<br /> Lee Letter: n882

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Samuel Adams

My dear friend,

Our mutual friend Mr. Gerry furnishes me with an opportunity of writing to
you without danger of my letter being stopt on its passage, as I have
some reason to apprehend has been the case with letters written by me
and sent by the Post. Under this impression it is, that I send you
herewith a Copy of my letter to you of the 5th of this month. Major
Sergeant delivered me the letter that you were pleased to write me on
the 8th instant,1 by which I see that you
supposed me to have been a Member of the late Convention. I did early
decline being a Member of that Body, because I was a Member of Congress
and the proposed plan stated, that Congress should rev[i]ew, & if
they approved, transmit the proposed amendments to the Confederation,
(for that was the Idea, and indeed the only idea that the present
federal plan admits of, or that the powers delegated to the Convention
countenanced) to the 13 States for approbation and ratification. In
this view of the business, it appeared to me an inconsistency that the
same Men should in N. York review their own doings at Philadelphia. And
thus opinion was fully verified when the Members of Convention came to
Congress in such numbers with their own plan, that the Votes of 8
States were Convention Votes, & others divided by Conventioners,
and conventioners mingled with many other
States.2 It is Sir most obvious, that the
Constitution proposed by the Convention could not have a dispassionate
and impartial consideration in Congress – And indeed it had none. In my
letter to you of the 5th instant, I sent you the amendments that I
proposed in Congress; if they, with my letter should have miscarried,
our friend Mr. Gerry can furnish you with
them.3 Mr. Wilson of Phila. has appeared in
print with the Convention reasons in support of their profferd
plan.4 How he has succeeded, Mr. Gerry will
inform you. The Press has produced such Manly and well reasoned
refutations of him and his system, that both have lost ground amazingly
in the public estimation. His principal Sophism is, that bills of
rights were necessary in the State Constitutions because everything not
reserved was given to the State Legislatures, but in the Federal
government, everything was reserved that was not given to the federal
Legislature. This is clearly a distinction without difference. Because
Independent States are in the same relation to each other as
Individuals are with respect to uncreated government. So that if
reservations were necessary in one case, they are equally necessary in
the other. But the futility of this distinction appears from the
conduct of the Convention itself, for they have made several
reservations – every one of which proves the rule in Conventional ideas,
to be, that what was not reserved was given. For example, they have
reserved from their Legislature a power to prevent the importa[tion] of
Slaves for 20 Years, and also from Creating Titles. But they have no
reservation in favor of the Press, rights of Conscience, Trial by Jury
in Civil Cases, or Common Law securities. As if these were of less
importance to the happiness of Mankind than the making of Lords, or the
importation of Slaves! The essential defects in the construction of the
Legislature, and the dangerous blending of the Legislative and
Executive powers, so as to prevent all responsibility, are such radical
objections, as render this plan inadmissible, in my opinion, without
amendments. The Baron Montesquieu says “that the English is the only
nation in the world, where political or civil liberty is the direct end
of its constitution.” I once thought that our free governments were
intitled to the same praise. But the system under consideration, seems
to have reversed the above idea. The acquisition of power unlimited,
not the security of Civil liberty appears to be the object. Arbitrary
government is indeed so carefully intrenched and barricaded against
democratic influences, that I am very much mistaken if Civil Liberty
does not expire under its operation. The friends of just Liberty here
are astonished at the Occlusion of the Press in Boston at a season so
momentous to Mankind.5 It is thought to
augur ill of the New Government proposed, that on its being first
ushered into the world, it should destroy the great Palladium of human
rights. And at Boston too, where first the Presses pointed America to
resist attempts upon her liberty and rights; there to find the great
Organ of free communication stopped, when that was under consideration,
which of all sublunary things demands the freest and fullest
discussion: government, upon the goodness or badness of which, almost
depends, whether we shall rank among Men or Beasts! When you are
pleased to write to me, your letter, by being enclosed to our friend
Mr. Osgood of the Treasury here, will be forwarded safely to me in
Virginia, for which place I shall set out from hence on the 4th of next
month. My best respects to your Lady, & I pray to be remembered to
Gen. Warren, Mr. Lovell, & Doct. Holten.

I am dear Sir most sincerely and affectionately your friend,

Richard Henry Lee


Receiver’s copy, Samuel Adams Papers, New York Public Library.

1 This letter, which has not been found, was delivered by Winthrop Sargent,
who had recently been appointed secretary of the Northwest Territory.
For Adams’ December 3 response to the present letter and that of
October 5 enclosed with it, see Doc. Hist. of Ratif., 14:333 – 34.

2 See Lee to Edmund Randolph, October 16, note 5.

3 For Lee’s “amendments,” see the enclosure to Lee to Elbridge Gerry,
September 29.

4 James Wilson’s October 6 speech before a public meeting in Philadelphia
appeared in the October 9 edition of the Pennsylvania Herald and was
subsequently printed in newspapers from Maine to Georgia. See Doc.
Hist. of Ratif., 13:337 – 44.

5 For a discussion of “the Occlusion of the Press in Boston,” see ibid., pp.
312 – 14.