<br /> Lee Letter: n374

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: George Wythe

Dear Sir

I have once before, since our session here, given you an account of the
progress of war in these parts and further North, but the irregularity
of the Post gives reason to doubt whether you have received my
letter.1 The boasting Burgoyne having been
beaten in two pitched battles is on his return, with his shattered
army, but whether he will be able to get back or not, time must
discover. The want of a Press here obliges us to furnish manuscript
accounts of military events, and this is attended with great difficulty
amidst the pressure of much business. You will for this reason excuse
my referring you to the inclosures sent Mr. President
Page,2 for a full account of the last action
with Gen. Burgoyne & an entertaining correspondence between him
& Gates subsequent to the battle. Danger appears now to be
thickening about Gen. Howe, so that I hope to be able e’er long to give
you favorable accounts from the neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Permit me now Sir to trespass a little on your time and friendship with my
private concerns. I am sure to be indulged by the latter and therefore
more confidently complain of the malicious perseverance of my enemies,
who, I am informed, propose to bring my letter to Mr. Scot before the
approaching session of Assembly.3 It is
realy difficult to say whether the folly or the malice of these people
is greatest, but it is certainly very insultive & degrading to the
Great Council of the Commonwealth, to make it a Court of Scandal, and a
Vehicle for conveying Slander against the reputation of innocent men;
when the great and important affairs of Defence, Finance, and Courts of
Justice, call so loudly for quick and wise determination. Let the date
of my letter to Scott be attended to, the State of paper money at the
time, the reasons and principles upon which my proposal was founded,
and my conduct will appear not only innocent but laudable. For it is
certainly praiseworthy to prevent ones family from ruin by means that
are just and fair.4

(If by a proper reflection upon Men and things, It was clear to me that my
rents established under different laws, from the present, and upon
principles that then appeared proper and permanent, would most
probably, by the change that was working in our political system, be
rendered of little value, where was the harm in proposing n change, by
which I might be saved from ruin, and the Tenant not injured? Nor could
this have operation upon a currency that then scarcely began to exist
and which from its then scarcity was as good as any money whatever. In
truth it was so scarce, that my Tenants either could not, or would not
get it to pay me my rents, but offered me produce in lieu of money. In
fact my plan was rather to affect futurity that the present time, and a
bargain made before the existence of the currency could not be intended
to injure it.) The question then is, was I obliged by law when these
contracts were made, to receive any thing like the present currency in
discharge of the rent reserved. You Sir will say no. When therefore the
exigence of public affairs rendered it necessary to issue such
quantities of paper money as to lessen its value some hundred per
Cents, and that a law should be made to establish its currency, this
being subsequent to, and destructive of private contracts made under
the faith of former laws, should not Individuals be saved from the
retrospective destruction wrought by the change. And the more
especially in instances where this can be done without injury to the
other contracting party. For in this case the Tenants produce rises in
value in proportion to the superabundance of circulating money.
Reasoning upon the probility of the change, and as a good Citizen,
willing to procure a just alteration before events took place that
might render such an attempt liable to misconstruction, I long since
endeavoured to procure that which would only in good faith obtain the
original design of both the contracting parties. And this point of
reason and justice would long ago have taken place without murmur or
noise had it not been for some malicious enemies, Pseudo Patriots, and
a few Knavish Tenants, who under the cloak of public spirit have raised
this clamor. Perhaps I may be considered as standing in the way of some
private views. My wish is only to lend my helping hand to fix the
independence of America on wise and permanent foundation, and then with
infinite pleasure I will return to my farm and eat the bread of
industry in freedom and ease. I have no doubt Sir, but that you will on
all proper occasions, as well upon principles of justice to injured
character, as on account of the long friendship that has subsisted
between us, place this matter in the clear light that your abilities
enable you to do. It is long since my letter to Mr. Scott was written,
and having mislaid the copy, I do not perfectly remember its contents,
but conscious of the purest intentions I am sure that no sentiment can
be found therein inconsistent with virtuous patriotism. And after all
it will be a ridiculous gratification of private malice for the
Assembly to take up the consideration of such an affair as this. I have
inclosed you a letter from Colo. Marshall to me on the subject, and one
to yourself from me,5 which I leave to your
discretion and friendship to produce to the House or not, if any
attempt shd. be made there to my prejudice.

I am, with particular esteem, dear Sir, your affectionate friend and
obliged humble servant,

R. H. Lee

Notes:

File copy, American Philosophical Society. Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 334 – 37. Docketed by Lee, “Copy of Letter to Mr. Wythe.” The copy, apparently a Lee’s draft, is extensively revised.

1 Not found.

2 Not found.

3 William Booth, in a 7 October letter which is in Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee,
1:304n., had warned Lee that his enemies planned to resume their
attack on him in the assembly. For the outcome of previous
accusations made against Lee, see Richard Henry Lee to Patrick Henry.
26 May 26 1777, note 1.

4 At this point in the manuscript Lee wrote and struck out the following text: “If by a proper reflection upon Men and things, It was clear to me that my Rents established under different laws from the present, and upon principles that then appeared proper and permanent, would most probably, by the change that was working in our political system, be rendered of little value, where was the harm in proposing a change, by which I might be saved from ruin, and the Tenant not injured? Nor could this have operation upon a currency that then scarcely began to exist, and which from its then scarcity, was as good as any money whatever. In truth it was so scarce, that my Tenants either could not, or would not get it to pay me my rents, but offered me produce in lieu of money. In fact my plan was rather to affect futurity that <than> the present time, and a bargain made before the existence of the currency could not be intended to injure it.”

5 Not found. Wythe subsequently reported in a 6 November letter to Lee that
Lee’s letter to Scott “concerning the leases was mentioned in the
house, but so slighted, and treated in such a manner that I had no
occasion to acquaint the house with what you had written to me upon
that subject.” Lee Papers, American Philosophical Society.