George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Henry Lee, 8 March 1794

From Richard Henry Lee

Chantilly [Va.] March the 8th 1794

Dear Sir,

Not having enjoyed one days health since I had the honor of seeing you at Shuters hill, and closely confined at home,1 I knew not until yesterday that Mr H: Muse the Collector of Rappahanock had put his place in jeopardy by a conduct certainly very full of danger to the public affairs.2 A young man of the same name and family has requested me to lay before you the reputation for fitness rightly to discharge the duties of this Office that he has acquired by doing the business of it for a considerable time past. That if you have not one more worthy in view he may have a chance to find favor with you.3 Doctr Brokenbrough who lives in the Town where Mr Laurence Muse has kept the Office and whose judgement and opinion, I think, deserve attention,4 writes thus to me. “If I had not been well satisfied of his merit, I should not have taken this liberty; but I know him to be a young Man of strict integrity, and that his abilities in this Line are at least equal to any persons on Rappahanock”—My brother Frank of Menoken who is not much disposed to give characters5 writes me “This young man is generally very well spoken of, particularly for his diligence and punctuality[.]” It is true that I have not had much business with him: but at such times he has appeared expert and clever. Were I called upon to give my opinion concerning the late malversation in that Office, I think I could venture to say that I judged this person to have had no concern in the affair. I have spoken with him concerning his ability to give adequate security. Upon this point he appears to have no difficulty.6

I am very happy to hear of Genets recall. And hope it may prove a lesson to others, however justified by instructions, or seeming to be so, that they may not with impunity trample upon all the forms of decency and respect, that have hitherto been practised in the World.7

Is it possible that there can be any rational proof of the Court of London intriguing with Algier⟨s⟩ and Portugal to hound out the former against our Trade.8 In any way that I can view the subject I cannot see the great interest that stimulate a conduct so unjustifiable, so contrary to Neutrality, and at a peculial crisis too, when our friendship not our enmity is to be desired. It is chiefly flour and grain that are sent to the South of Europe, in which articles, I believe, we have not the smallest competition with G. Britain. At the same time that the profits of this Trade enable our Merchants to pay for the immensity of British Manufactures that Messrs Jefferson & Madison say we import from thence. I confess that I do not by any means approve the Trade resolves introduced to Congress by the latter.9 They appear to me to be partial, very ill timed, and totally unnecessary. Because, the fact, (admitting it to be one on which this whole Theory, is built, and when by the bye Theories & the practise of Commerce have seldom agreed well) of our Commerce being so very highly beneficial to G. Britain as is stated, this fact, from the nature of things, must be continually increasing; so as to put the Gainers greatly too much in our power to permit them the idea of refusing our reasonable desires.

And this without proceeding, at a time and in a manner, evidently to shew a prejudiced, hostile temper of mind. But what astonishes me is, to see so many of our Virginia representatives voting for this most pernicious policy! For certainly Virginia will feel the ruinous consequences of this Crambo Trade fatally and quickly.10 I hope your goodness will excuse my writing so much on this subject—The plan has often engaged the public attention, and been generally reprobated.

The Newspapers tell us that the present Minister of France condemns in toto the conduct of his predecessor, and in the same unlimited manner approves the proceeding of our government, especially in what relates to our avoiding War.11 That he is right in both these points is incontestable. But attending to all we have seen, what consistent judgement can be formed to reconcile such contrarieties. There lay aside the Crafty, deep and intricate politics that have distinguished the genius of France thro all the Annals of history; by which she has duped so many Nations for her own advantage, and to their great injury. I have never heared it denied or doubted but that the instructions published by Genet were the genuine orders of his Masters, and altho in his conduct you discover the furious Zeal of a mad Precursor, yet it is impossible not to see thro the whole of the instructions the most decided determination to push us into the War by every possible means. The words of the instructions are, “We ought to excite by all possible means the Zeal of the Americans &c. &c.[”]12 Fortunately, very fortunately for these States the Wisdom and Patriotism, firmness & vigilance of our Government hath frustrated the destructive design. But, is it possible that this Minister can speak the sentiments of his Masters when he approves the condemnation of what they so warmly & evidently deserved. It is here again lucky for us that we are fairly put upon our guard against all the Arts and Detours of the subtlest policy. The success & happiness of the United States is our care, and if the nations of Europe approve War, we surely may be permitted to cultive the arts of peace. And it is realy a happiness to reflect that if War should befall us, our Government will not promote it; but give cause to all who venerate humanity to revere the rulers here.

I beg leave to present my best respects, and those of this family to your Lady. I have the honor to be dear Sir with the most respectful sentiments of affection & esteem your friend & servant

Richard Henry Lee.


1In 1792, ill health had forced Lee to retire from the U.S. Senate to his home, Chantilly, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He died later this year on 19 June. The estate at Shuter’s Hill, near Alexandria, Va., was currently the home of Lee’s eldest son, Ludwell.

2For the problems besetting Hudson Muse, the former customs collector for the District of Tappahannock, Va., see his letter to GW of 27 Jan., and n.3 to that document.

3For the application of Laurence Muse, the deputy collector at Tappahannock, and other letters of recommendation for him, see his letter to GW of 1 Feb. and n.2 to that document. See also James Madison to GW, 12 Feb., and n.2 to that document.

4Tappahannock physician John Brockenbrough (d. 1801) served as a justice of the peace in Essex County and as a surgeon in the Virginia navy during the Revolutionary War.

5Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734–1797) represented Loudoun County in the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1758–68. He settled in Richmond County in 1769 on an estate called Menokin, and he represented that county in the House of Burgesses, 1769–76, where he became a leader of the opposition to British rule. He served in the Continental Congress, 1775–79, signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and in the Virginia Senate, 1781–82.

6GW submitted Laurence Muse’s nomination to the U.S. Senate on 5 March.

7For the recall of Edmond Genet as the French minister plenipotentiary to the United States, see Provisional Executive Council of France to GW, 15 Nov. 1793. For the administration’s decision to ask the French government to recall Genet, see the Cabinet Opinion of 23 Aug. 1793.

8On the British role in obtaining a truce between Portugal and Algiers, which left American shipping in the Atlantic Ocean vulnerable to seizure, see n.9 of Tobias Lear to GW, 4 February.

9The seven resolutions introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by James Madison on 3 Jan. 1794 were designed to create a policy of commercial retaliation against the British and were a response, in part, to British interference with American shipping (Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 3d Cong., 1st sess., 155–56, 484–98).

10Crambo is a game in which one player gives a word or line of verse to be matched in rhyme by other players.

11Fauchet publicly disavowed Genet’s encouragement of military expeditions against Spanish territory that were to be organized and led by Americans. For one such expedition, see Edmund Randolph to GW, 27 Feb. (fourth letter), and its enclosed extract of an anonymous letter dated 25 January. In a public declaration of 6 March, Fauchet ordered Frenchmen not “to violate the Neutrality of the United States” and revoked all “commissions or authorizations tending to infringe that neutrality” (General Advertiser [Philadelphia], 7 March 1794).

12Printed translations of “Instructions to Citizen Genet, Minister Plenipotentiary from the French Republic to the United States, from the Executive Council, and Minister of Marine” were included in Genet’s Correspondence between Citizen Genet, Minister of the French Republic, to the United States of North America, and the Officers of the Federal Government; to Which Are Prefixed the Instructions from the Constituted Authorities of France to the Said Minister. All from Authentic Documents (Philadelphia, 1793).

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