<br /> Lee Letter: b435

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Richard Bland Lee

My Dear Sir.

Your very friendly and flattering Letter, has been three posts in my possession; yet such has been the situation of my health, that tho’ I felt continually the deepest regret at not being able to Answer it by each post as the day came, I could not execute my wishes – Non sum qualis eram is Indeed true with me. The operations of the mind deeply affect my feble frame, so that mental processes are with me necessarily slow. Altho’ at a time, and under circumstances, of life, when other Men as well as Solomon discovers the vanity of Earthly things, yet it is not easy to be quite unaffected by the judgment, that an able man shall form of ones conduct & character. You are certainly not mistaken in your opinion that I love my Country – This passion (if it may be so called) has been deeply engraved upon my mind soon after it became capable of reflection. And perhaps it may be owing to this love of my Country with opportunities of knowledge furnished by long & attentive public service together with that period of life when Confidence is a plant of slow growth; that I politically differ from some persons whose opinion on any other occasion would command the most respectful attention. I confess myself happy to find among nine out of 10 with whom I have had an opportunity of conversing a similarity of oppinion concerning the fittest course that the U.S. may pursue in the actual state of their political affairs. I solemnly think it must be difficult for Men who really love their Country, who arc of independent Circumstances who are candid, temperate & sensible, to vary much in Judgment. Observe a strict and faithful neutrality – Justly offend none – And let these be scrupulously & steadily enforced within the limits of the U. States, which was most wisely & seasonably enjoyned by the Presidents Proclamation. When the passions of men run high, when the jealousy of Nations is great beyond former examples ’tis certainly not the Season for partial, oppressive, & hostile Commercial Regulations to be legalized by us, in favor of some & hurtful to others of the Belligerent Powers. Partialities at all times give offence, generalities seldom do – In a discussion of this kind I profess that I know no country but the U.S. and their true, certain & general interest, not their intemperate passions, or partial views with respect to advantages of one part, over another of the Union. In the ordinary affairs of Jurisprudence; conjectures, suspicions, circumstances unnaturally forced into union by heated imaginations are not proofs upon which the justice of Courts is administered – Far less, it should be supposed, may such shadows be substantiated into proofs for bringing War the schorge of Nations, upon our country, yet having under the oppressive load of debt created by the last War. The Historian of Queen Elizabeth mentions to her raise, that when she received real injuries from any of her Neighbors, she urged no complaints presently but diligently proceeded to fill her Exchequer to be compitent in Men & Ships, when & not till then did she demand unequivical redress, or her Resentment was quickly followed with effectual blows. I observe it is a fundamental with Monsr. Genets Masters to take “Steps to Act effecatiously against Engd. & Spain” – And they have my full & free consent to exert all their powers for this purpose, abstaining from the practice of Every Art to draw us into a Ruinous War, where everything may be lost & nothing can posibly be gained – And why, because the instructions say that we are an Object with these powers as well as them – Probabilities then, are to Excite our Zeal in entering upon a War that must inevitably put our existence, as a free people, to the most eminent hazard. But really the conduct of the French Partizans in this business is to plunge us into this most fatal & unnecessary War by every possible art, Flectere si nequeo superos Acheronta movebo. If a majority see not the propriety – of engaging in War (with many puisant Nations) without money Men, Ships or Munitions of war – at a time when the debts of last War are not yet sufficiently provided for – when we are borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, & when we are sorely pressed by this very National Assembly. (That would, have us sacrifice every thing for them) to pay most scrupuously the money charged to us by the late government of France, and of which a great part was paid in France to French contractors very oppressively & uselessly to us in such military stores as were literally good for nothing. When such powerful prohibition stare them in the face, the business must be next assayed by circuitous not direct modes – Associations and partial great oppressions are by law to be placed upon the Nations particularly denounced by the french Assembly. At a moment when the most stupid cant fail to see that the Design goes Directly to benefit one party in the War & to injure others in direct violation of nutrality. If this, in temperate times would be considered only in the light of malignent ill will, in the present temper of Mind that so unfortunately prevails, I much doubt if it would not be deemed Causa belli. But ’tis said this is merely a commercial Regulation to benefit our own Trade by affecting that of others. It is unlucky for this argument that this same plan has been already rejected by Congress at a time when no such hurtful & Malign partiality was reasonably to be Charged upon it – And when the thin itself is a mere theoretic opinion; when great numbers as well instructed upon this subject as the projectors of the plan, consider it a Measure at present, & which for a great length of time must be, fatal to Southern Agriculture – I have no Doubt but that our Trade is highly beneficial to Great Britain. As little do I Doubt of the British, Trade being greatly useful to Southern Agriculture; which must languish and be fatally Discouraged by any measure that should deprive us of that Trade. Commerce is a subject of too delicate a nature to be coerced by the Theoretic ideas of bookish men – I suppose it will be granted that no nation better understands, Commerce than the English – And I think it may of them be affirmed with truth, that they make no essential changes in their Commerce by law, without consulting with Merchants of the greatest probity & experience