into the service of the State, where I believe he will be eminently useful. By an address, received two days ago from the Assembly of R. Island (copy of which I will send you by my brother) to the federal government, it appears to me as if they intended to keep out of the Union until effectual amendments were made. We ought in common prudence to have done the same. Does N.C. design to act in the same manner? I am, dear sir, with the most affectionate esteem,

Your friend & servant,

Richard Henry Lee

P.S. – I refer you to my last letter for further observation on Genl Martin. You will see by that how the manner of treating with the Indians necessarily prevented his appointment, if other difficulties had been removed. But at present no such office as a standing Indian agent is appointed. The government of the Western Territory is charged with such affairs.



Printed in William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry, 3:402. Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 504 – 7.