Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: The Editor of the Virginia Gazette
Westmoreland July the 25.1766Sir,
To remove the painful consideration, that one worthy person should be induced by misrepresentation to think ill of me, is the reason that prevails with me to desire you will be pleased to insert what follows in your next Gazette.
I am your most humble Servant.
R. H. Lee
Early in November 1764, I was for the first time informed by a Gentleman, of the intention of Parliament to lay a Stamp duty in America, with a friendly proposition on his part, to use his interest for procuring me the office of Collector,1 I call it friendly, because I believe the Gentleman, no more than myself, nor perhaps a single person in this Country, had at that time reflected in the least on the nature and tendency of such an Act. Considering this only in the light of a beneficial employment, I agreed the Gentleman should write, and did also write myself, inclosing my letter to a Gentleman now in the Country. It was but a few days after my letters were sent away, that reflecting seriously on the nature of the application I had made; the impropriety of an American being concerned in such an affair struck me in the strongest manner,2 and produced a fixt determination to exert every faculty I possessed both in public and private life, to prevent the success of a measure I now discovered to be in the highest degree pernicious to my Country. I considered, that to err is certainly the portion of humanity, but that it was the business of an honest Man to recede from error as soon as he discovered it, and that the strongest principle of duty called upon every Citizen to prevent the ruin of his Country, without being restrained by any consideration that should interrupt this primary obligation. But it did not appear to me, that a promulgation of my application was necessary, as I conceived that my actions would be the clearest proof of the rectitude of my intentions. That such was the conduct held by me in public, I desire not to be credited on my bare assertion, but with confidence appeal to the many worthy Gentlemen with whom I had the honor to serve in General Assembly. They know who first moved in the House of Burgesses for the address to his Majesty, for the memorial to the Lords, and the remonstrance to the house of Commons. They also know, what part I took in preparing these. For my uniform opinion and conduct in private life, I safely refer to all those with whom I have the pleasure of an acquaintance. Such being my principles, and such my actions, long, very long before my application could possibly reach Great Britain, before the Act passed, and therefore the appointment of any Distributor;3 leave the impartial Reader to determine, with what truth and propriety it has been asserted, that my sentiments of the Act were not discovered, until I was certain of having been disappointed. But as a further confirmation, if a further is necessary, of my early formed determination to depart from the application I had made; no duplicates of my letters were ever sent, and by their not arriving until many months after the appointment of a Distributor4 was made, and the execution of the Stamp Act prevented in America: no measures were taken by my friends in consequence of anything I had written. From this state of the case, as exactly related as my memory can serve to recollect the circumstances of a transaction, now above twenty months standing; it will appear to every considerate and candid person, that my proceeding amounts to nothing more, than the making a hasty application, the impropriety of which was presently discovered, and a constant tenor of conduct pursued, that operated (as far as my powers could make it) to prevent my success, in a point I am very untruly supposed to have wished for, until I found myself disappointed. Thus much I have judged it necessary to say in justice to my character and to say more would be trifling with the Public.
Lee PapersAmerican Philosophical Society
Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 - 1778, pp. 16 - 18. Also printed in R. H. Lee, Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee and his Correspondence, 1:40. The manuscript contains two endorsements. The first reads: "R. H. Lees Ansr. to Mercer’s Charge about Stamp Act application." The second endorsement reads: "Richard Henry Lee letter 25th. July 1766 Very int. papers R.H.L’s vind. agt. being friendly to the Stamp Act - his - vs Ritchie - Letter to Mr. Wythe resg charges vs him - Letter from McDougal and reply - respg non importation - &c 1775 - 6 - &c."
Lee wrote this letter in response to James Mercer's accusation against Lee's application for service under the Stamp Act. Mercer wrote a reply to this document, quoting from it, on 14 September 1766, published in the 3 October issue of the Virginia Gazette of October 3.
1 Lee wrote and struck out the word "Distributor" before inserting the word "Collector."
2 Lee wrote and struck out the word "business" before inserting the words "an affair."
3 Lee wrote and struck out the word "Collector" before inserting the word "Distributor."
4 Lee wrote and struck out the word "Collector" before inserting the word "Distributor."