in the United kingdom – They dont depend on knowledge drawn alone from their Libraries, So that the judgment of a very great statesman (Richelieu) is not here a censure upon them – The Cardinal says “La capacité des Conseillers ne requert pas une capacité pédantesque, il n’y a rien de plus dangereux pour l’Etat que ceux qui veulent gouverner les Royaumes par les maximes qu’ils tirent de leurs livres. Ils les ruinent souvent tout-a-fait par ce moyen.” The present, as you very properly state it, is a most interesting scene – A conduct sincerely void of offence to any of the Warring powers by observing a true & honest Neutrality – And if such proofs are produced of injury offered by other Nations as a good & wise man would think deserved National vengeance firm & Decent remonstrances accompanied by such proofs, if they failed of success, would put such offenders so palpably in the wrong as to justify the strongest measures on our part in the Judgment of Mankind – It is surely a very great advantage in War to have a United Nation & the good opinion of Mankind attending our measures. But whether directly, or by means more remote, we engage in or provoke a War and under the actual circumstances of the U. States I am slow in thinking that a quarter of our Countrymen would go along with the promoters of such a war, & Impartial nations might find reason to censure our want of policy & humanity. You may judge therefore, my dear Sir, that thinking as I do, it gives me pain to find it your opinion that “it seems to be uncertain Whether the folly & wickedness of the Courts of Great Britain & Spain – The intemperance of France, or our own want of patience & moderation will not produce so calamitous an event”! The interest of the two former above all the nations of the Earth, is so obviously & powerfully opposed to war with us, that I should think Credulity personified, would not entertain the idea of these nations desiring such a War – The two last causes stated by you are of a nature more serious. Yet I have so strong a reliance on the patriotic wisdom & firmness of our Executive – And upon the Patriotism goodsense, & penetration of a very great Majority of the good people of this Union, as to entertain no Idea that any measure direct or indirect, will be suffered to take effect that may possibly produce so calamitous an event as you very properly term the ruinous business. I have already observed that in a discussion of this kind I know no Country but the United States & Also, that particular powers were specially denounced by the french Assembly – Pursuing the first idea, I shall at all times consider Truth & true Reflections as my Proper guides, regardless of any mistakes or intemperance that may influence contrary opinions. The second will be found to result from the very extraordinary instructions published by Mr. Genet. I trust that I am too well known in these States for it to be unknown that so long as War existed between these States & Great Britain the latter had not a more determined foe than myself – . Since peace has been concluded I have endeavored in all my public conduct to shew that I disapprove a hostile mind in peace. I confess I know not how otherwise peace shall ever take place between Nations once unfortunately at War – Yet it is well known that there are always numbers on both sides who on such occassions, for Private interest, (tho’ formidable only for diligence in wicked intrigue) exert every talent they possess to keep up the ball of enmity, expecting thereby wealth & honours due only to virtue & ability. It is an old observation that family feuds & Civil wars are with most difficulty removed & friendship Restored; it may therefore be supposed, that from this cause, & the wicked agency above stated that much ill-will rankeled in the Breasts of some on both sides, after the peace, which in all probability has so long prevented an accommodation reasonable, just, & satisfactory to both Countries – I must confess that since Mr. Adams demanded the delivery of the posts and the Answer of the British Ministry, with the subsequent Measures of Congress thereupon I did suppose that Court sincerely determined to Deliver the Posts up so soon as the Laws restraining the recovery of B. Debts should be removed – A least the sincerity of that Court would have been brought to the Test. – I believe this objection was never removed until last Fall when I hear the Federal Court gave judgments for such debts & it is rumered that the British are now busily building forts in their own Territory near ours – which looks like a Design of complying with their Faith engaged – When I was in the public Counsels I remember many accounts of Indian hostility encouraged, protected & aided by the B. Government. I also remember that upon enquiery these changes were contradicted & I never heard of their being veryfied – The Algerines I well know have Wared on our Trade from the commencement of our Independence – But allow me to ask if they do not the same upon the Commerce of Europe where annual Stipends are not paid – And these stipends very unwillingly paid by many Nations far our superior now in Naval force. I have understood that France & G. Britain are the two general supporters of these infamous Pirates, nothing to their honour I confess. With respect to any late urging of Algiers against us or fomenting of Indian hostility I know nothing but I have been informed by respectable authorities of our own that we were treated with great civility & respect by the British during the late Indian Treaty. – I do very well recollect that whilst I was in Congress, & Commercial partialities similar to those now under consideration were proposed, a Gentleman produced from the English Statute book a variety of cases in which the Trade of the United States was favored in G. Britain beyond that of any other Nation. The W. Indies indeed is not open to our carrying Trade, but are we much better treated by France? I do not know that we are – Soon after the revolution in France we heard it was proposed to Extend privileges to our Trade with the West Indies but has it been done? the Instructions say that if we will enter into a War with almost all the powers in Europe (for I think that warring with two of these Allies is warring with the Whole) we shall have privileges in the West Indies made at some time or other, & to an Extent not mentioned – A shadow truly for a very weighty substance –

