<br /> Lee Letter: n286

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Edmund Pendleton

Dear Sir,

Before this reaches you I hope much progress will have been made towards
the establishment of a wise and free government, without which, neither
publick or private happiness or security can long be expected. I make
no doubt but you have seen a small pamphlet published here with the
Title of “An address to the Convention of the Colony & Ancient
Dominion of Virga. on the Subject of Government
&c.”1 This contemptible little Tract
betrays the little Knot or Junto from whence it proceeded. Confusion of
ideas, aristocratic pride, contradictory reasoning with evident ill
design, put it out of danger of doing harm, and therefore I quit it.
The difficulty we have to encounter in constructing this fabric from
whence so great good or evil may result, consists certainly in blending
the three simple forms of Government in such manner as to prevent the
inordinate views of either from unduly affecting the others, which has
never been the case in Engd altho it was the professed aim of that
system. But there a fine design was spoiled in the execution. The
perogative of making Peers & Boroughs effectually destroyed the
equepoise, and presented an opportunity of applying that corruption
which has now swallowed up everything but the forms of freedom in G.B.
However imperfect the English plan was, vet our late government in
Virginia was infinitely worse. With us, 2 thirds of the Legislative,
all the executive & judiciary powers were in the same hands. In
truth it was very near a Tyranny, altho the mildness with which it was
executed under whig direction, made the evil little felt. Abridged
duration, temperate revenue, and every unnecessary power withheld are
potent means of preserving integrity in public men and for securing the
Community from the dangerous ambition that too often governs the human
mind. But why need I mention these things to a gentleman who knows them
so well. I have only to wish your health may enable you to attend to
this arduous business with the closeness it
deserves.2 If you consider the nature of the
funds with which the war has been hitherto carried on, the great &
growing expence of this contest and the probable prospect of its
continuing for sometime longer, I suppose until G.B. has lost all hope
of regaining us, it must be evident beyond a doubt that foreign
Alliance is indispensible, and should be immediately sought. Our Trade
must be opened, which cannot be done until we get protection for our
property on the water, and can induce some competent power to undertake
to trade with us. About this no time is to be lost, and therefore I
wish positive instructions on this head may be sent your Servants in
Congress soon as possible.3 Would it not be
well to appoint Mr. President Nelson the first Governor if he wd.
accept, since he possesses knowledge, experience, and has already been
in a dignified station?

The Roebuck & Liverpoole were lately met Coming up the Delaware by 13
Gondolas from this City, when after 2 engagements on two following
days, of 3 hours each time, The Ships returned down the river well
bored with large Cannon Shot.

We have had upwards of 20 Tons of powder & more Salt petre with several
brass pieces, arrived within the last 10 days and we dayly expect to
hear of the arrival of the Hessian, Hanoverian & High l.
Commissioners. I hope my Countrymen will push the Articles of Common
Salt, Salt Petre, & Arms; and that all possible encouragement will
be given to manufactures of every useful kind. Let a wire Mill be set
up for the purpose of making “Wool & Cotton” Cord. I am inclined to
think there is no better way to produce a spirit of manufactures than
by offering very encouraging public rewards for the 1st, 2d & so on
largest quantity of Linnen or Woolen Cloths.

Notes:

Lee PapersUniversity of Virginia Archives

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 190 – 92. A transcript is in Lee Papers, Virginia Historical Society.

1 Written by Carter Braxton and printed by John Dunlap in Philadelphia, the
pamphlet was reprinted in the Virginia Gazette (Dixon and Hunter),
8 and 15 June 1776. See T. R. Adams, American Independence, p. 151.

2 Lee’s interest in the formation of a new provincial government in Virginia
is also indicated by an earlier Pendleton letter to him,
acknowledging the receipt of Thoughts on Government. “From your
brother Colonel Thos. L. Lee, I received by your Favor a Pamphlet on
American Government for which I am much Obliged to you, as every help
to the Judgment on that important Subject, is acceptable at this
time, when it must be discussed.” Pendleton to Lee, May 7, 1776.
Edmund Pendleton, The Letters and Papers of Edmund Pendleton,
1734 – 1803, ed. David J. Mays, 2 vols. (Charlottesville: University
Press of Virginia, 1967), 1:176.

3 On May 15 the Virginia Convention approved resolutions instructing their
congressional delegates to propose that Congress declare the united
colonies independent states and authorizing them to support measures
for forming foreign alliances and establishing a confederation. Am.
Archives, 4th ser. 6:1524. For evidence that these resolutions were
the work of Pendleton, the president of the Virginia Convention, see
David J. Mays, Edmund Pendleton, 1721 – 1803, a Biography, 2 vols.
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952), 2: 106 – 10. For the
resolutions Richard Henry Lee introduced in Congress on June 7 in
accordance with these instructions see JCC, 5:425 – 26; and Thomas
Jefferson’s Notes of Debate, June 7 – 28, 1776.