Opinion in Controversy between
Joseph Jones and William Lee
Richmond June 26, 1784
A dispute between Mr. Joseph Jones of King George and Mr. William Lee1 being mutually referred to us: We are of opinion that Mr. Jones never was an enemy to the payment of British or other debts: We are also of opinion that Mr. Lee’s inference respecting the opposition of Mr. Jones to the payment of debts, was founded on Mr. Jones’ support to the prohibitory laws2 revived last session of Assembly against the recovery of British debts and admitting commutables into the payment of [do]mestic debts,3 which inference altho’ erronious appears not to have been confined to Mr. Lee alone. We therefore decide that Mr. Lee misconceived Mr. Jones’ principles with respect to the payment of debts, and that he was led by this misconception, into a statement of them injurious to Mr. Jones, to remove which impressions, propriety requires that Mr. Lee should take the first opportunity of communicating to Mr. Fitzhugh of Marmion,4 the misconception into which he was led relative to Mr. Jones’ principle.
J. Madison Jr.
Henry Lee Jun.5
Ms (Vi). In an unidentified hand, endorsed: “June 26. 1784 Jones & Lee.”
1. After fifteen years abroad, William Lee had returned to America on 25 Sept. 1783 and soon established himself at his plantation, Green Spring, in James City County. In the present session of Assembly he was serving in the Senate (Lee, Lee Chronicle, pp. 234–35; Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , p. 21).
2. The practice of submitting a dispute to an agreeable third party seems to have been fairly common in JM’s day (see Mays, Papers of Edmund Pendleton, II, 701). Acrimony over the British debt repayment had strained the bonds of friendship and even brought hapless John Warden before the House on 14 June, accused of saying the delegates who wished to ignore the British debts “had voted against paying for the coats on their backs” (JHDV description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg. Beginning in 1780, the portion after the semicolon reads, Begun and Held in the Town of Richmond. In the County of Henrico. The journal for each session has its own title page and is individually paginated. The edition used is the one in which the journals for 1777–1786 are brought together in two volumes, with each journal published in Richmond in either 1827 or 1828 and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , May 1784, p. 57). Jones had supported “the prohibitory laws” or the “lien law” at the October session of the General Assembly, but it was of limited duration (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 349). Jones told Jefferson he had a plan for installment repayment of the debts but refrained from introducing it because some key members left the session early so that “the thinness of the House” made it inexpedient to offer “a proposition of such importance” (Boyd, Papers of Jefferson description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (18 vols. to date; Princeton, N. J., 1950——). description ends , VI, 566).
3. Tobacco, hemp, flour, and deerskins had been declared “commutables” in lieu of cash payments on taxes at the Oct. 1782 session of the General Assembly (Hening, Statutes description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619 (13 vols.; Richmond and Philadelphia, 1819–23). description ends , XI, 118, 128). The controversial measure was repealed at the following session of the legislature (May 1783), but revived by the next (Oct. 1783).
4. William Fitzhugh (1725–1791), of Marmion, King George County, was a fellow senator with William Lee (VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. description ends , VIII [1900–1901], 92–93; Swem and Williams, Register description begins Earl G. Swem and John W. Williams, eds., A Register of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1776–1918, and of the Constitutional Conventions (Richmond, 1918). description ends , p. 21).
5. Henry (“Light Horse Harry”) Lee, Jr., a first cousin once removed of William Lee.