With respect to spain, you seem to think that the Conduct of that Court relative to the Navigation of the Mississippi is new – Look if you please at the Secret Journals of Congress in 1786 & onwards – you will there find it to be an Original objection on their part, & it seems to grow out of a National jealousy extended to all Nations, against any nearer approximation to their Southern Riches – But this instance excepted, I know of no Nation that has more uniformly shewn these States friendship & Respect. I remember, that in our greatest adversity, when Congress was compelled in Winter 1776 to leave Phila. for Baltimore we had authentic information that Spain by an Edict permited our Privateers to Caffy their prizes into Spain – When later in the following year the French commited Hodge & Cunninghame two American Citizens to prison for bringing their Prizes into France & made them Deliver them up to the English – We know that early in the War, upon an application of Genl. Lee the spanyards granted us the aid we desired – The General friendly conduct of Spain to the U. States evidently arises from her interest to be well with us and as far as I was acquainted with their Conduct whilst I was engaged in public affairs, that Court appeared to me to understand this policy & to act upon it. A change in the political conduct of these Nations at this time becoming more enomical to us, is so irreconcilable to common sense, to say nothing of the policy of the measure, that really it seems to me to demand the most clear and unequivocal proof of facts alleged in the first place, an explanation of such change of conduct desired; & finally a due consideration of the nature of the Charges if proved whether they be of such a nature as directly or indirectly to justify War, the greatest of all civil calamities. – And to us at this time, certain ruin. Perhaps a solution of these charges against Spain & England, & the wonderful industry with which they have been propagated, may be found in the policy of the French Rulers. – To ask us to go to war at once with 5 powerful nations of Europe might be in vain, but two of the 5 have unsetled Disputes with the U. States which perhaps rankling a little in the mind will cause more easy credence to charges propagated & give a greater facility to procuring War Direct or circuitously against two, as it may not be immediately reflected on, that in a War like this, to quarrel with one is to War with all. – The probability of this arises from the instructions where it is said, “We have at this moment a particular interest in taking steps to act efficatiously against England & Spain, we ought to excite by all possible means the Zeal of the Americans &c. &c. the reasons to be sure are strong for that being, “a great people we should suspend our Commercial & political Interest & establish a mutual understanding &c. &c. – ” We are indeed tempted by Reward promised & which fairly translated into English may read thus, We have in the zenith of our Madness made War upon all the powers of Europe nearly, we have no allies but the Americans whose duty & interest it is to make common cause with us in against the World whether they have good cause or doing so or not or whether they may ruin themselves or not by such a procedure, for have we not for some years talked of granting them benefits in their commerce with our West India possessions, tho the actual state of Europe may raise impediments to this agreement so that neither quantum or time of granting can now be stated still you must, Citn. Genet, urge the Americans to War & make it a condition sine qua non of their enjoying this essential & very beneficial commerce that they shall guarrantee the possessions of the French Nation in the W. Indies for it nearly concerns the peace & prosperity of the French Nation, that a people, whose resources increase beyond all calculation and whom nature has placed so near our rich Colonies should become compelled by their own engagement to defend these Islands. They perhaps may not at present discover how cirtainly such a guarrantee must produce immediate War & will probably be the cause in Future times of other expencive Wars which their present situation would never produce – But the great Trade will make them relish this, as they probably cannot see that our conduct with these Ilands has been such that in all human probability neither Ourselves, or they thro’ our means will be permitted to trade there. In very truth I think these Instructions are as complete & complex an insult upon the honour & understanding of the U. States as could possibly be exhibited, and such as I sincerely believe no nation upon Earth but the present rulers of the French capable of exhibiting. Upon what ground is it presumptiously said that a due observation of the 17.21.22 articles of the Treaty of Commerce will cause the french Vessels to, “have at their disposal all the Ports of the U. States & the provisions with which they abound.” or why is that insulting threat introduced if these articles were not adhered to seeing that not the smallest attempt to violate them had ever been made. It is not usual to threaten nations with a scourge if they should behave ill in the opinion of others. Instructions having thus provided Citizen Genette with powerful inducements growing out of great profered rewards (as before stated) and authorized him to allarm our fears with threatened punishments they conceive they have already secured a declaration of Warr against the powers of Europe with whom we have no quarrel: They next proceed to provide their Citizen amply with Letters of mark & Commissions for Officers to be employed in the United States for equiping Vessels of War & raising Troops, taking care at the same time to charge Mr. Genette vigorously to prevent in the american Ports all equipments unless upon account of the french Nation. The Sun would sett before I should finish the observations that naturally flow from this absurd mass of insolence & selfishness. I had intended to have made some observations on Mr. Genette, but as he is so shortly to be recalled lett him take the fate that awaits him. I cannot however my friend help observing that you seem to think this Man only followed his instructions & that the latter appear designed only to draw us nearer to the authors of them. I think it may at least be said on the Agent that he was the harsh & premature executor of harsh & unwarrantable orders. That this drawing nearer may aptly be compared to a drowning Man out of friendship ketching at another no ways in danger & huging him closely to save them both from drowning. Upon the whole suffer me again to repeat that if we mean to be happy & flourishing we should carefully keep out of this Warr, offend none be civil to all.

