<br /> Lee Letter: n877

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: George Mason

Dear Sir,

I have waited until now to answer your favor of Septr. 18th from
Philadelphia,1 that I might inform you how
the Convention plan of Government was entertained by Congress. Your
prediction of what would happen in Congress was exactly verified. It
was with us, as with you, this or nothing; & this urged with a most
extreme intemperance. The greatness of the powers given, & the
multitude of Places to be created, produces a coalition of Monarchy
men, Military Men, Aristocrats, and Drones whose noise, imprudence
& zeal exceeds all belief – Whilst the Commercial plunder of the
South stimulates the rapacious Trader. In this state of things, the
Patriot voice is raised in vain for such changes and securities as
Reason and Experience prove to be necessary against the encroachments
of power upon the indispensable rights of human nature. Upon due
consideration of the Constitution under which we now Act, some of us
were clearly of opinion that the 13th article of the
Confederation2 precluded us from giving an
opinion concerning a plan subversive of the present system and
eventually forming a New Confederacy of Nine instead of 13 States. The
contrary doctrine was asserted with great violence in expectation of
the strong majority with which they might send it foward under terms of
much approbation. Having procured an opinion that Congress was
qualified to consider, to amend, to approve or disapprove – the next
game was to determine that tho a right to amend existed, it would be
highly inexpedient to exercise that right; but surely to transmit it
with respectful marks of approbation. In this state of things I availed
myself of the Right to amend, & moved the Amendments copy of which
I send herewith3 & called the ayes &
nays to fix them on the journal. This greatly alarmed the Majority
& vexed them extremely – for the plan is, to push the business on
with great dispatch, & with as little opposition as possible: that
it may be adopted before it has stood the test of Reflection & due
examination. They found it most eligible at last to transmit it merely,
without approving or disapproving; provided nothing but the
transmission should appear on the Journal. This compromise was settled
and they took the opportunity of inserting the word Unanimously, which
applied only to simple transmission, hoping to have it mistaken for an
Unanimous approbation of the thing. It states that Congress having
Received the Constitution unanimously transmit it &c. It is certain
that no Approbation was given. This constitution has a great many
excellent Regulations in it, and if it could be reasonably amended
would be a fine System. As it is, I think ’tis past doubt, that if it
should be established, either a tyranny will result from it, or it will
be prevented by a Civil war. I am clearly of opinion with you that it
should be sent back with amendments Reasonable and Assent to it with
held until such amendments are admitted. You are well acquainted with
Mr. Stone & others of influence in Maryland. I think it will be a
great point to get Maryld. & Virginia to join in the plan of
Amendments & return it with them. If you are in correspondence with
our Chancelor Pendelton, it will be of much use to furnish him with the
objections, and if he approves our plan, his opinion will have great
weight with our Convention, and I am told that his relation Judge
Pendleton of South Carolina has decided weight in the
State,4 & that he is sensible &
independent. How important will it be then to procure his union with
our plan, which might probably be the case, if our Chancelor was to
write largely & pressingly to him on the subject; that if possible
it may be amended there also. It is certainly the most rash and violent
proceeding in the world to cram thus suddenly into Men a business of
such infinite Moment to the happiness of Millions. One of your letters
will go by the Packet, and one by a Merchant Ship. My compliments if
you please to Your Lady & to the young Ladies & Gentlemen.

I am
dear Sir affectionately Yours,

Richard Henry Lee

Suppose when the Assembly recommended a Convention to consider this
new Constitution they were to use some words like these – It is
earnestly recommended to the good people of Virginia to send their most
wise & honest Men to this Convention that it may undergo the most
intense consideration before a plan shall be without amendments adopted
that admits of abuses being practised by which the best interests of
this Country may be injured and Civil Liberty greatly endanger’d. This
might perhaps give a decided Tone to the business. Please to send my
Son Ludwell a Copy of the Amendments proposed by me to the new
Constitution sent herewith.

Notes:

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

1 Not found.

2 See JCC, 19:221 – 22.

3 See the enclosure to Lee to Elbridge Gerry, September 29.

4 Lee is referring to Chancellor Edmund Pendleton of Virginia and his nephew Henry Pendleton (1750 – 88), who was a justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas.