<br /> Lee Letter: n564

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Henry Laurens
Recipient: Richard Henry Lee

Dear sir.

Had I at any time since my arrival here been possessed of a scrap of good
News I should have attempted to allay your hungring & thirsting. In
the 31 days which I have been sauntering away about the City &
Congress Chamber, I have heard nothing pleasing to the mind, seen
nothing but melancholy accomplishments of the last Year’s predictions,
such circumstances as I could wish to communicate in a shady retreat,
but cannot venture to display upon Paper. The Body Politic is sick,
Sick indeed! The Servants of the House are more & more riotous
& unless relief be immediately administred by wise exertions of the
better branches of the family a dissolution or violent convulsion will
infallibly be the consequence. What a picture is this, & yet
believe me my Dear Sir it is not too highly coloured. What an unhappy
Man must he be who is entring upon service in such a family. When at
some times I have taken up the Pen intending to pay my respects to my
worthy friend at Chantilly a damp Cloud has overspread me & I have
laid the Pen down again. The last Post Morning, maugre all reluctance,
I had determined to acknowledge the rect. of your obliging Letter of
10th Ulto.1 Govr Rutledge came in &
demanded my attendance in a conversation respecting the recovery of our
Southern States. The subject was Interesting & detained me till the
hour for writing was past, I confess, I felt a kind of gladness from
being provided with so good an excuse & I almost wish for as good a
one in the present moment, but I altogether wish for the assistance of
your self & some other Men of abilities in our great Council. We
have at present as far as I am able to pronounce, an honest composition
but chiefly made up of new hands, who from a want of knowledge of
things past are more liable to err in judgement by confining their
views to the appearance of the thing immediately before them, instances
in point have frequently occurred within my 30 days experience. This is
an Evil, but perhaps not the greatest. The Wheels of the Machine are
clogged, the proper means for renewing their motion are wanting &
every State & every Man is praying to Jupiter, he has provided them
with Shoulders & will work no miracles for such Lubbers. This Pen
strikes to add, we have no Money, no Credit on this side & are
running fast, not wantonly, in debt on the other, but I will restrain

The French Fleet under Monsr. de Ternay is blocked up at Rhode Island by a
superior squadron commanded by Admirals Graves & Arburthnot who now
lie between that first & an expected second division & we are
told Sir Henry Clinton is embarking 9000 Troops in the So. and
intending an attack upon our Allies on the Island. The Cheval.
L2 assures me the 2d division is competent
to defence, I wish it may be so. Messrs. Ternay & Rochambeau hold
themselves to be secure from Insult, American Troops are gathering
fast, to join them.

The Commander in Chief has in this critical Moment transmitted to those
Officers his definitive plan of operations, says, the Die is cast &
he rests upon the States for saving our Arms from dishonor &
disgrace by making the necessary provisions. He is not responsible on
this point.

The Quarter Master General at a most critical period has signified an
inclination to resign, this Morning will probably produce an acceptance
but not without traits of displeasure.3 The
present conduct of that Gentleman seems to give much dissatisfaction
within doors – what can have tempted him to treat Congress with sneer
& sarcasm? He applies to them the odious epithet, Administration,
& is so fond of the conceit as to repeat & reiterate his wit.

The General Officers in the same unlucky moment remonstrate for means which
shall enable them to dress & keep Tables upon a par with Officers
of their Rank in the Army of our Ally – a friend of yours says Aye! the
demand is reasonable – a Warrant moreover should be Issued for furnishing
them with equipages, good breeding & education equally with the
French Nobility, said Officers, “to be accountable.” These are cursed
troublesome affairs in a cursed troublesome conjuncture of knotty
points. Majr. General Mcdougal I am told is waiting an
answer,4 but we have not yet determined that
Congress shall be enabled to live in splendor equal to that of the
Minister of France, nor that the American Minister at Versailles shall
cut as superb a figure as the Venetian Ambassador. ‘Tis to be hoped the
General Officers will not insist upon taking by force the right hand of
fellowship. What shall we conclude of the designs of Gentlemen who
demand what they know cannot be granted. O Virtue! O Patriotism!
whither are ye fled!

Undoubtedly Mr. Lovel has written to you respecting Mr. A Lee & Mr.
Izard, therefore I shall say nothing.

The Laws lately enacted in your State appear all to be salutary & I
hope the good views of the Legisture will be fully
accomplished;5 I think it most probable, the
Men raised in Virginia will be destined for Southern service, a
Committee will report on that head tomorrow, after all, the want of
Money & the want of virtue which comprehends the want of every
Thing, presents to my mind an unfavorable prospect. Governor Rutledge
attends the Committee alluded to & will proceed to the Army under
General Gates when the business in hand is completed.

I have been waiting here upwards of three Weeks in perfect readiness for
embarkation, Congress having Resolved that it is highly necessary I
should proceed to Holland; I am not of their opinion but will
nevertheless go whenever their Lordships of the Admiralty shall have
equiped a Little Packet Boat which Mr. Laurens would have turned his
back upon, the business might have been done in three days, but say
they, we want Money, we want we want the wheels are cloged. Possibly I
may be called upon to morrow perhaps not these ten days, the suspense
is painful, & if my presence is at all wanted yonder, the delay
must be extremely detrimental to the Public

Inclosed with this you will recieve two of Dunlap’s Papers to which I beg
leave to refer. I also beg you to present my best compliments to Mrs.
Lee & the families at Chantilly & Menokin, should I go from
hence without paying my duty to Colo. F. Lee I will certainly allow
large Interest in transmissions from Europe. With every good wish &
with the Highest Esteem & Regard I conclude, My Dear Sir,

affectionate & Obedient, humble servant,

Henry Laurens


Receiver’s copy, Lee Family Papers, University of Virginia Library.

1 See Lee, Letters (Ballagh), 2:186 – 88.

2 Doubtless the French minister, the chevalier de La Luzerne.

3 For Congress’ acceptance of the resignation of Nathanael Greene, see
Ezekiel Cornell to Greene, July 29, 1780, note 2.

4 See Samuel Huntington to Alexander McDougall, August 13, 1780.

5 For Lee’s discussion of recent legislative proceedings in the Virginia
House of Delegates, see Lee, Letters (Ballagh), 2:180 – 82, 185 – 87.

6 Laurens finally left Philadelphia for the Netherlands on board the Mercury
August 13. The ship was captured by the British on the banks of
Newfoundland on September 3. David D. Wallace, The Life of Henry
(New York: G. P. Putnam’s sons, 1915), pp. 357 – 58.