<br /> Lee Letter: n383

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: George Washington

Dear Sir,

I have no doubt of being excused by you for not sooner answering your favor
of the 24th last,1 when you are informed
that my ill state of health has prevented me from attending as I ought
to the important matter it contains. I gave Mr. Jones the letter, that
he might inform Congress of such parts as it imported the public they
should be acquainted with. As it appeared by the letters of Gen.
Mifflin that he objected only to serve in the Quartermasters
department, that his health was returning, and that he was willing to
continue his aid to the public cause, Congress appointed him one of the
Commissioners of the new Board, because he is competent to the right
discharge of its duties, because that would best suit his valetudinary
state, and as shewing a just sense of his uniform, vigorous, and well
founded patriotism. I have strong hopes, that by the skill and industry
of this new Board, and from the right execution of business in that
important department, you will in future find great relief. Gen. Conway
has not lately been mentioned in Congress,2
nor has there been much talk of an Adjutant General, since it is not
certainly known whether Colo. Pickering will accept his new
appointment. Mr. Flemmings character stands very fair, and so far as I
am able to judge, would answer well in this commission. You will see in
the inclosed what Mr. Sergeant says of him.3
General Mifflin has proposed a plan for the Quartermaster department
that appears judicious, and well fitted to answer the purpose of good
service and (Economy at the same time.4 He
would divide this department into its military and civil branches, the
former to be filled by a person well qualified to discharge its duties,
and the latter, again to be divided into Commissaries of Teams, of
Forage, of Tents &c &c to be governed in their purchases by
estimates from the Quarter Master general who is to touch no money but
a moderate tho sufficient salary.

It [is] unfortunately too true, that our enemies pay little regard to good
faith, or any obligations of justice and humanity, which renders the
convention of Saratoga a matter of great moment, and it is also, as you
justly observe, an affair of infinite delicacy. The undoubted advantage
they will take, even of the appearance of infraction on our part, and
the American Character, which is concerned in preserving its faith
inviolate, cover this affair with difficulties, and proves the
disadvantage we are under in conducting war against an old, corrupt,
and powerful people, who having much credit and influence in the world
will venture on things that would totally ruin the reputation of young
and rising communities like ours. The English however, were not to
blame in the business of Closter Seven.5
That convention was left incomplete by the Commanders who made it. Twas
stipulated particularly that the Court of Versailles must ratify, and
that within a certain time, which was not done until long after the
time was elapsed, and before which ratification the Troops of Hanover
had returned to arms. Upon this occasion the good faith of England is
not impeached. It is greatly to be regretted that the situation of your
Army unfits it for vigorous action, because it is very obvious that the
enemies possession of Philadelphia this winter and the ensuing spring
may produce consequences extensively injurious. You well know, Sir, how
weak and divided the people of this State are from various causes.
Those of Delaware are still worse. In this condition, with the infinite
arts of our enemies, pushed up almost to the center of the above
governments, and aided by the powerful means of supplying the wants
fanciful and real of the people with all kinds of European goods and
Salt, it will be no great matter of surprize if we were to find a total
revolution in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Add to this, the ill condition
of our finances which totter upon every seeming success of the enemy.
It is not to be supposed that where so much is at stake G. Britain will
fail to make most potent efforts to recover her honor and prevent her
ruin. Upon this ground we may expect considerable reinforcements, and
early as possible in the spring. With an Army much strengthened, Gen.
Howe may effect purposes dangerous to America. It happens too,
unluckily for us, that in order for us to support the credit of our
money, the several States must of necessity impose large and immediate
Taxes. This is the most delicate and difficult of all government
operations even in old and undisturbed States. Yet it is unavoidable,
and Congress have pressingly requested that it may be quickly and
extensively entered upon.

