<br /> Lee Letter: n867

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Francis Lightfoot Lee

My dear brother,

I arrived at this place a week ago almost destroyed with heat and fatigue.
Here I found Grayson in the Chair of Congress Locum Tenens for the
President who is absent.1 After some
difficulty we passed an Ordinance for establishing a temporary
Government beyond the Ohio as preparatory to the sale of that
Country.2 And now we are considering an
offer made to purchase 5 or 6 millions of Acres with pub. Securities. I
hope we shall agree with the offer, but realy the difficulty is so
great to get anything done, that it is not easy for the plainest
propositions to succeed.3 We owe much money,
the pressure of Taxes is very great & much complained of – we have
now something to sell that will pay the debt & discharge the
greatest part of the Taxes, and altho this something is in a fair way
of being soon wrested from us by the Sons of Violence, yet we have a
thousand little difficulties that prevent us from selling! I found the
Convention at Phila. very busy & very secret, it would seem
however, from variety of circumstances that we shall hear of a
Government not unlike the B. Constitution – that is, an Executive with
2 branches composing a federal Legislature, and possessing adequate
Tone. This departure from simple Democracy seems indispensably
necessary, if any government at all is to exist in N. America. Indeed
the minds of men have been so hurt by the injustice, folly, and
wickedness of the State Legislatures; & State Executives that
people in general seem ready for any thing. I hope however, that this
tendency to extreme will be so controuled as to secure fully and
completely the democratic influences acting within just bounds. The
Land Speculators continue to urge the Open Missippi immediately against
every principle of policy, common good, & common sense. Upon this I
shall write you more fully hereafter. The bills of R. Morris have been
refused in France, to a very considerable amount it is said. Time must
discover how this will work, & what it will produce. The
discoveries of fraud among the great officers of State in France proves
that private embezzlement of public Money [is] not confined to America.
There seems to be much convulsion in France on this occasion at

My love, if you please to Mrs. Lee and when you have an opportunity, let me
know that you are all well.


Richard Henry Lee

P.S. I do realy consider it a thing of consequence to the public interest
that Colo. H. Lee of Stratford should be in our next Assembly, and
therefore I wish you would exert yourself with the old Squire to get
his resignation, or disqualification rather, so that his Nephew may get
early into the house of Delegates. I know it is like persuading a Man
to sign his own death warrant, but upon my word the State of pub.
affairs renders this sacrifice of place & vanity necessary.

R. H. Lee


Receiver’s copy, Lee Family Papers, University of Virginia Library.

1 For William Grayson’s July 4 election as chairman of Congress and Arthur
St. Clair’s absence until July 17, see JCC, 32:297; and St. Clair to
Charles Thomson, May 18. Lee had presented his credentials to
Congress on July 9. See JCC, 32:310.

2 The ordinance for establishing governments in the states to be formed from
the northwest territory had originally stemmed from consideration of
petitions from the distressed inhabitants of the Kaskaskia district
in the Illinois country, for which see these Letters, 22:328n.11,
23:246n, 522n.2. An ordinance drawn up in September 1786 by a
committee chaired by William Samuel Johnson had been permitted to lie
over as unfinished business. It was revived and read for the first
time on April 26, 1787. It was read again and amended on May 9 when
it was ordered printed. A third reading scheduled for May 10 was
postponed and the report languished, due to poor attendance, until
July 8 when it was ordered printed again and the following day
assigned to a committee, chaired by Edward Carrington, that heavily
revised it, eliminating many elements of Thomas Jefferson’s plan of
1784 and establishing far more structured conditions of admission to
statehood. Chiefly the work of Nathan Dane, the new ordinance was
reported on July 11 and read successively through the 13th when it
was adopted by eight states with only Abraham Yates of New York in
dissent. The ordinance was transmitted to the states this day by
Secretary Thomson. See JCC, 32:242, 274 – 75, 281 – 83, 310n.3, 313 – 20,
333 – 43, 33:756 – 57; Evans, Am. Bibliography, nos. 20,777 – 79; and the
following entry.

