<br /> Lee Letter: n486

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: William Shippen, Jr.

My dear Sir,

Possession is eleven points of the Law, and there are in this City
Profligates enough who for a good fee will secure the twelfth point.
Thus you seem to be more at mercy now than when Mrs. – – the Tory
Doctors wife1 had residence here. How I came
to get possession is another thing, and it may be accounted for this
way – On my brothers2 departure for Virginia
last friday I was obliged to decamp from Market street, and it not
being easy to find a lodging quickly, my most worthy friend the old
Doctor3 proposed that I should have a room
here. The bargain was soon made, I am in your Chamber, and we propose
to club for our Marketing. The old gentleman drinks nothing but water,
& small beer contents me. The Barrack Master furnishes us with
wood, and I assure you we live with great happiness and content, whilst
we exhibit an example of the truest republican economy. After quitting
the irksome business of Chestnut Street I have the pleasure of
contemplating in my old friend what Man ought to be, but what alass he
seldom is – temperate, wise, and honest. I am much obliged to you for
your favor of the 15th,4 but I do not
despair. I am well satisfied however that we must suffer very
considerably before the States in general will feel the necessity of
sending wiser and better men to this Assembly. Where a Man by being
honest is sure to be oppressed – Where disgrace & ruin are to reward
the most faithful services. When the discharge of duty raises up the
angry and malignant passions of envy, malice, and all
uncharitableness – It is best to retire until necessity has pointed out
proper men and proper measures. The party seem long since to have
abandoned all thoughts of supporting Deane, but they are determined to
sacrifice the Mr. Lees & Mr. Izard to the Manes of their dear
unprincipled friend. The doctrine is, that it is too expensive and not
necessary to have any Minister at Vienna or Berlin or Tuscany, and that
it will never do to try a Man in his absence. Therefore we will damn
his reputation with a recal,5 and let him
recover it if he can, in the mean time our Junto will be supplied with
places. It is in vain to say that thus to destroy the reputations of
Men against whom no shadow of offence appears, and who on the
contrary have honestly and ably served the public at every risk to
themselves, merely to gratify the wishes and accomplish the views of
avaricious and ambitious men, will exhibit such an example as must
deter every Man who has character to loose, and means to be honest,
from entering into the public service. That so the public business must
of necessity be committed to unprincipled men, and avaricious
plunderers. By the aid of a certain little great whispering
politician6 this point of sacrifice will I
think be carried. Fine reward, excellent encouragement to give up all
pro patria. On a late motion to give a million to the Hospital
department much violent debate took place and it was insisted on that
infinite abuses prevailed and demanded immediate
enquiry.7 It was alledged that great
quantities of Stores were charged for Geese, ducks, chickens, &c
&c &c &c – That the wine was all drank by the well, & not
by the sick – All this ended in reducing the sum to 500,000 dollars. The
Southern Chief, 8 who you know is a most
excellent character, said he hoped soon for an enquiry into the conduct
of the Director General and all the rest. Therefore a prospect of
encountering so great a personage makes it necessary to say Cave quod
agis. The Dutch having lately taken off the prohibition from the
exportation of military stores, which they had imposed to oblige Great
Britain, clearly proves that the interest of England is waining in
Holland. There have arrived 7 Vessels here lately from the West Indies,
which has terrified the Specs and lowered the price of sugar £20
in the hundred. It is said that many more Vessels are expected. Trade
appears to thicken along the Wharfs and Marine business is recovering
its former countenance. I shall go to Virginia in a fortnight where I
hope to rest from public toil for some time at least. I think you are
with Mr. Blair & his Lady, if so, I pray you to remember me to
them, and present my Sister and Cousins.

I am yours sincerely and affectionately,

Richard Henry Lee


Shippen Family PapersLibrary of Congress

Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 44 – 46. Addressed “William Shippen Junr. esquire, Director General of the Hospital of the United States, at Raritan in New Jersey.”

1 That is, Rebecca Moore Smith, the wife of Dr. William Smith.

2 Francis Lightfoot Lee.

3 That is, William Shippen, Sr., a delegate to Congress from Pennsylvania and
the father of the addressee.

4 Shippen’s 15 April letter to Lee is in the Lee Papers, University of Virginia Archives.

5 For information on the origins of the “recall debate,” see John Fell’s
Diary, 6 April 1779, note 2.

6 A reference to the French minister, Gerard. In his 26 April letter to
Francis Lightfoot Lee, Richard Henry refers to the aid given Arthur
Lee’s political opponents by “the whispers of G – d.”

7 For the votes taken on 16 April to reduce by half the sum recommended by
the medical committee, see JCC, 13:460 – 63. For further information on
attempts to reform the medical department, see Gouverneur Morris to
Shippen, 17 May 1779.

8 Undoubtedly Henry Laurens, who along with Wllliam Ellery and John Jay voted
against all three appropriations proposed on 16 April. JCC, 13:460 – 63.