It was most evident to discerning men that the change in the Commissariate
at the time it was adopted would produce most mischievous consequences,
yet such was the rage of reformation that no endeavors to prevent the
evil could avail, and now I feel the most anxious solicitude for fear
the consequences may disperse our army even in face of the enemy. A
Committee is appointed to confer with the Commissary general and to try
what can be done to avert the evil.6 I wish
they may be fortunate enough to hit upon a remedy. That there should be
a want of flour amazes me, and proves great want of attention in the
Commissary Gen. because I well know that any quantity might have been
got in Virginia at a reasonable price. By our last dispatches from the
West Indies, it would seem as if a war between France & England was
inevitable, unless the meanness of the latter should restore all her
Captures made from the former without the limits prescribed by treaty,
and which have been made under authority of an Act of Parliament. But
the royal spleen against America is such, that every consideration
falls before the wish to subjugate this free country. Yet Mr. Bingham
mentions that the ministerial writings are calculated to rouse the
national resentment against France. If so, tis evident they want to set
Europe on fire that the smoke may cover them from the eyes of their
injured country. Mr. Carmichael writes that Dr. Lee was returning to
Paris from Berlin, having finished his business successfully at the
Prussian Court, & Mr. Bingham says ’tis certain that the King of
Prussia has opened his Ports to the United States, and that Portugal
has deserted the interest of England, and acceeded to the family
compact. This is all good news, and will I hope furnish employment
quickly for our unprincipled enemies.

My ill state of health will compel me to return home in a few days where I
shall continue ardently to pray for your health and success.

I am dear Sir affectionately yours,

Richard Henry Lee


George Washington PapersLibrary of Congress

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 349 – 53. Addressed to Washington, “Commander in Chief of the American Army.” A draft copy is in the Lee Papers, University of Virginia Archives.

1 This is a reference to Washington’s 28 October letter to Lee. It can be
found in the appendix of Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, Writings, 37:541 – 45, where it was reprinted from the text published in the
March 1911 issue of the Century Magazine.

2 For the context in which Lee had previously discussed Thomas Conway, see
Lee to Washington, 20 October 1777.

3 In his 28 October letter Washington had recommended Edward Fleming, former
deputy adjutant general for the New York department, as a candidate
to succeed Timothy Pickering as adjutant general. Fleming also had
the support of Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant, who recommended him to
Lee in the 12 November letter forwarded to Washington. “Mr. S. Adams
desired me to write You on the Subject of an Adjutant General,”
Sergeant explained, “as Col. Fleming, he tells me, has been mentioned
& is very little known. I have seen him, once, on some Business
committed to him by the Jersey Assembly, of which he is a Member; but
have heard a very advantageous Character of his Abilities, Industry
& Skill, particularly in that Line.” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
Nevertheless, Congress elected Col. Alexander Scammell adjutant
general on 5 January 1778. See JCC, 10:21; and Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10:8083, 245, 252, 297.

4 Mifflin’s proposed plan for the quartermaster’s department was read in
Congress on 19 November and referred to the Board of War, which was
ordered to report a plan for reorganizing that department. Mifflin’s
plan was included in the board’s recommendations that Congress read
on 30 January and approved on 5 February 1778. But on 2 March
Congress replaced this arrangement with another plan of
reorganization that was based on the recommendations contained in a
25 February letter of the Committee at Camp. See JCC, 9:941,
10:102 – 3, 126 27, 210.

5 In his 28 October letter Washington had stressed the necessity for using
great caution in administering the Saratoga convention in order to
prevent the British from returning the convention troops to the
battlefield by spring. He suggested that such a breach of the
convention would be a repetition of their action after the 1757
Convention of Klosterzeven – a convention signed by the defeated Duke
of Cumberland that required his German troops to be returned to their
respective countries. It was, however, subsequently denounced by
George II, and British – paid Hanoverians were encouraged to return to
arms under Ferdinand of Brunswick. J. Holland Rose et al., eds., The
Old Empire from the Beginnings to 1783, The Cambridge History of the
British Empire, vol. I (New York: Macmillan Co., 1929), pp. 476, 478.

6 Lee must have written the last part of this letter on or after 22 November,
as that is the date the committee to confer with Commissary General
Buchanan was appointed and Congress received the intelligence from
William Bingham and William Carmichael discussed below. See JCC,
9:948; and James Lovell to John Adams, 22 November 1777.