<br /> Lee Letter: n443

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Thomas Jefferson

Dear Sir

A few days past, since the last post left us, Mr. Harvey presented me your
favor of August of 30th,1 to which this is
an answer; and which I shall direct to Williamsburg upon a supposition
that the Assembly has called you there by the time the letter can reach
that place. The hand bill you have seen was certainly written by
Mauduit, and circulated under the auspices of
administration.2 Twas intended to feel the
national pulse, and to prepare its mind for the reception of events,
which are now become unavoidable. I agree with you Sir that the fishery
is a most important point nor will the limits of Canada be with less
difficulty settled in those negotiations which precede a peace. The
arrival of Adm. Byrons Squadron has given to our enemies a temporary
superiority in those Seas. The sending him here was more necessary than
it can be called bold. But the fleet of Great Britain is, by this
detachment, rendered inferior to that of France in the Channel of
England. My brother informs me from

Paris July 4 that an engagement is every day expected between the two
fleets. Later accounts say it has happened and that the English fleet
was beaten. Our information from the West Indies says that Dominica is
fallen, and that Jamaica and St. Kitts are in Jeopardy. I believe our
enemies would willingly change their war of conquest into a war of
revenge, but revenge must be postponed to safety; and I think they will
rather endeavor to save what remains, than endeavor to get back what
they have lost, or to gratify their malignity put Canada, Nova Scotia,
the West Indies, and even G. Britain and Ireland in danger. But wisdom
points to precaution, and they may attempt Boston as some think, in
order to destroy the french Fleet. If they do and fail in the attempt,
they will be defenceless in every part of the world by the destruction
of the only army on which they can hang their hopes. I have a very high
opinion of the republican principles and of the ability of Mr. Mazzei,
and I think that if Mr. Maddison were sent to Genoa with him for
Secretary we might have a good chance to succeed in borrowing there one
of the millions, five of which are absolutely necessary to sustain, and
restore our falling currency.3 To cultivate
a good understanding with the nations in the south of Europe is
undoubtedly wise policy, and may produce the most profitable
consequences. These affairs will come presently under the consideration
of Congress, when I shall not forget the useful possession of Mr.
Mazzei. Mr. Izard is the Commissioner for Tuscany, my brother William
is appointed both for Vienna and Berlin. He has been sometime at the
former Court, but the latter refuses to receive a Minister from us or
to acknowledge yet our Independance, altho he did by his Minister most
unequivocally promise my brother he would do so, as soon as France
should set the example. Since this, he has quarreled with the Emperor
about the Bavarian succession, and wanting the aid of Hanover, Hesse,
Brunswic &c. he chooses to be well with England. The Emperor is not
a little puzzled in the same way and for the same reasons. Tis a
matter, not of the greatest moment to us at present, since the war
between the two Giants will swallow up in their respective vortices the
lesser Tyrants and thus prevent him of England from bringing German
Auxiliaries to distress our Alliance. There is nothing that threatens
so much injury to our cause at present as the evil operations of
Engrossers. If something decisive is not quickly done by the
Legislatures to stop the progress of Engrossing, and to make these
Miscreants deliver up their ill gotten collections, the American Army
must disband, and the fleet of our Allies remain in Boston
Harbor.4 I know the root of this evil is in
the redundance of money, but until the latter can be reduced some
measures are indispensable, to be taken with the Engrossers. You will
see the expedients devised by us. A more radical cure will follow
shortly, in a proposition of Finance now under consideration. I am so
greatly pressed with business that I cannot now write to Mr. Mazzei and
must beg the favor of you to make this apology for me. [Be so k]ind as
remember me affectionately to Mr. Wythe & Colo. [… i]f he is
with you.

I am affectionately yours,

Richard Henry Lee

P.S. Colo. Baylor, with a Corps of 60 light Dragoons, was lately surprised
in the Jerseys, between Hackensack and the North River – Himself made
prisoner, and his party chiefly put to the Bayonet, it is said, in cold


Thomas Jefferson PapersLibrary of Congress

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 – 1778, pp. 437 – 40. Addressed to Jefferson at Williamsburg, Virginia.

1 See Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 2:210 – 11.

2 This “hand bill,” which Jefferson had stated was “published in our papers
as certified by your brother [i.e., Arthur Lee],” had appeared in
John Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet on 22 August 1778, described as “a
handbill, written by Mr. Mauduit, under the direction of Lord North,
and circulated through England by order of Administration,” Interest
in the document derived from the fact that Israel Mauduit, a longtime
ministerial defender of British rights in America and former colonial
agent for Massachusetts, had asserted in it: “We have no possible
chance of making peace with her [America], but by … giving her
perfect independence.” It had been published in London in March 1778.
See Henry Laurens to Washington, 31 July 1778, note 12.

3 In his 30 August letter to Lee, Jefferson had suggested that his friend
Philip Mazzei might be “usefully emploied” with William Lee in
Europe. “His connections,” Jefferson asserted, “in Tuscany are good,
his acquaintance with capital men there, in Rome, and Naples great.
He also resided some years in Constantinople where he contracted a
knolege of the customs of the country, the mode of doing business
there and of some respectable characters which might perhaps render
him more able to be useful to us than many others.” Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 2:211.

4 For the Virginia legislature’s June 1779 bill on “Engrossing,” see ibid.,
pp. 56 – 146.