<br /> Lee Letter: n721

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Arthur Lee
Recipient: John Adams

Dear Sir,

I enclose you some late proceedings by which you will perceive that Mr.
Laurens is to be made a victim if possible to the system of throwing
every thing into one man’s hands. By these votes you will judge pretty
accurately who are Devotees to this unjust, unwise, & irrepubli can
system. Except that of N.Y. where one of the ays was from policy given
against the motion of which he was probably the
prompter.1 However they have at last fed the
one man’s pride, vanity & all arrogating disposition by putting him
sole in the Commission for negociating with Sweden, which woud not have
been done had he not written that it was the particular desire of the
King of Sweden communicated to him by the Ambassador of that Court at
Versailles, that he might be the person. It was an omission, for which
I am blameable, not to have inserted this in the Commission, that if a
fiction or a mere compliment, & I suspect it was one or the other,
the falsity or the vanity of it might have appeard. The words of his
Letter are these – “The Ambassador from Sweden to this Court applied to
me lately to know if I had Powers that woud authorise my making a
treaty with his master in behalf of the U.S. Recollecting a general one
that was formerly given to me with the other Commissioners I answered
in the affirmative. He seemd much pleased & said the King had
directed him to ask the question, & had charged him to tell me,
that he had so great an esteem for me, that it woud be a particular
satisfaction to him to have such a transaction with me. I have perhaps
some vanity in repeating this; but I think too, that it is right the
Congress shoud know it, & judge if any use can be made of the
reputation of a Citizen for the public
Service.”2

It is with sorrow, I inform you of the death of young Col.
Laurens,3 who was killd lately in a skirmish
with the British near Charles-town. He is as much a public as a private
loss; & I am much afraid it will be an accumulation of misfortune
on his most worthy Father too great for him to bear.

The Enemy have revokd the order for the evacuation of Augustine; but all
their motions tend to that of N. York & Charles-town. They are to
strengthen the garrison of Quebec, recal their indian parties from our
frontiers, & bend all their force against the french & spanish
Islands. How far we can in prudence pursue them thither with our land
forces, is not yet the subject of discussion. Remember me to Mr Laurens
if in Europe, & to Mr. Dana when you write to him.

Farewell

Octr. 5th. Congress have resolvd not to conclude any Peace but in
confidence & concurrance with our Allies & to prosecute the
war, till a peace satisfactory to all can be obtaind. All preparations
for Negociation are to be referrd to the Commissioners in
Europe.4 Genl. Lee died here a few days
since & was buried with great honor.5

Notes:

Receiver’s copy, Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. In Lee’s
hand, though not signed.

1 On September 20 Congress had refused to overturn its resolve of the 17th
rejecting Henry Laurens’ resignation as a peace commissioner, for
which see Charles Thomson’s Notes of Debates, September 19 and 20;
Samuel Osgood to John Lowell, September 19 – 25, note 17; and James
Madison to Edmund Randolph, September 24, 1782, notes 4 – 6. In this
cryptic reference to the New York vote, Lee was apparently suggesting
that James Duane would have preferred to vote for Madison’s motion,
but voted against it “from policy” because “he was probably the
prompter.”

2 Benjamin Franklin had reported this request of the Swedish king in a June
25 letter to Secretary Robert R. Livingston, and on September 28
Congress adopted a commission and instructions for Franklin as sole
commissioner to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce with Sweden.
See PCC, item 82, 2:164 – 72; Wharton, Diplomatic Correspondence,
5:510 – 13; and JCC, 23:592, 610 – 24.

3 For the death of John Laurens, Henry Laurens’ eldest son, who was killed
August 27, 1782, in a skirmish with a foraging party in South
Carolina, see Elias Boudinot to Lewis Pintard, October 2, 1782,
postscript.

4 For the resolves Congress adopted on October 3 and 4 to reassure the French
court that the United States intended to continue to adhere to the
terms of the alliance, see James Madison to Edmund Randolph,
September 24, note 2; and Arthur Middleton’s Memorandum, September
24 – October 4, 1782.

Lee had been preoccupied throughout the summer with what he perceived to be
the inordinate role of the French in the peace negotiations. See, for
example, Lee to James Warren, August ? 1782, note 1. Further evidence
may be found in the following undated notes (in the Lee Papers,
MH-H), which Lee later titled “Proposals of the french Minister to
Congress. M. de la Luzerne, 1782.” Apparently drafted in Congress on
September 24 or shortly thereafter, they were taken from the
conference committee’s report of its September 23 meeting with La
Luzerne, for which see JCC, 23:597 – 603.

“That the U.S will not be contented with a separate peace – but will
continue the war till their allies shall have concluded their own
peace, wch. will shew G.B. that their Independence will not satisfy
them but that they will pursue the british troops wherever they can
be found.

“6th page. That the U.S., will not be satisfyd with the acknolegement of
their Independency: but will continue the war in all ways in their
power till their Allies are satisfyd & if the british troops are
removd from the U.S. they will pursue them wherever they can be
found.

“Demands of France. To treat generally. 2d. To make the treaty of Paris the
basis of the negotn. with alterations as to Africa, India, the
Fishery, & commercial regulations in Europe, accordng. to equity
& the [degrees?] of the negociatg. Powers.

“Full Powers sent on this to Mr. G. [Thomas Grenville] to declare the
Independancy previously & then to treat on the Conditions
proposed above.”

Lee had obtained a leave of absence on October 4 and apparently left
Philadelphia shortly after writing this October 5 postscript to
Adams. JCC, 23:639.

5 Gen. Charles Lee, who had been dismissed from the Continental Army in 1780
but who had recently abandoned the seclusion of his Virginia estate
to live in Philadelphia, died on October 2 and was buried in Christ
Church graveyard. See these Letters, 14:344; and DAB.