<br /> Lee Letter: n801

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Thomas Jefferson

Sir,

I thank you for your obliging congratulation on my appointment to the Chair
of Congress, and I do with particular pleasure return my congratulation
on your sole appointment as Minister of the United States to so
eminently respectable a Court as that of his most Christian Majesty. My
ill state of health, added to the business and the ceremonies of my
Office, has hitherto prevented me from paying my respects to you, which
certainly would have been the case if the former of these circumstances
had not principally prevented me. Altho’ my health is now better, yet I
am very far from being well. I can judge how anxious you must be for
minute information of public proceedings in the United States, and of
such other matters as your letter imports a desire to be acquainted
with. But unfortunately all letters are inspected, and thus the
impertinent eye of curiosity may be gratified with such communications
as were intended only for you, and which wicked selfishness may make a
bad use of. This imposes great restraint, which will remain until
Congress shall establish a system of Packets and Couriers of their own.
How detestable is this dishonorable mode of obtaining intelligence – the
virtue of Lord Falkland, when Secretary of State, would never suffer
him to obtain information by such nefarious means. The appointment of
Mr. Adams to the Court of London will probably draw out quickly the
sense of Great Britain upon the points in dispute with them – and the
Authority given by Congress to treat with the Piratical States will, I
hope, accommodate all differences with them, and give future security
to our Commerce with the South of Europe. I am much obliged to you for
the pamphlet.1 I think it is greatly to be
regretted, that the avaricious, monopolizing Spirit of Commerce and
Commercial Men, should be suffered to interrupt that diffusion of
benefits, and communication between the human species in different
parts of the world, which would probably take place if trade were put
upon more liberal principles and less shackled than it is. The first
attempt made by these States for the trade of the East Indies was from
this City. A Ship has gone to, and returned from Canton in fourteen
months with a valuable Cargo, and met with the most friendly treatment
from the Chinese.2 Other Vessels are gone
and soon expected back. The great Object with the United States now is
to dispose speedily of the western lands for the discharge of public
debt, and a way for this is opened by treaties already made, and making
with the Indians. Coinage, requisition, and Post Office are also
objects of great moment and subjects of discussion – effectual measures
are taking by the Assemblies of Virginia and Maryland – and by the
former alone, for opening the navigation between the Potomac and James
Rivers with the western waters. Laws with suspending clauses have
passed in Virginia for establishing a single Port on each river and for
circuit Courts – a general assessment for religion is also a subject of
much discussion with us. Mr. Patrick Henry is our Governor, and Col.
Harrison has lost his Election in his own County of James City. Great
and general efforts have been made to get into the Legislature during
the late Elections and I hear that there are many changes. It remains
uncertain whether Congress will adjourn or not this year – but as I
value extreemely your Correspondence, Your letters for me may always be
safely enclosed to the Virginia Delegates in Congress, so that whether
Congress or the Committee of States should be setting, your letters
will reach me safely. Be so good as to thank Mr. Short for his letter
to me and inform him that I will reply by the next Packet. I heartily
wish you hea[l]th and happiness and I am with the truest esteem and
regard,

Sir, Your Most Obedient and very humble Servant,

Richard Henry
Lee

P.S. I know that your goodness will excuse my having used an Amanuensis,
when you know that this cold climate has so afflicted my hand &
head as to make writing painful.

R.H.L.

Notes:

Receiver’s copy, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. In a clerical hand,
with signature and postscript by Lee. Endorsed by Jefferson: “recd.
July 10.”

1 Not identified.

2 See Rufus King to Elbridge Gerry, May 12, note.