James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Henry Lee, 23 November 1786

To Henry Lee

Richmond Novr. 23. 1786

Dear Sir

I have received your favor of the 11th inst. Having never felt an intermission of my regard for you, I cannot be insensible either to the friendship which it speaks on your part, or the failure of it which it supposes on mine.1 That the latter sentiment should have resulted from a communication which could have no motive but one that ought to have prevented such a consequence, may well fill me with surprise. To the former as well as to my own feelings I owe an explanation which might perhaps be put into a more striking dress if I were less unused to that mode of justifying my friendships. I observe in the first place that I was not fully aware of the extent to which the event shewed that prejudices had been diffused against you, and that my intimations on that head were meant only to break the force of a disappointment which might fall on you. This miscalculation of danger was also the more natural as I had taken it for granted that one of the gentlemen elected would have been withheld or would be withdrawn from the nomination. 2. that my own nomination was not suffered to be a bar to any steps in your behalf which the occasion se[e]med to call for, and which propriety seemed to admit. That it was properly a bar to some steps which in other circumstances might have been taken will be felt by every man, who shuns the imputation of arrogantly presuming on his own appointment, and still more arrogantly seeking to annex to it that of others with whom he chuses to be associated. Whenever indeed an assent to my own nomination to office shall proceed from no other motive than that of “supporting the temporary wishes of myself,” a possibility only if its interference with the consideration of private friendship, shall not fail to recall it. As long as I continue to be carried into public service by motives more consonant to my professions, a presumption at least of such an interference will be held a necessary apology to myself for yielding to that consideration. 3. What share the affair of the Mississippi had in the prejudices raised against you I am not able exactly to say.2 As far as I could learn the subject was little talked of previous to the election, and I have reason to believe, your3 opinions known to but few. As I perceive your suspicions strongly connect this cause with the injury you have sustained, I feel a satisfaction in declaring that in the instance which came within my knowledge I made it a point to urge the fact that you had invariably obeyed your instructions, that any further instructions therefore might be safely confided to you, and that it would be cruel to sacrifice to possible dangers the feelings of a public servant who was charged with no breach of duty whatever, and who in other respects had gained distinguished honor to himself and to his Country.

In stating these facts I discharge a debt to truth, to candour and to the friendship which has subsisted between us. The full approbation which my own mind gives to the part taken by me leaves nothing to be added but a return of my sincere wishes for your health & happiness. Adieu Sincerely

J M Jr

FC (DLC: Rives Collection, Madison Papers); Tr (DLC); Tr (ViU). The FC in JM’s hand is docketed, “Copy. Lettr. to H. Lee Jr.” Probably at some later time JM wrote on the outer cover: “for consideration—rather as shewing traits of character fitted for biographical use. Lee H.”

1Apparently Lee wrote JM as soon as he heard of his replacement on the Virginia congressional delegation. The tone of Lee’s missing letter of 11 Nov. 1786 must have been similar to that in his 20 Dec. message to JM. Had Lee been more patient he would have learned that Joseph Jones declined his appointment, whereupon the General Assembly voted on 1 Dec. to keep Lee in his seat (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 , Oct. 1786, p. 70).

2For Lee’s family identification with the northern forces favoring a surrender of the Mississippi navigation rights see Monroe to JM, 29 Sept. 1786, n. 3, and JM to Lee, 9 Nov. 1786, n. 1.

3JM wrote “particular” here, but apparently crossed it out.

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