<br /> Lee Letter: n868

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: George Washington

Dear Sir,

I have the honor to enclose to you an Ordinance that we have just passed in
Congress for establishing a temporary government beyond the Ohio, as a
measure preparatory to the sale of the
Lands.1 It seemed necessary, for the
security of property among uninformed, and perhaps licentious people,
as the greater part of those who go there are, that a strong toned
government should exist, and the rights of property be clearly defined.
Our next object, is to consider of a proposition made for the purchase
of 5 or 6 millions of Acres, in order to lessen the domestic
debt.2 An object of much consequence this,
since the extinguishment of this part of the public debt would not only
relieve from a very heavy burthen, but by demolishing the Ocean of
public Securities, we should stop that mischievous deluge of
speculation that now hurts our morals, and extremely injures the public

Our Gazettes continue to be filled with publications against the Spanish
Treaty and for opening the Mississippi, some of them plausible, but
generally weak and indecent. This seems to be contending for an Object
unatainable for many years, and probably Never without War not only
with Spain, but most likely with the Bourbon Alliance –

And by such contention exposing the Government of the United States to a
dishonorable acquiescence under the Captivity of its Citizens and
Confiscation of their effects by Spain on the Mississippi, or entering
prematurely into a destructive war in resentment for such doings. At
the same time discarding the friendship for the enmity of a powerful
Monarch and thereby probably loose what we may possess, our Share of a
Commerce that yields annually 4 or 5 millions of dollars for Cod fish
only, independant of the Flour & many valuable articles of American
production used in Spain & not interfering with their own products.
To say nothing of a most lucrative contraband Trade from the Ocean
& on the Mississippi which a friend might wink at, but which a
vigilant and powerful enemy will prevent. It seems to me that N.
America is going, if we are prudent, to be the EntrepĂ´t between the
East Indies and Spanish America. If to these we could join the
settlement of a disputed boundary and obtain a powerful Guarantee
therefor surely such considerations greatly outweigh the far sought
apprehension of an Alliance of the Kentuckians with the British, and
especially when we consider that a conduct which will procure the
enmity of Spain, will probably force her into the open arms of G.
Britain much to our Commercial and political injury. And after all, if
this navigation could be opened and the benefits be such as are
chimerically supposed, it must in its consequences depopulate &
ruin the Old States.

The argument may shortly thus be stated – Spain will not agree to the Navigation within her limits. Can we force it in 25 years – if we cannot, why risk, for an unatainable Object, the loss of valuable
objects, and the incurring pernicious consequences. A Candid and
impartial consideration of this subject, must, I think determine the
question without difficulty. But I beg your pardon Sir for writing as
much on this question, which I doubt not but you have fully considered

I have the honor to be with the truest respect and esteem, dear Sir, Your
affectionate and most obedient servant,

Richard Henry Lee


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

1 See the preceding entry.

2 See Lee to Francis Lightfoot Lee, July 14, note 3.