<br /> Lee Letter: n491

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Thomas Jefferson

Dear Sir,

Always attentive to your commands, I have obtained here, and now inclose
you the song and the receipt you desired. I once had both of them at
home, but they are mislaid among a mass of papers, so that I could find
neither previous to my leaving Chantilly, or your request would then
have been complied with. I hope you have received the pamphlet I sent
you some weeks ago entitled “Observations on the American revolution”
containing a collection of the most material congress papers with a few
remarks interspersed, in order to shew in one comprehensive view the
progress of our glorious revolution, and to rectify some false
representations of the British’
Commissioners.1 This pamphlet was sent by an
Express that came here from Mr. Harvey, and returned to Williamsburg,
with intention to follow Mr. Harvey to Albemarle if he found him not at
the former of these places. I wish it were in my power to entertain you
with news, but we are here as void of that as if profound peace reigned
thro’out the world. We have not heared from Europe for four months, and
altho there then seemed a disposition in many Powers to restore the
general tranquility, yet all were industriously preparing for war, and
some being actually engaged, the fate of millions hung in doubtful

The armies here continue quiet within their quarters. That of the enemy by
their late embarkation of nine regiments, rendered too weak for taking
the field, must content itself with holding N. York as the Gibralter of
N. America. If we can baffle the Southern invasion, it is clear to me
that the game will be presently up with our enemies, and that they will
be compelled by inevitable necessity to be content with the loss of
thirteen flourishing states. A very fit consequence of the foolish and
wicked attempt to reduce to slavery so many free, useful, and
affectionate friends. I hope that when you and my other friends
consider all things, that you will not blame me for sending my
resignation to the Assembly.2 I am realy
injured in my health by such continued, close application; and a long
neglected numerous family demands some attention. Add to these, that
persecuted as I have been by the united voice of toryism, peculation,
faction, envy, malice, and all uncharitableness, nothing but the
certain prospect of doing essential service to my country can
compensate for the injuries I receive. It would content me indeed to
sacrifice every consideration to the public good that would result from
such persons as yourself, Mr. Wythe, Mr. Mason and some others being in
Congress. I would with persevering ardor press thro every difliculty in
conjunction with such Associates. I am informed that Colo. Blackburn
intends to propose a bill this Session for the relief of Landlords. I
should suppose that the wisdom and justice of the Legislature can and
will devise some remedy for the relief of this class of people among
us. I am one, who have the misfortune to see myself and family nearly
ruined by the retrospective effect of our law. Almost the whole of my
landed estate was rented out some years before this war for low cash
rents, and under the faith of existing law which secured me Specie for
my rents. The vast sums of paper money that have been issued (&
this being now a tender for the discharge of rents growing from old
contracts) and the consequent depreciation, has well nigh effected an
entire transfer of my estate to my Tenants. This year Sir, the rents of
4000 acres of fine Land will not buy me 20 barrels of Corn! I am very
far from desiring that the law should place these contracts litterally
as they were, but substantially so, it is <& s>eems just that they
should be. When the Tenant agreed to pay me 6. for an hund. acres rent
he could not sell his Tobo. for more than 16 or 18 shillings an
hundred. Now he sells his Tobo. for £10 and 12 per Cent. It does
not appear to me that the public good can be concerned in thus
transfering the property of Landlords to their

Tenants. But public justice demands that the true meaning, and genuine
spirit of contracts should be complied with. It appears to me that an
Act of Commutation might set this business right by directing the
payment in produce at the prevailing price of such produce when the
Contracts were made, leaving this to be settled by the Courts annually
as they formerly did in the case of exchange. I well know your love of
justice to be such that your approbation will be given to any proper
plan for doing right in the premisses. For my own part, I am willing to
suffer every thing rather than injure the public cause, but in the
present state of things I can see no possibility of public injury from
thus rendering private justice. I am with much esteem and regard dear
Sir your most obedient and very humble Servant,

Richard Henry Lee


Thomas Jefferson PapersLibrary of Congress

Printed in Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson,
2:262 – 63. Printed also in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 2, 1779 – 1794, pp. 53 – 56. Printed also in R. H. Lee, Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee and his Correspondence, 2:44.

1 That is, Gouverneur Morris’ Observations on the American Revolution
(Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1779), which was intended to explain
the proceedings and posture of Congress toward the Carlisle
Cornrnissioners the previous year.

2 See Richard Henry Lee to the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, 4 May 1779.