<br /> Lee Letter: n551

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Thomas McKean
Recipient: Richard Henry Lee

Dear Sir, Philadelphia,

Your esteemed favor of the 15th last month, with the extracts from your
much injured brother’s letter to the President of Congress, and the
copy of Doctor Berkenhout’s letter to yourself, inclosed, came safe to
hand.1 Next to the approbation of my own
conscience, it has always been my wish to obtain that of the wise &
good, and I confess I am happy in having yours. I flatter myself the
time will shortly come, when the honest laborers in the cause of
freedom & their country will at least meet with the reward of being
known, and when also the double-dealing artful pretenders will be
discovered.

There has been a virtuous band in Congress from the beginning of the
present contest, but they were never so few, or so much opposed as just
after you and your good brother left us. In the Winter & Spring of
1779 there was a cabal, whose views I could not fathom; there were some
possessed of restless spirits, and who endeavored to set member against
member, and the Congress against the States, particularly Pennsylvania
and those of New-England, and the States agt. Congress. Every artifice
was used to instill prejudices against all our foreign Ministers and
Commissioners, particularly your brothers; and I really believe, if I
had not in April last gone off the Bench into Congress, in the face of
a vote of the Assembly of Pennsylvania, that they would have been
recalled without exception. My fears were, that at that critical
period, when it had been propagated in Europe; and some uneasiness
discovered on that score by the court of France that we were listening
to overtures from Great Britain, a change of men might have implied a
change of measures, and given some countenance to the reports; and for
this reason I thought it wrong to recal any Gentleman in such a
conjuncture. The vote was taken with respect to Doctor Franklin, and
being determined in the negative, it was postponed as to the rest until
I was absent on the circuit.2 Places were
sought after by some, and vacancies were necessary for the purpose of
obtaining them, but I could not think this was the only thing in
contemplation; tho’ I may have been mistaken, as harmony seemed to be
restored in some measure upon the appointments of Messrs. Jay and
Carmichael. The death of Mr. Drayton, and the considerable change about
that time of the members, several of them not having been re-elected,
left us pretty quiet ever since, tho’ prejudices still too much
prevail.

When I reflect on the assiduity, the zeal, the fidelity, the abilities and
patriotism of Doctor A. Lee, I cannot help deploring his fate, and
reprobating the ingratitude of Congress; but, Sir, it is with pleasure
I can assure you that he has many unshaken friends still remaining in
that Body, who have never seen him, and who esteem him only for his
public virtues. I profess myself one of these, and he has at least my
warmest thanks for his substantial services rendered to my country.

I cannot think it any reflection on a Gentleman’s heart, that he has been
mistaken in entertaining too good an opinion of another, nor am I at
all surprized that even you should have been led into an error with
respect to Doctor Berkenhout after perusing his letter and knowing his
insinuating address: but I shall say no more on this head, as I am
really appologizing for myself.

The deranged state of our finances has given us infinite trouble and
concern; A new plan has been adopted, which is published in the
News-Papers, to which I shall refer you – if it can be carried into
execution it will be a great relief to us; and I see nothing else left
but for every Whig to exert himself in its support.

There is no great prospect of peace, tho’ the late intelligence from Europe
is otherwise favorable. I suspect, that Mr. Temple (who came over in
1778 with Doctor Berkenhout) will shortly venture here again with
propositions (perhaps secret) to acknowledge the Independence of the
States, except South Carolina & Georgia, and that part of
Massachusetts, formerly called the Province of Main, on condition of
our neutrality between Britain & Spain – he is to have power to draw
on two merchants in London of his own nomination ad
libitum.3 This is not mere conjecture or
report; but it may not be attempted to be carried into execution, as I
think, upon the least reflection he must despair of success. Can they
suppose that these States will be so perfidious to one another, or to
the auxiliary of the Ally – that they are so corrupt – so base? Can they be
taught to believe, that a virtuous people can grow so extremely wicked
by a war of five years continuance? Nemo repente fuit
turpissimus.4

I am, my dear Sir, with the most perfect esteem, Your most obedient humble
servant.

Tho. Mc:Kean

Notes:

Receiver’s copy, Lee Papers, American Philosophical Society.

1 Lee’s February 15 letter to McKean is not in the Lee Family Papers, ViU
microfilm but the enclosed “extracts” were undoubtedly Arthur Lee’s
Extracts From a Letter Written to the President of Congress [February
10, 1779], 500 copies of which Richard Henry had had printed in
Williamsburg and had been distributing. See Evans, Am. Bibliography,
no. 16,319; and Richard Henry’s letters of January 18 to Samuel
Adams, of January 22 to Jonathan Trumbull and to Roger Sherman, and
of April 24, 1780, to Arthur Lee, in Lee, Letters (Ballagh), 2:168,
172 – 73, 176.

2 For McKean’s role in the April 22, 1779, vote against the recall of
Benjamin Franklin, see these Letters,12: 368 – 69. See also McKean to John Adams, November 8, 1779.

3 For rumors concerning John Temple’s new peace mission, see James Lovell to
Samuel Adams, March 17, 1780, note 3.

4 That is, “Corruption comes by degrees.” Juvenal Satires 2.83.