<br /> Lee Letter: n349

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Patrick Henry

My dear Sir,

If I have contributed in any degree to your satisfaction or enabled you to
combat false news intended to injure the cause of America, I am happy.
I love the cause, and I have faithfully exerted myself to serve it
well. Provided America be free and happy, I am not solicitous about the
Agents that accomplish it. For this reason Sir, I look with
indifference on the malice of my enemies, trusting that the wisdom of
my Country will employ in its great concerns, such men only, as are of
known uniform attachment to the cause of America, and who possess
wisdom, integrity, and industry. But it has ever been my wish to
deserve the esteem of virtuous men, and to stand well in their opinion.
Upon this principle I hope for your pardon when I trouble you with a
detail of the lease business.1 From motives
of private ease and as I thought of public good, if the same plan were
generally adopted in Virginia, I determined some years ago to break up
my quarters, and rent out all my lands to a number of industrious men,
who might benefit themselves, and ease me of trouble at the same time.
As the support of a numerous family depended entirely upon those rents,
I was brought to the alarming situation of seeing that family
infinitely distressed when the Association took place, by the Tenants
not paying me, assigning for reason that they could not sell their
produce. The present evil was then great and pressing, and well knowing
the determination of Great Britain to push her ruinous system, which wd
of course drive America into a long and expensive war, that could only
be supported by immense emissions of paper money, which falling in
value with its excessive quantity would render my small income (but
barely sufficient with the greatest economy to maintain my family in
the best times) totally insufficient, I did propose to Colo Marshal
(who was one of my Tenants & a Collector for me in Fauquier) so
early as August 1775 to offer, by himself and Mr. Blackwell, to my
Tenants, such a change of rent as might enable them to pay, prevent my
total ruin, and at the same time be not injurious to them; since the
plenty of money here after which might lessen its value, would
certainly raise the price of all their produce. This proposition you
will observe Sir, was made in August 1775, at a time when emissions of
money for this war were scarcely begun, and when of course, the
malignant insinuation of my enemies could not have existed with me,
that of depreciating a currency not yet in being. And it is worthy of
remark, that in Augt. 1776, the Tenants of Loudon County did themselves
petition the Convention (if I forget not) to have their money rents
changed to produce. Colo. Marshall very much approved the
reasonableness of my proposal, and promised to offer the matter to the
consideration of the Tenants. I returned here to Congress, and Colo.
Marshall soon after went into the military line, so that nothing, that
I know of, was done in this business until March 1776 when yet very
little money had been issued, and when of course this alteration could
not possibly have had the least effect upon the credit of the paper
money. At that time, for reasons already mentioned, I had for more than
a year received little or no support from my estate to the great injury
of my family; and being obliged to return here, I engaged Mr Parker of
Westmoreland to go up to Fauquier and propose to the Tenants to alter
the rents to Tobacco at a price mutually to be agreed on. This he did,
and returned to me the alterations agreed on by all the Tenants near
Fauquier Court House, except two or three.2
It was then upon two principles that this change took place, first to
put it in the power of the Tenant to pay me what was then and might
become due, and secondly to prevent thereafter the excessive and
partial injury that might be derived to me from emissions of paper
money not then in existence. Would any but bad Men, hardly pressed for
argument against an innocent Character, have misrepresented, and
miscalled this absolutely faultless and justifiable conduct, a design
to injure the public by depreciating the currency? But the truth is
Sir, that certain evil disposed Men hate me partly for the same reason
that I am devoted to destruction in the Enemies Camp, because I have
served my Country with unremitting zeal and industry, and in concert
with other generous friends to human liberty and the rights of America,
have gone far towards defeating our enemies, and raising America
triumphant over its cruel, vindictive, and determined foes. But it
seems there are two other charges equally futile and false; the one,
that I have favored New England to the injury of Virginia. The other,
that as a Member of the Secret Committee I objected to their
proceedings being laid before Congress, meaning to insinuate that I
wished to conceal embezlement of the public money! The Wretch who
carried, or sent this last account to Virginia, knows perfectly well
that my total abstraction from every Commercial concern renders it
impossible that I can propose any kind of good to myself from trading
business of any sort. But I have a strong belief that a change is
wished in order to remove obstruction feared from me, and to prepare
the way for the execution of private plans in which the public will not
be gainers. The affair alluded to is, I suppose, a very inconsiderate
motion made at Baltimore for the Secret Committee to lay all its
proceedings before Congress. I observed that so extensive a motion
defeated the very end for which such a Committee was appointed, and
might expose to danger valuable Cargoes that should be coming in, or
that might be going out, particularly the former. The motion was
narrowed, and even so it was agreed to. Mr. Morris the Chairman of the
Committee who was here at the time, did by Letter so convince the
Congress of the impropriety of the order even as it passed, that
nothing more was said about it.3 We did
indeed expect at that very time the arrival of the valuable Stores that
have since come in. The charge of favoring New England is so
contemptibly wicked that I can scarcely bring myself to the trouble of
refuting it, or to trespass on your time to read my observations on it.
Our enemies and our friends too, know that America can only be
conquered by disunion. The former, by unremitting art had endeavored to
incite jealousy and discord between the Southern and Eastern Colonies,
and in truth Sir they had so far prevailed that it required constant
attention, and a firmness not to be shaken, to prevent the malicous art
of our enemies from succeeding. I am persuaded as I am of my
existence, that had it not been for Virginia and Jersey, with Georgia
sometimes, that our Union would eer now have been by this means broken
like a Potters vessel dashed against a rock and I heartily wish that
this greatest of all political evils may not yet take place before a
safe and honorable peace is established. I am sure it will not be the
fault of many men that I know if this worst does not happen. I defy the
poisonous tongue of slander to produce a single instance in which I
have preferred the interest of New England to that of Virginia. Indeed
I am at a Loss to know wherein their interests clash. The guilt of New
England is that of a fixed determination against British Tyranny, &
such I believe is the crime of Virginia in the eye of their common
enemies. Most of the rest have entitled themselves to some hopes of
pardon from the Tyrant, by weak, dividing, irresolute and pernicious
conduct. One thing is certain, that among the Middle and Southern
states Virginia had many enemies, arising from jealousy and envy of her
wisdom, vigor, and extent of Territory. But I have ever discovered,
upon every question, respect and love for Virginia among the Eastern
Delegates. Folly and ingratitude would have marked the Representatives
of Virginia had they shown disesteem for the latter, and attachment to
the former. I have served my Country, Sir, to the best of my knowledge,
and with fidelity and industry, to the injury of my health, fortune,
and a sequestration from domestic happiness. I shall rejoice to find
that others are employed, who will do the business better than I have
done. It will always make me happy to reflect, that those Malignants
who would represent me as an enemy to my Country, cannot make me so.

