Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: Patrick Henry

My dear Sir,

If I have contributed in any degree to your satisfaction or enabled you to combat false news intended to injure the cause of America, I am happy. I love the cause, and I have faithfully exerted myself to serve it well. Provided America be free and happy, I am not solicitous about the Agents that accomplish it. For this reason Sir, I look with indifference on the malice of my enemies, trusting that the wisdom of my Country will employ in its great concerns, such men only, as are of known uniform attachment to the cause of America, and who possess wisdom, integrity, and industry. But it has ever been my wish to deserve the esteem of virtuous men, and to stand well in their opinion. Upon this principle I hope for your pardon when I trouble you with a detail of the lease business.1 From motives of private ease and as I thought of public good, if the same plan were generally adopted in Virginia, I determined some years ago to break up my quarters, and rent out all my lands to a number of industrious men, who might benefit themselves, and ease me of trouble at the same time. As the support of a numerous family depended entirely upon those rents, I was brought to the alarming situation of seeing that family infinitely distressed when the Association took place, by the Tenants not paying me, assigning for reason that they could not sell their produce. The present evil was then great and pressing, and well knowing the determination of Great Britain to push her ruinous system, which wd of course drive America into a long and expensive war, that could only be supported by immense emissions of paper money, which falling in value with its excessive quantity would render my small income (but barely sufficient with the greatest economy to maintain my family in the best times) totally insufficient, I did propose to Colo Marshal (who was one of my Tenants & a Collector for me in Fauquier) so early as August 1775 to offer, by himself and Mr. Blackwell, to my Tenants, such a change of rent as might enable them to pay, prevent my total ruin, and at the same time be not injurious to them; since the plenty of money here after which might lessen its value, would certainly raise the price of all their produce. This proposition you will observe Sir, was made in August 1775, at a time when emissions of money for this war were scarcely begun, and when of course, the malignant insinuation of my enemies could not have existed with me, that of depreciating a currency not yet in being. And it is worthy of remark, that in Augt. 1776, the Tenants of Loudon County did themselves petition the Convention (if I forget not) to have their money rents changed to produce. Colo. Marshall very much approved the reasonableness of my proposal, and promised to offer the matter to the consideration of the Tenants. I returned here to Congress, and Colo. Marshall soon after went into the military line, so that nothing, that I know of, was done in this business until March 1776 when yet very little money had been issued, and when of course this alteration could not possibly have had the least effect upon the credit of the paper money. At that time, for reasons already mentioned, I had for more than a year received little or no support from my estate to the great injury of my family; and being obliged to return here, I engaged Mr Parker of Westmoreland to go up to Fauquier and propose to the Tenants to alter the rents to Tobacco at a price mutually to be agreed on. This he did, and returned to me the alterations agreed on by all the Tenants near Fauquier Court House, except two or three.2 It was then upon two principles that this change took place, first to put it in the power of the Tenant to pay me what was then and might become due, and secondly to prevent thereafter the excessive and partial injury that might be derived to me from emissions of paper money not then in existence. Would any but bad Men, hardly pressed for argument against an innocent Character, have misrepresented, and miscalled this absolutely faultless and justifiable conduct, a design to injure the public by depreciating the currency? But the truth is Sir, that certain evil disposed Men hate me partly for the same reason that I am devoted to destruction in the Enemies Camp, because I have served my Country with unremitting zeal and industry, and in concert with other generous friends to human liberty and the rights of America, have gone far towards defeating our enemies, and raising America triumphant over its cruel, vindictive, and determined foes. But it seems there are two other charges equally futile and false; the one, that I have favored New England to the injury of Virginia. The other, that as a Member of the Secret Committee I objected to their proceedings being laid before Congress, meaning to insinuate that I wished to conceal embezlement of the public money! The Wretch who carried, or sent this last account to Virginia, knows perfectly well that my total abstraction from every Commercial concern renders it impossible that I can propose any kind of good to myself from trading business of any sort. But I have a strong belief that a change is wished in order to remove obstruction feared from me, and to prepare the way for the execution of private plans in which the public will not be gainers. The affair alluded to is, I suppose, a very inconsiderate motion made at Baltimore for the Secret Committee to lay all its proceedings before Congress. I observed that so extensive a motion defeated the very end for which such a Committee was appointed, and might expose to danger valuable Cargoes that should be coming in, or that might be going out, particularly the former. The motion was narrowed, and even so it was agreed to. Mr. Morris the Chairman of the Committee who was here at the time, did by Letter so convince the Congress of the impropriety of the order even as it passed, that nothing more was said about it.3 We did indeed expect at that very time the arrival of the valuable Stores that have since come in. The charge of favoring New England is so contemptibly wicked that I can scarcely bring myself to the trouble of refuting it, or to trespass on your time to read my observations on it. Our enemies and our friends too, know that America can only be conquered by disunion. The former, by unremitting art had endeavored to incite jealousy and discord between the Southern and Eastern Colonies, and in truth Sir they had so far prevailed that it required constant attention, and a firmness not to be shaken, to prevent the malicous art of our enemies from succeeding. I am persuaded as I am of my existence, that had it not been for Virginia and Jersey, with Georgia sometimes, that our Union would eer now have been by this means broken like a Potters vessel dashed against a rock and I heartily wish that this greatest of all political evils may not yet take place before a safe and honorable peace is established. I am sure it will not be the fault of many men that I know if this worst does not happen. I defy the poisonous tongue of slander to produce a single instance in which I have preferred the interest of New England to that of Virginia. Indeed I am at a Loss to know wherein their interests clash. The guilt of New England is that of a fixed determination against British Tyranny, & such I believe is the crime of Virginia in the eye of their common enemies. Most of the rest have entitled themselves to some hopes of pardon from the Tyrant, by weak, dividing, irresolute and pernicious conduct. One thing is certain, that among the Middle and Southern states Virginia had many enemies, arising from jealousy and envy of her wisdom, vigor, and extent of Territory. But I have ever discovered, upon every question, respect and love for Virginia among the Eastern Delegates. Folly and ingratitude would have marked the Representatives of Virginia had they shown disesteem for the latter, and attachment to the former. I have served my Country, Sir, to the best of my knowledge, and with fidelity and industry, to the injury of my health, fortune, and a sequestration from domestic happiness. I shall rejoice to find that others are employed, who will do the business better than I have done. It will always make me happy to reflect, that those Malignants who would represent me as an enemy to my Country, cannot make me so.