The bicentennial of the Northwest Ordinance generated a spate of
interpretive articles and essays on its origins, enactment, and
consequences, many of them collected together under a single title.
See, for example, Robert M. Taylor, ed., The Northwest Ordinance,
1787: A Bicentennial Handbook (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical
Society, 1987), which includes an annotated text of the ordinance by
section and article (pp. 31 – 77); “The Northwest Ordinance: A Special
Issue,” Indiana Magazine of History 84 (March 1988): 1 – 112; Pathways
to the Old Northwest: An Observance of the Bicentennial of the
Northwest Ordinance (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1988);
and Frederick D. Williams, ed., The Northwest Ordinance: Essays on
Its Formulation, Provisions and Legacy (East Lansing: Michigan State
University Press, 1989).

3 Part of the urgency in providing government for western settlers lay in the
applications that came before Congress at this time for the purchase
of large blocks of land, ostensibly for Revolutionary war veterans.
On May 8, Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons, agent for the Ohio Company of
Associates, presented a memorial to Congress for the purchase of
bounty lands northwest of the Ohio River for $500,000 to $1,000,000.
Comprised mostly of war veterans from New England, the Associates
were led by Gen. Rufus Putnam, Winthrop Sargent, and Benjamin Tupper,
aided by their chief lobbyist, ex-army chaplain Manasseh Cutler. The
memorial was assigned on May 9 to a committee composed of Edward
Carrington, Egbert Benson, Nathan Dane, Rufus King, and James
Madison. Meanwhile, Cutler and the Associates, allied with the
secretary to the board of treasury, William Duer, and a group of New
York speculators, who styled themselves the Scioto Company, began to
pursue a joint purchase. In its July 10 report Carrington’s committee
recommended that the board of treasury authorize a contract for a
tract between the Muskingum and Scioto rivers to be determined by
geographer Thomas Hutchins. The report was considered during
deliberations over the final form of the Northwest Ordinance, and
debates on July 14, 17, and 20 focused on the precise boundary of the
tract, the actual price, and the terms of payment. The amended
report, containing a provision for further purchases within three
years, was considered and adopted July 23. On the 26th Cutler and
Winthrop Sargent presented Congress with a list of conditions of
sale, and the following day Congress passed a resolution exempting
10,000 acres around each of the Christian Indian towns from
settlement. The final contracts of sale, which were not let until
later in the year, included 1,500,000 acres for the Ohio Company and
nearly 5,000,000 acres for Duer’s group. Shortly after the Ohio
Company made its purchase it issued a pamphlet entitled Articles of
an Association, by the Name of the Ohio Company (New York: Samuel
& John Loudon, 1787), which included letters of St. Jean de
Crèvecoeur describing the Ohio country, the original “Articles of
Agreement” entered into by the company’s subscribers, the committee
report approved July 23, the resolution of July 27, a report of
Manasseh Cutler to the Association directors, and the August 30
Association resolutions for the establishment of the town that became
Marietta. See JCC, 32:276, 311 – 13, 345 – 46, 350 – 51, 376 – 77,
33:399 – 401, 427 – 30; Carter, Territorial Papers, 2:29, 52 – 54, 61 – 64,
80 – 88; and Evans, Am. Bibliography, no. 20,605. For the organization
of the Ohio Company of Associates, its alliance with the Scioto
speculators, and Manasseh Cutler’s pivotal role in conducting
business with Congress, see Archer B. Hulbert, ed., The Records of
the Original Proceedings of the Ohio Company, 2 vols. (Marietta,
Ohio: Marietta Historical Commission, 1917), 1:xv – xcvi, 1 – 37; and
Daniel J. Ryan, “The Scioto Company and Its Purchase,” Publications
of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society 3 (Columbus, 1891):
107 – 36.