<br /> Lee Letter: n767

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: James Madison

Dear Sir,

I received your agreeable letter the day after mine of the 28th instant had
been dispatched.1 I thank you Sir for the
very particular and satisfactory information that you have favord me
with. It is certainly comfortable to know that the Legislature of our
country is engaged in beneficial pursuits – for I conceive that the Gen.
Assessment, and a wise digest of our militia laws are very important
concerns: the one to secure our peace, and the other our morals.
Refiners may weave as fine a web of reason as they please, but the
experience of all times shews Religion to be the guardian of
morals – And he must be a very inattentive observer in our Country, who
does not see that avarice is accomplishing the destruction of religion,
for want of a legal obligation to contribute something to its support.
The declaration of Rights, it seems to me, rather contends against
forcing modes of faith and forms of worship, than against compelling
contribution for the support of religion in general. I fully agree with
the presbyterians, that true freedom embraces the Mahomitan and the
Gentoo as well as the Xn religion. And upon this liberal ground I hope
our Assembly will conduct themselves. I believe there is no doubt but
that the population of our country depends eminently upon our Revenue
laws, they therefore, demand intense consideration. It is natural for
men to fly from oppression to ease, and whilst our taxes are extremely
heavy, and North Carolina & Georgia pay little or no tax, it is not
to be wonderd that so many of our people flock to these States &
unfortunately they are carrying to Georgia & South Carolina the
Cultivation of Tobacco. I do not mean by this, that we should suffer
ill example to prevent us from honorably and punctually paying our
debts. But I think that we may fairly practise here, as other Nations
the most honest do – I mean, exactly to pay the interest, and slowly to
sink the principal. An attempt to do the latter too suddenly, will
ruin, by depopulating, the country. The only mode appears to be, a
funding of the whole debt, so as certainly to pay the interest, and
slowly the principal. Cannot a sinking fund be brought to bear upon the
latter, by throwing all overflowings of taxes into a Reservoir for
gathering interest upon interest? I suppose that at all events, the
facilities offerd by Congress in their Act of the 28th of April last
will be among the amendments to the Revenue law this Session.

The people have certainly sufferd much hitherto by not knowing in season
what taxes are lawfully demandable from them. For want of this
information, numbers are compelled to submit to the extortion and
abuses of Collectors. The Treasurer used formerly to publish annually
in the papers what were to be the Taxes of the year, and this practise
was then very useful. But at present, the dispersion of newspapers is
so uncertain, that information thro that channel would reach but few. A
Statement from the Treasury printed in the way of Handbills, to be put
up at the Court Houses & churches, might perhaps furnish the
requisite information, & save the people from extensive abuse. I am
very happy to know, for the honor of our country, that there is a
probability of the impeding laws being again taken under deliberation.
What I wrote to you in my last upon this subject, is a most serious
consideration, and the inclosed paragraphs, taken from a late paper,
will shew you how quickly the fame of our proceedings travels, and the
effect likely to be produced upon our Commerce!

By the 5th article of the Confederation, the annual meeting of Congress is
to be on the first Monday in November, and by our Act establishing one
yearly meeting of the Assembly on the third Monday in October; you will
see Sir, that there is very little probability of Virginia being
represented in Congress for some time after its federal day of meeting.
So that it becomes necessary to consider this matter. I suppose that
either the Assemblies time of meeting must be altered, or the Delegates
for the ensuing federal year be chosen this present
Session.2 We have not yet made a Congress
but we have some reason to expect eight States on Monday next. I
understand that Spain means to insist upon the exclusive navigation of
the Mississippi, which will render the exploring our western waters of
the greater importance.

I am dear Sir, with great esteem and regard Your most obedient and very
humble servant,

Richard Henry Lee

P.S. If the election of Counsellors is not over, may I be permitted to
suggest what I realy believe will improve and fortify the counsels of
that Board. It is, that Major Gen. Gates be appointed a Member of it.
He has a pretty good estate in Berkeley, is a single Man &
therefore not withheld from due attendance by domestic considerations.
But above all, he is a Man of great worth, solid judgement, and sound
attachments to America. A propos – It is by many here suggested as a
very necessary Step for Congress to take – The calling upon the States
to form a Convention for the Sole purpose of revising the Confederation
so far as to enable Congress to execute with more energy, effect, &
vigor the powers assigned it, than it appears by experience that they
can do under the present state of things. It has been observed, why do
not Congress recommend the necessary alterations to the States as is
proposed in the Confederation? The friends to Convention answer – It has
been already done in some instances, but in vain. It is proposed to let
Congress go on in the mean time as usual. I shall be glad of your
opinion on this point, it being a very important one.

R. H. Lee

Notes:

Receiver’s copy, Madison Papers, Library of Congress.

1 Although he clearly wrote “28th,” Lee was referring to his letter of
November 20. Madison’s letter, written about November 13, has not
been found. Madison, Papers (Hutchinson), 8:151n.

2 During its biannual meeting in May the Virginia assembly had provided for
the election of five delegates to Congress, three of whom were to
attend at all times. But it also opted for only a single October
meeting of the assembly thereafter, thus creating a problem of timely
attendance for the slate of delegates to begin serving in November
1785 unless they were elected at the previous session a year ahead of
time. In his December 11 response Madison regarded the dilemma as a
“serious matter,” but questioned whether the election of delegates a
year before they were to serve was not “a rather singular expedient.”
The General Assembly agreed and chose to tolerate, in its acts of
November 1785 and 1786, the delay its new delegates would experience
in attending Congress. See ibid., p. 181; and Hening, Statutes, 11:
365 – 66, 387 – 88, 12:26 – 27, 243. See also Lee to Madison, December 27,
note 3.