<br /> Lee Letter: n878

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: William Shippen, Jr.

My dear Sir,

I thank you very sincerely for your last letter, and its enclosures which
are now returned. It is indeed a great addition to my happiness to know
that my dear Nephew is so pleasingly and improvingly placed – for I have
not a doubt but that he will make the best use of his situation which
being so well contrived to delight the Mind, must necessary render its
improvement more certain. I am much obliged by your assurance that you
will have the Smallpox directions ready for me. I desired my friend
Starr to have the Boots ready for me against my return to Phila. on the
6th of next Month in my way home. But upon further consideration, I
shall want the Boots here to travel in to Phila. as the Season will be
cool. Will you be so kind as tell him this, and that I desire he will
have them made immediately with a pair of proper boot straps fitted to
them, so that You or he may take the opportunity of some safe and
friendly person coming here who may bring them to me before the 3d of
November, or as soon after this as possible, that I may not be
disappointed. I have considered the new Constitution will [i.e., with]
all the attention and candor that the thing and the times render
necessary, & I find it impossible for me to doubt, that in its
present State, unamended, the adoption of it will put Civil Liberty and
the happiness of the people at the mercy of rulers who may possess the
great unguarded powers given. And I assure you that confidence in the
moderation or benignity of power is not a plant of quick growth in a
reflecting bosom. The necessary alterations will by no means interfere
with the general nature of the plan, or limit the power of doing good;
but they will restrain from oppression the wicked & Tyrannic. If
all men were wise & good there would be no necessity for government
or law. But the folly & the vice of human nature renders government
& laws necessary for the Many, and restraints indispensable to
prevent oppression from those who are entrusted with the administration
of one & the dispensation of the other. You will see herewith the
amendments that appeared to me necessary,1
they are submitted to you and my Excellent old friend at German
Town.2 Perhaps they may be submitted to the
world at large. My good old friend has made himself better acquainted
with Hippocrates than with Plato, and relying upon the goodness of his
own heart, witht. reflecting upon the corrupting & encroaching
nature of power, he is willing to trust to its fangs more than
experience justifies. The malady of human nature in these states now,
seems to be as it was in the years 1778 & 1779 with respect to the
effect produced by a certain Combination. The Malady that I mean is a
temporary Insanity. I wish that the present may subside with as little
public injury as it formerly did, altho that was not small in all its
branches. Give my love where it is due,

and be assured that I am
unalterably yours,

Richard Henry Lee


Receiver’s copy, Society Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

1 For which see Lee to Elbridge Gerry, September 29.

2 That is, Dr. William Shippen, Sr. (1712 – 1801), who had served with Lee in
Congress in 1779.