<br /> Lee Letter: n874

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: John Adams

Dear Sir,

Since my letter to you of December 1785 from Chantilly in
Virginia1 in answer to the letters that you
were pleased to write me on the 26th of August, 6th & 7th of
September 1785; I have not been honored with any letter from you. On my
arrival here I met with, and read with great pleasure your book on the
American governments.2 The judicious
collection that you have made, with your just reflections thereon, have
reached America at a great Crisis, and will probably have their proper
influence in forming the federal government now under consideration.
Your labor may therefore have its reward in the thanks of this and
future generations. The present federal system, however well calculated
it might have been for its designed ends if the States had done their
duty, under the almost total neglect of that duty, has been found quite
inefficient and ineffectual. The government must be both Legislative
and Executive, with the former power paramount to the State
Legislatures in certain respects essential to federal purposes. I think
there is no doubt but that this Legislature will be recommended to
consist of the triple ballance, if I may use the expression, to signify
a compound of the three simple forms acting independently, but forming
a joint determination. The executive (which will be part of the
legislative) to have more duration and power enlarged beyond the
present. This seems to be the plan expected, and generally spoken of – I
say expected, because the Convention is yet sitting, and will continue
so to do until the middle of this month. I was appointed to that
Assembly, but being a Member of Congress where the plan of Convention
must be approved, there appeard an inconsistency for Members of the
former to have Session in the latter and so pass judgement at New York
upon their opinion at Philadelphia. I therefore declined going to
Convention and came here; where we have lately contracted for the sale
of six millions of Acres on the N.W. side of Ohio in the ceded
territory, for lessening the domestic debt – And now, another offer is made for two millions more.3 I hope we shall
at least be able to extinguish the domestic debt created by the late
war, which is by far the greatest part of the debt. So many of our
Members have lately gone from hence to the Convention, that we have had
but 5 States in Congress for a month past, which has prevented any
determination on your application to return.

It seems at present to be very doubtful whether there will be any Resident
appointed to the Court where you are – some being for a Minister, some for a ChargĂ©, and some for neither – But a Consul only. How it will terminate can scarcely be conjectured yet.4
Permit me now Sir to entreat your attention and good offices in the
following affair. Mr. Thomas Steptoe, concerning whom I formerly wrote
to you, dyed on shipboard as he was returning home from the East Indies
either in 1784 or 1785, and we are not certain whether he was on a
Danish or a Sweedish ship, but it was one of these. Captain Miller who
gave me this intelligence by letter, and who is now up the Baltic, was
not certain to which of these nations the Ship belonged. But he said it
was supposed that Mr. Steptoe had a considerable property. His heirs in
Virginia having heard nothing concerning this property, apprehen’d that
it has been secured by the Officers of the Ship wherein he dyed. The
want of exact information concerning Mr. Steptoes affairs will render
it difficult to procure redress. Perhaps a proper enquiry among those
people in London who trade with the East Indies, may furnish some light
upon this business. Or an application to the Danish & Swedish
Ministers at the Court of London might cause an enquiry to be made in
their respective countries, so as that the holders of his property
fearing detection, may come forward and honestly deliver up this
gentlemans effects – And inform if he left any Will. It is not
improbable that he left a will somewhere, which if procured would
regulate the descent of his Virginia estate. I shall be singularly
obliged to you my dear Sir if you will interest yourself in this
business, and let me know the success of your
enquiries.5 My complements, if you please to
Colo. Smith; and affectionate regards to my Nephew Shippen.

With every
sentiment of esteem and friendship I am dear Sir, sincerely yours,

Richard Henry Lee


Receiver’s copy, Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

1 Apparently Lee’s letter of December 12, for which see Lee, Letters
(Ballagh), 2:408 – 9.

2 That is, Adams’ A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United
States of America, for which see James Madison to Thomas Jefferson,
June 6, note 3.

3 See Lee to Francis Lightfoot Lee, July 14, note 3 ; and William Grayson to
James Madison, August 31, note 3.

4 Adams’ letter of January 24, in which he discussed retirement from his
European posts and made recommendations concerning future diplomatic
appointments, had been read in Congress April 11 and referred to John
Jay to report. Jay proposed on July 26 that Congress accept Adams’
resignation and appoint a new minister for three years or less to
adjust differences between the United States and Great Britain, but
he also explored the alternative expedient of appointing William
Stephens Smith as chargĂ© d’affaires. Congress debated Jay’s report
on August 1 and again on September 24 and October 5 when it agreed to
Adams’ return after February 24, 1788, and thanked him for his
services, but made no determination on his replacement. These
resolutions were transmitted to Adams by Jay on October 16. See JCC,
32:174, 33:415 – 18, 446 – 48, 517 – 22, 611 – 15; and PCC, item 121, fols.
282 – 85.

5 For Lee’s earlier correspondence with Adams concerning the involvement of
his nephew Steptoe in East Indian trade, see these Letters,
22:410 – 11, 540, 699.