I am ready to give my enemies credit for more address than I thought they
possessed – I mean the use they make of a good principle under cover of
which to wound me. For this purpose the Delegates time of service is to
be so limited as to reward a three years painful employ by dismission.
The plan is precisely fitted for my ease, and thus the most malicious,
groundless, and infamous slander is likely to succeed against an absent
Man, who has labored to deserve a better fate. You will make what use
you please of this letter. The business of war remains as when I wrote
you last, except that the American Army is daily increasing, whilst
that of the enemy is only added to by a few Tories as yet, tho they
will I expect in a month or so be reinforced with 8 or 10,000 men from
Europe, which will not make them so strong as when they began the
Campaign last year, whilst our Army will be far more formidable. Gen.
Washington has now about 10,000 regular Troops with him, and his
numbers daily increasing. As far as we are able to learn the enemy have
not now in Jersey so many as 5000. By accounts just from New York we
hear of the death of Governor Tryon of the wounds he received in the
expedition to Danbury, and also of the death of Colo. Woolcot from the
same cause.4 This was the Colonel that made
such indecent observations of Gen. Washington’s proposal in exchange of
prisoners. Tis said that the Officers in N. York look very grave and
say all hope of conquest over America is now gone, unless they can
succeed in dividing us. The inclosed resolve of Congress is intended to
prevent injury to the recruiting business and other public service in
the absence of a General Officer from
Virginia.5

I beg your pardon Sir for the trouble I have given you, and wish to be
considered affectionately yours,

Richard Henry Lee

Notes:

Lee PapersAmerican Philosophical Society

Another copy is in the Lee Papers, Virginia Historical Society. Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 297 – 302. Printed also in William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry, 3:73.

1 Lee had been left out of the delegation appointed by the Virginia Assembly
on 22 May, allegedly because of accusations that he was contributing
to the depreciation of paper currency by requiring his tenants to pay
their rents in produce or specie. When he took his seat in the
Virginia house on 20 June, Lee demanded an investigation of these
charges and subsequently received the thanks of both houses for his
services as a delegate and on 24 June was appointed to replace George
Mason, who had declined to serve as a delegate. Lee reported the
outcome in his 25 June letter to Landon Carter. “It was impossible
for me to avoid feeling the unmerited illtreatment that I had
received, but I have now the pleasure to inform you that the two
houses have removed all bad impressions by their favorable
approbation of my conduct; and they have directed me to return to
Congress as one of their Delegates. This latter is a most oppressive
business, and therefore unsought by me, but having put my hand to the
plough I am bound to go through.” Lee-Ludwell Papers, ViHi; and Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, 1:303 – 4. For further discussion of this episode
in relation to the passage of a Virginia act for regulating the
appointment of delegates, see Oliver Perry Chitwood, Richard Henry
Lee, Statesman of the Revolution (Morgantown: West Virginia
University Library, 1967), pp. 136 – 42; and Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 2:15 – 18.

2 At this point Lee’s draft varies considerably from the receiver’s copy. Cf. Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, 1:299 – 300.

3 Although Robert Morris’ letter on this subject has not been found it
probably had been written in reaction to the Secret Committee’s
18 January letter requesting his assistance in complying with the
congressional order to the Secret Commitee to supply “a list of the
articles which they have ordered in consequence of the directions of
Congress, distinguishing how much is arrived and what is expected.”
See JCC, 7:45, and Secret Committee to Robert Morris, 18 January 1777.

4 Reports that William Tryon, royal governor of New York and commander of the
British expeditionary force, and Lt. Col. William Walcott had been
killed at Danbury were unfounded.

5 For this resolve of 22 May, see JCC, 8:377.