I should be much obliged to you for informing me by return of Post if Mr. Richard Wells lately Casshiere of the Bank of North America is alive & now in that office, & if so to present my compliments to him & ask him if he received a Letter from me dated Decr. 16th. 1793 to which I have never received an answer but shall thank him for one immediately; also to my friend Tench Cox Esqr. Commissioner of the revenue & know if he has received my Letter of the 20th. Decr. 1793 to which no answer has been received & that I shall much thank him for one as soon as convenient. Please to inform me upon what terms you can purchase for me twenty pounds of the best Hyson Tea that if I like them I may send you a Bank Check, trusting to your goodness to buy it for me & send it as may hereafter be directed. I am to pray your indulgence for employing an Amanuensis the state of my health not permitting me to write myself. The Newspaper must remain until we know What your high Mightinesses intend to do in this business – Whether as our good President recommends, facilitate the dispersion of N. papers. or entirely Stop their progress thro the Union – As the Report of the Committee, if agreed to will certainly I think, effect – The papers of any consequence are daily papers, the same rate of Postage continued will render these very opressive. And what must enevitably give general disturbance the Congress becoming Collectors for the Printers S demanding of the Subscribers six Months pay & Postage whether the Papers shall ever be sent or not. I am Dear Sir

yours with affection & sincerity.

Richard Henry Lee


Shippen Collection###

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 563 – 75. Addressed to Richard Bland Lee at Philadelphia.