I am ready to give my enemies credit for more address than I thought they possessed - I mean the use they make of a good principle under cover of which to wound me. For this purpose the Delegates time of service is to be so limited as to reward a three years painful employ by dismission. The plan is precisely fitted for my ease, and thus the most malicious, groundless, and infamous slander is likely to succeed against an absent Man, who has labored to deserve a better fate. You will make what use you please of this letter. The business of war remains as when I wrote you last, except that the American Army is daily increasing, whilst that of the enemy is only added to by a few Tories as yet, tho they will I expect in a month or so be reinforced with 8 or 10,000 men from Europe, which will not make them so strong as when they began the Campaign last year, whilst our Army will be far more formidable. Gen. Washington has now about 10,000 regular Troops with him, and his numbers daily increasing. As far as we are able to learn the enemy have not now in Jersey so many as 5000. By accounts just from New York we hear of the death of Governor Tryon of the wounds he received in the expedition to Danbury, and also of the death of Colo. Woolcot from the same cause.4 This was the Colonel that made such indecent observations of Gen. Washington’s proposal in exchange of prisoners. Tis said that the Officers in N. York look very grave and say all hope of conquest over America is now gone, unless they can succeed in dividing us. The inclosed resolve of Congress is intended to prevent injury to the recruiting business and other public service in the absence of a General Officer from Virginia.5

I beg your pardon Sir for the trouble I have given you, and wish to be considered affectionately yours,
Richard Henry Lee

Notes:

Lee PapersAmerican Philosophical Society

Another copy is in the Lee Papers, Virginia Historical Society. Printed in James Curtis Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, Volume 1, 1762 - 1778, pp. 297 - 302. Printed also in William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry, 3:73.

1 Lee had been left out of the delegation appointed by the Virginia Assembly on 22 May, allegedly because of accusations that he was contributing to the depreciation of paper currency by requiring his tenants to pay their rents in produce or specie. When he took his seat in the Virginia house on 20 June, Lee demanded an investigation of these charges and subsequently received the thanks of both houses for his services as a delegate and on 24 June was appointed to replace George Mason, who had declined to serve as a delegate. Lee reported the outcome in his 25 June letter to Landon Carter. "It was impossible for me to avoid feeling the unmerited illtreatment that I had received, but I have now the pleasure to inform you that the two houses have removed all bad impressions by their favorable approbation of my conduct; and they have directed me to return to Congress as one of their Delegates. This latter is a most oppressive business, and therefore unsought by me, but having put my hand to the plough I am bound to go through." Lee-Ludwell Papers, ViHi; and Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, 1:303 - 4. For further discussion of this episode in relation to the passage of a Virginia act for regulating the appointment of delegates, see Oliver Perry Chitwood, Richard Henry Lee, Statesman of the Revolution (Morgantown: West Virginia University Library, 1967), pp. 136 - 42; and Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 2:15 - 18.

2 At this point Lee’s draft varies considerably from the receiver's copy. Cf. Ballagh, The Letters of Richard Henry Lee, 1:299 - 300.

3 Although Robert Morris’ letter on this subject has not been found it probably had been written in reaction to the Secret Committee’s 18 January letter requesting his assistance in complying with the congressional order to the Secret Commitee to supply "a list of the articles which they have ordered in consequence of the directions of Congress, distinguishing how much is arrived and what is expected." See JCC, 7:45, and Secret Committee to Robert Morris, 18 January 1777.

4 Reports that William Tryon, royal governor of New York and commander of the British expeditionary force, and Lt. Col. William Walcott had been killed at Danbury were unfounded.

5 For this resolve of 22 May, see JCC, 8:377.