<br /> Lee Letter: n804

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: James Madison

Dear Sir

Two days ago, and not sooner, your favor of March the
20th1 was deliverd to me, so that you find
it has been more than two months travelling thus far. It seems to me
that our Assembly were influenced more by the letter than the spirit of
the Confederation. The consequence will certainly be, if our meetings
are slow as usual, that Virginia will be unrepresented for some time
after the federal year commences.2 Tho no
great mischief arises from this, the appearance is not so handsome as
it should be; besides that it partakes too much of that too common
inattention to the great Council of the U.S. upon the wise conduct of
which so much depends.

I am very happy to see by the Newspapers that the business of opening
Potomac goes on so well. Tis certainly an object of great consequence
to extend our internal navigation. Concerning James river I have heard
nothing.3 When I was in our Assembly it
appeard to me rather to be the wish, than otherwise, that Kentucky
should apply for separation – And I should suppose that if, when they
found themselves compitent to the business of Self Government, they
properly applied to our Assembly, no good objection could be made to a
separation – For they have, & will remain for a long time, if not
always, more expence than profit to the rest of the
country.4 Washington County seems to be
stimulated by a troublesome person who for self aggrandisement appears
willg. to dismember that part also, & join with the Revolters from
N. Carolina. This last seems to merit the wise & firm attention of
Government & the Legislature.5 We have,
after much debate indeed, & great waste of time, at last pass’d an
Ordinance for disposing of such part of the Lands N. W of the Ohio as
belongs to the U.S. & have been purchased of the Indians. If this
proves agreeable to the public, it will extinguish about 10 Millions of
the pub debt. And the remaining lands, going southward to the
Mississippi, will nearly discharge all the domestic debt – Besides the
probable prospect that we have of considerable cessions from N & S.
Carolina & Georgia. This Source does indeed deserve our warmest
cultivation as it seems to be almost the only one that we have for
discharging our oppressive debt. Dr. Franklin has leave to retire, Mr.
Jefferson remains in France – And Mr. J. Adams is sent to London. If the
Court of this last country is sincere, we may expect an amicable &
easy settlement of existing differences between us. The Minister (Mr.
Pitt) does appear willing to be liberal in Commercial regulations, but
the avaricious spirit of Commerce that is so great every where, but
which in England has ever been excessive, opposes his views – And so we
find it is in France, for the Marquis de La Fayette writes that the
advantages already granted us are most violently exclaimed against by
the Trading people of the Kingdom.6 Mr
Gardoque (who calls himself Plenepotentiary Charged with Affairs is
arrived at Phila. and we expect him soon
here – So that we shall quickly know whether
he can or will do any thing conclusive concerning the Navigation of
Mississippi.7 He reports a great scarcity of provisions at the Havannah,
but yet we dont hear of the ports of that Island being opened to us for
supply. It is reported that the frigate which brought him is taking in
flower. The American enterprise has been well markt by a short and
successful Voyage made from hence to Canton in China. The Chinese were
kind to our people and glad to see a new Source of Commerce opened to
them from a New People, as they called us. The Europeans there were
civil but astonished at the rapidity of our movements, especially the
English. I fear that our Countrymen will overdo this business – For now
there appears every where a Rage for East India Voyages. So that the
variety of means may defeat the Attainment of the concurrent end – A
regulated & useful commerce with that part of the World. It seems
very questionable now whether Congress will adjourn or not this
Year – if they do, it will not be until late in August. Inattention,
Sickness, and a variety of causes occasion business to go on very
slowly. I8


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

1 Not found.

2 For the Virginia assembly’s willingness to tolerate a delay each fall in
the attendance of its congressional delegates, see Lee to Madison,
November 26, 1784, note 2.

3 For developments on the establishment of, and solicitation of subscriptions
for, the James River and Potomac River companies, enterprises in
which George Washington was heavily involved, see Washington, Papers
(Abbot), Confederation Series, 2:88 – 96, 165 – 68, 235 – 46, 261 – 65, 360 – 66, 379 – 82, 447 – 48, 547 – 48, 562 – 67.

4 See William Grayson to Madison, August 21, note 5.

5 For the steps taken by Virginia in the fall to counter the proposals of
Arthur Campbell and other separatists along its frontiers, see Samuel
Hardy to Patrick Henry, January 17, note 1. See also Richard Dobbs
Spaight to Richard Caswell, June 5, note 1.

6 For Lee’s response to Lafayette’s intelligence and observations on the
prospects for Franco-American trade, see Lee to Lafayette, June 11,

7 See Lee to John Adams, May 28, note 2.

8 Remainder of manuscript missing.