<br /> Lee Letter: n739

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Arthur Lee
Recipient: the Earl of Shelburne

My Lord,

Among the blessings of peace I number that of being able to renew my
correspondence with a nobleman I so much respect and esteem. For that
peace, honourable to America, and as much so in my judgment for England
as the actual situation of things could give any colour of reason to
expect, your country and America are indebted to your lordship’s wisdom
and firmness.

Upon my word, my lord, did I not know so much of the politics of St. James’
and St. Stephens’, I should be lost in wonder at the vote in the house
of commons and the treatment your lordship has
received.1 But I shall never forget Lord
Chatham’s expression, ‘I was duped and deceived.’ The outrageous
wickedness of visiting upon your conclusion of the war, the evils which
the folly of its commencement, and the rapacity, cruelty and profusion
of the conduct of it produced, sprung from the same source with the
deception practised upon Lord Chatham, which he so emphatically
detailed in the house of peers.

I always judged that the author of those measures, who cannot be said to
cover himself with the majesty of darkness, though he meant the
subjugation of America, would in fact conduct her to independence. I
judged, too, that he would in the end, bring himself to ruin. Nothing,
surely, can more accelerate this event, than introducing again into
high office the ostensible minister of those pernicious measures. For
as to his whig colleagues, their reign is short; and their fall will
assuredly be unpitied.

Of the people of England, on whom in fact the salvation of their country
depends, it may he said, that “aliquando redit in prcordia
virtus.”2 They have given some proofs of
this; and perhaps the last one will bring due punishment upon the
author of their near approach to humiliation and ruin; an humiliation
and ruin which, had not your lordship interposed, would at this moment
have been consummated.

I have flattered myself that your lordship has felt some anxiety about my
situation, under the various attacks that have been made upon me. They
all originated with the minister,3 whose
politics so much overshot themselves in the late negotiation for peace,
and who was determined on my removal, as one who could not be bent to
his purposes. He found, however, my
successor4 stubborn; and this country owes
immortal gratitude to that gentleman’s firmness, spirit and integrity.
Yet an attempt was made to sacrifice him, for this very service; and I
had the pleasure of defending him against those men, with whom he
cooperated in effecting my removal. I am now elected into congress, for
the third and last year I am capable of sitting there, by the
confederation. I shall then retire into private life, with the
satisfaction of dwelling under that constitution which I have laboured
to assist in rearing to liberty, virtue and public happiness.

But I am afraid politicians have been too sanguine in their expectations
from systems of government. Corruption and intrigue seem inseparable
from them all; and these are promoted or restrained more by the genius
of the people, than by forms of government, or the operation of laws.
Indeed it does not seem so unwise now, as it once did, in Mr. Pope, to
say,

“For forms of government let fools contest;

That which is best administer’d, is best.”5

Nor would I promise that a little more experience will not make me a
convert to his opinions.

You used to say, my lord, that you would send Lord Fitzmaurice to make the
tour of America. Such a tour, I conceive, would be both interesting and
instructive. Nature has displayed her powers in the sublime and
beautiful far more in America than in Europe, and the progress of art,
considering the time it has had to operate, is astonishing. I shall
next year be at liberty to accompany Lord Fitzmaurice in such a tour,
and should take a vast deal of pleasure in doing it.

I have the honour to be, with profound respect and regard,

your obedient
servant,

Arthur Lee.6

Notes:

MS not found; reprinted from Richard Henry Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, LL.D.,
2 vols. (Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1829), 1:174 – 76.

1 That is, a resolution censuring the terms of peace negotiated by
Shelburne’s administration had carried in the House of Commons by a
vote of 207 to 190 on February 22, leading to the earl’s resignation
two days later. DNB, 15:1009.

2 “At times valor returns to the hearts of the vanquished” – a paraphrase of
Virgil Aeneid 2:367.

3 That is, Benjamin Franklin.

4 John Jay.

5 Essay on Man 1.298 – 99.

6 Lee also wrote to William Whipple this day – a letter that has not been
found but which Whipple acknowledged September 15, 1783, for which
see Lee, Life of Arthur Lee, LL.D., 2:280.