<br /> Lee Letter: n826

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Unknown

1Dear Sir,

The public papers will have informed you of my having left New York, and
the cause.2 The benefit that I received from
the use of the Chalybeate waters in the vicinity of Philadelphia has
been very flattering and has enabled me to return to this City with a
Stock of health that I hope will be sufficient at least to carry me
triumphantly thro my Presidential year. The circumstance of ill health
has been the principal cause that has prevented me from replying sooner
to your favor of August the 8th last. Indeed the current news here has
been too unimportant to trouble you with reading or myself with writing
it, especially as it is well detailed in the newspapers. It is with
infinite pleasure I learn that our Church Convention at Philadelphia
have concluded their business with great concord, the surest pledge of
the future success of their System. It was a circumstance of much
advantage that their Councils were not disturbed by the mischievous
high chu[r]ch principles that prevail with the Nonjuring Episcopalians
of these Northern regions, who, with Bishop Seabury at their head would
have been very sufficient to disturb the moderate councils of any Whig
Assembly in the world.3

Our public letters of this day from the Officers of the U. States at
Pittsburg & its neighborhood, represent the Indian Nations, as
Nations, in no unfriendly point of view, and seem to promise success as
well to our treaty at the Mouth of Great Miami this month, as to the
progress of business in surveying the Territory appointed for Sale
Northwest of Ohio.4 You have been
misinform’d with respect to the violent proceedings at Boston. Both in
that State & N. Hampshire they have indeed passed lately Commercial
Acts respecting foreign trade generally that do not accord with our
Commercial treaties both with France & Sweden, which have already
produced memorials to Congress from the Consuls of these
nations.5 However, as these laws were
probably the product of haste & inattention, I have no doubt but
that they will rectify the evil upon a proper representation from the
federal head. So essential is the difference between the Northern &
Southern productions and circumstances relative to Commerce, that it is
not easy to adopt any general System that would well accord with all;
and the Staple States shoud be feelingly alive to the proposed plan of
vesting powers absolute for the restraint & regulation of Commerce
in a Body of represen[tatives] whose Constituents are very differently
circumstanced. Intrigue and coalition among the No Staple States,
taking advantage of the disunion & inattenti[on] of the South,
might fix a ruinous Monopoly upon the trade & productions of the
Staple States that have not Ships or Seamen for the exportation of
their valuable productions. You know Sir that the Spirit of Commerce is
a spirit of Avarice, and that when ever the power is given the will
certainly follows to monopolize, to engross, and take every possible
advantage. I am free therefore to own that I think it both safest &
best to give no such power to Congress, leave it to that Body to point
out what is fit to be done in this [line] and founding their plans on
principles of moderation and most accordant to the actual state &
situation of the different States, to recommend their Systems for the
general adoption. I am persuaded that this plan would be successful to
every good purpose. A contrary one would, I verily believe, be more
hurtful, much more hurtful to us, than even the crabbed selfish system
of Great Britain. Mr. Adams, in a late letter to me from London,
writing of Britain he says “the Nation must be made to feel – but this
is a work of time, and it is dangerous work, because it may in such
inflammable circumstances provoke War.”6
Indeed our proceedings with that Nation should be well considered, and
cautiously practised upon.

I am very fearful of the proceedings of our approaching Session – Breach of
Treaty – Paper Money – Violations of public faith – are all, I am informed
much talked of. Either of the three will be sufficient to injure us
greatly, as well as the U. States. And I assure you Sir, from the best
authority, that such things as those have already deeply &
essentially injured the American character in Europe generally. Mr.
Adams says in the same letter “I hope that per[sons] & property in
America will be held sacred.”

On the 8th of next month I shall return to Virga. after thirteen months
absence from my family.

With very great respect & esteem I have the honor to be dear Sir your
most obedient, and very humble servant,

Richard Henry Lee.

Notes:

Receiver’s copy, Washburn Collection, Massachusetts Historical Society.

1 The recipient was clearly a fellow Virginian, probably a member of the
assembly.

2 That is, for the recovery of his health. See JCC, 29:631.

3 See Lee to John Adams, October 24, note 1.

4 Letters from Continental geographer Thomas Hutchins of September 15 and
Indian commissioner Richard Butler of September 24 were read in
Congress on October 10 and 11, respectively. See PCC, item 60, fols.
189 – 92, item 185, 3:142; and Charles Thomson to Butler, October 12,
note. Lee had also received a personal letter at about this time from
James Monroe who was also at Pittsburgh, for which see Lee to Monroe,
October 17, note 1.

5 Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire had passed navigation acts during the
summer restricting foreign vessels to certain ports, imposing double
duties on goods imported in foreign bottoms, and placing heavy
tonnage duties on all foreign vessels, which were in clear violation
of the treaties of amity and commerce that had been negotiated with
France and Sweden. On August 20 French consul general Barbé-Marbois
sent a letter of protest to secretary for foreign affairs John Jay
enclosing a lengthy memorial from Aubry, Dubois & Co., French
merchants in London. And on October 8 Jay received a similar protest
from Swedish consul Richard Soderstrom. These letters were read in
Congress on August 25 and October 11, respectively, and referred back
to the secretary to report. In his October 7 and 20 reports Jay
recommended in the first instance that the protests be transmitted to
the legislatures of Massachusetts and New Hampshire and that Congress
“recommend to them a Revision of these Acts,” and in the second that
Congress recommend to all state legislatures “that the Ships and
Merchants of Sweden trading here, be put exactly on the Same Footing
with the Ships and Merchants of the United States.” Although the
first report was assigned for consideration on October 13, it was
never acted on and Marbois’ letter and the merchant’s memorial were
eventually returned to Jay on November 6, 1787. Similarly, there is
no record of action on Soderstrom’s protest. See JCC, 29:661, 817 – 21,
847, 929; PCC, item 80, 1:341 – 42, item 81, 1:437 – 44, 469 – 80, item
120, 1:402 – 16, item 190, fols. 61, 72; and Diplomatic Correspondence,
1783 – 89, 1:169 – 73. See also Rufus King to Elbridge Gerry, May 1, note
1; Massachusetts Delegates to James Bowdoin, August 23, note 5; and
King to John Adams, November 2, note.

6 John Adams’ July 15 letter is in the Lee Papers, PPAmP, Lee Family
microfilm. See also Richard H. Lee, Memoirs of the Life of Richard
Henry Lee, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: H. C. Carey and I. Lea, 1825),
2:141 – 43.