From Benjamin Harrison
RC (LC: Madison Papers). Unsigned but in Harrison’s hand. Cover missing. Docketed in an unknown hand, “Harrison Ben.”
Richmond Jany 4th. 1783
I have recd. your several favors and am much oblig’d to you for them, but more particularly for that in Cypher,1 the sentiments are just and perfectly coinside with mine, would to god our countrymen could see things thro’ our medium, or rather would give them selves time to think, for I am really of opinion they do not want judgment but that from an indolence of disposition it is painful to them to judge for themselves, and therefore pin their faith on other mens sle[e]ves,2 many of whom from badness of heart designedly lead them to wrong measures. That we have bad men amongst us is quite clear to me, some late measures added to a chain of foregoing ones prove it beyond a doubt.3 A certain preamble4 will point out the cloven footed monster, his actions and those of his connexions tho’ cover’d with the thickest covering, may be, and are seen thro’ by the discerning eye, and yet being ever on the watch like the great Enemy of mankind, by silken words, or high sounding patriotic speeches he leads to error, even those who think they know and are on their guard against him. There is but one thing now left them that gives the least prospect of obtaining the promis’d honors and riches,5 and that they are pursuing in as many shapes as Proteus ever took,6 you will easily find what I mean by what will be sent you thro’ another channel,7 but here I must stop not having leisure to communicate in a way that can not be understood by others, my full thoughts on this interesting subject.
Mr. Nicolson a mercht. of this town will set out soon for Philada. by him you will receive the balance of the money due you.8 I hear nothing from South Carol[i]na9 nor indeed from any other quarter but thro’ you[.]
I am Dr Sr your most affect. and obedt Servt
1. Except for “a private letter to the Governor,” now missing, which JM enclosed in his letter of 10 December 1782 to Edmund Randolph, no other written communication from JM to Harrison during that month has been identified. JM’s letter of the tenth comprised a “more explicit & pointed” description of the critical financial situation of Congress than that in the dispatch of the same date from the Virginia delegates to Harrison (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 389–90; 394; 395, n. 8). In view of the chief subject of the present reply, JM probably had addressed the governor even more emphatically on the same matter later that month, after receiving Edmund Pendleton’s letter of 9 December mentioning the rescission by the Virginia General Assembly of its ratification of the proposed impost amendment to the Articles of Confederation.
2. That is, “to depend or rely upon” other men (James A. H. Murray et al., The Oxford English Dictionary [12 vols. and a suppl. vol., Oxford, 1919 ptg.], IX, Part I, p. 197).
3. The longstanding feud between the “James River” Harrisons and the “Northern Neck” Lees strongly suggests that the governor meant to include Richard Henry Lee and Arthur Lee among the “bad men” (Casenove Gardner Lee, Jr., Lee Chronicle: Studies of the Early Generations of the Lees of Virginia, ed. by Dorothy Mills Parker [New York, 1957], pp. 177, 184–85, n. 23). Among the “late measures” Harrison assuredly numbered the repeal of the ratification of the impost amendment and the instructions in re confiscated property (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 409–10; 410, n. 3).
Although Arthur Lee informed JM that he alone of all the delegates in the Virginia General Assembly had opposed the “torrent” for repeal of the ratification of the impost amendment, Randolph believed that the Lees, with typical “affectation of candor” in ostensible opposition to each other’s views, probably maneuvered collusively for the purpose of “piquing” Robert Morris, the Confederation superintendent of finance (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 355; JM to Randolph, 4 Feb.; Randolph to JM, 7 Feb. 1783). Arthur Lee perhaps revealed his true sentiments respecting the repeal when he advised a Massachusetts correspondent that the Articles of Confederation were “a stumbling block to those who wish to introduce new, and I think arbitrary systems” (Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VII, 51). See also JM Notes, 28 Jan. 1783.
4. Harrison referred to the preamble of the act of 6–7 December 1782 repealing the statute by which the impost amendment had been ratified. This preamble, drafted by a committee of three delegates of whom Richard Henry Lee was one, declared that “permitting any power, other than the general assembly of this commonwealth, to levy duties or taxes upon the citizens of this state within the same, is injurious to its sovereignty, may prove destructive of the rights and liberty of the people, and so far as congress might exercise the same is contravening the spirit of the confederation in the eighth article thereof” (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 1827 or 1828, and often called the “Thomas W. White reprint.” description ends , Oct. 1782, pp. 49, 52, 55, 58; 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, 171). Such a declaration was, in effect, an instruction to the Virginia delegates in Congress not only to oppose an attempted revival of the amendment but to set themselves against any proposal to grant Congress an independent income—a fact that did not escape JM’s observation (JM to Randolph, 28 Jan. 1783).
5. It was Dr. John Berkenhout, a British secret agent, who allegedly had promised the Lees “honors and riches” (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 427, n. 7). Both of the Lees were legitimately ambitious for high public office. Arthur Lee hoped to become secretary for foreign affairs in both 1781 and 1783, and he and Richard Henry Lee would have welcomed being appointed as minister to Great Britain or France in 1784. By then, Richard Henry Lee was president of Congress. In the following year Congress elected Arthur Lee to the Treasury Board (William Emmett O’Donnell, The Chevalier de La Luzerne, French Minister to the United States, 1779–1784 [Bruges, 1938], p. 169; Burnett, Letters description begins Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols.; Washington, 1921–36). description ends , VI, 176 n.; VII, 190, 618, 623, second n. 2, 632–33; VIII, 158, 178; also see JM to Jefferson, 10 June 1783).
6. Proteus, “the old man of the sea” in Greek and Roman mythology, was an unwilling seer, who assumed “every possible shape” to avoid having to prophesy. Harrison suggested that the Lees’ principles and policies were as flexible as their drive for wealth and position was constant.
7. Harrison probably meant the several instructions of the Virginia General Assembly to its delegates in Congress, enclosed with his dispatch of 4 January to them (q.v., and n. 5). It is possible, of course, that “another channel” referred to “Mr. Nicolson,” mentioned in the next paragraph, or to Edmund Randolph, who reported Richmond news almost weekly in his letters to JM.
8. For George Nicolson and Harrison’s debt to JM for books purchased in Philadelphia, see Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (6 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , V, 340; 341, n. 2. When, if ever, Nicolson reached that city has not been determined.