James Madison Papers
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To James Madison from Henry Lee, 5 March 1809

From Henry Lee

5th. March [1809] Baltimore

Dear Sir

Yr. speech which reached here last night is so far as my information reaches much approved, for its modesty & generality & reserve of promises.

A few think you might have well avoided that positive decleration about impartiality of the late admn. to foreign nations, as the public mind is divided on that question & the published state documents authorize a great deal to be said in contradiction to the government assertion.

I confess I am persuaded the less you connect yr. administration with the last, the better yr. chance to do good to yr. country which I am sure is yr. sole wish & will be both yr. best reward & highest glory. I think you must be in difficulty for a Secretary of State.

Therefore I take the liberty to mention the man of all others most ⟨fit?⟩ I think in present circumstances—Judge Washington.1

His talents, his range of acquirements, his temper, his moderation, his indefatigability & last tho not least his consagunity to President W point him out in my judgement as the proper person. Whether he would give up his seat on the bench I cant say. If you take no Virginian for that office, you have in Carrington the best secretary of war in the nation.

May heaven prosper you in the arduous task just assumed, is the sincere prayer pd of yr Ob: St.

H: Lee2

RC (DLC). Docketed and marked “private” by JM.

1Lee’s opinion of Justice Bushrod Washington conflicted with that of Senator William Branch Giles, who wrote JM on 27 Feb. 1809 that Jefferson’s recess appointment of William Short as minister to St. Petersburg, added to the presence of Marshall and Washington on the Supreme Court, was most unfortunate. “This is the accommodation for the people of Virginia. There are not left behind three persons, equally obnoxious to these same people and particularly to the friends of the administration” (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers).

2Henry Lee (1756–1818) served with JM in the Continental Congress, 1786–88, and the Virginia ratifying convention. While governor of Virginia, 1791–94, he corresponded frequently with JM. Though a Federalist, he joined Republicans in opposing some administration policies until circa 1793. His political philosophy and ambitions were frustrated by Jefferson’s election to the presidency, which Lee as a congressman, 1799–1801, tried to prevent by extreme measures. His personal finances thereafter collapsed, and he was jailed for debt in April 1809 (Charles Royster, Light-Horse Harry Lee and the Legacy of the American Revolution [New York, 1981], pp. 106–9, 204–11, 183).

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