George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Henry Lee, 3 May 1785

From Richard Henry Lee

New York May 3d 1785

Dear Sir,

I have long had a letter prepared for you in answer to your last favor which I have kept for the honorable Mr Sitgreaves to be the bearer of, as he proposed to visit you on his return to North Carolina;1 and the more especially as his stay has been occasioned by the necessity of seeing the very important ordinance passed for selling the western lands, which I wished you to have in its perfected state 2—The principal design of this letter is, to introduce to you Mr Graham, and his Lady the justly celebrated Mrs Macauley Graham, whose reputation in the learned world and among the friends to the rights of human nature is very high indeed. Her merit as an Historian is very great, and places her as an Author in the foremost rank of writers. I am well pleased to find that she, as well as all other judicious foreigners, think themselves when in America, however distant from Mount Vernon, obliged to pay their respects to you. I believe that this has been her only motive for going so far South as Virginia.3 We are amused here with an account that does not indeed come officially to us, but however, in such a way as to merit attention—It is, a plan of the Emperor of Germany, which seems calculated to quiet his quarrel with Holland, altho perhaps it may not prevent a war in Europe—He is said to have made a treaty with the Elector of Bavaria, by which he exchanges his Netherland dominions for those of Bavaria, and transfers with the exchange, all his rights and claims upon Holland: reserving Namure and Luxembourg with a district of country around, as a doucœur to France for obtaining the consent of that Court to the exchange. The Bavarian dominions being much more contiguous to the Austrian than those of the Netherlands, must greatly increase the Emperors power by a concentration of his force, heretofore so much divided, as to render the Netherlands of no great aid in case of war. This however, by increasing the Austrian power, must of course excite greatly the jealousy of Prussia in particular, whose King will probably risk a war rather than see his rival thus strengthened. Holland in the mean time will be relieved, by injurious claims being transferd from a strong to a weak hand, and the Emperor may find himself brought to a more equal contest by combating one, instead of three powers lately combined against him. What may be the issue of this new System, time must develope. I wish that I may be enabled by Mr Sitgreaves to furnish you with the final sense of Congress upon the momentous business of selling the western lands, in doing which, the first and greatest object seems to be, the discharging effectually the great weight of debt that the war has created, and which obstructs so effectually every arrangement for future security. I have the honor to be, with sentiments of the sincerest respect and esteem dear Sir Your most obedient and very humble servant

Richard Henry Lee


1GW wrote to Lee on 15 March. Lee apparently finally sent this letter, with another letter to GW of 7 May, by John Sitgreaves (1757–1802), who did not arrive at Mount Vernon until 29 May. Sitgreaves was a member of Congress for North Carolina in 1784 and 1785. Robert Howe also wrote a letter introducing Sitgreaves, dated 4 May.

2William Grayson sent GW a copy of the Land Ordinance of 1785 on 27 May, one week after its passage. For an earlier exchange between Grayson and GW about the terms of the ordinance, see Grayson to GW, 15 April, and GW to Grayson, 25 April. See also Grayson to GW, 4–8 May, 27 May, and GW to Grayson, 22 June.

3The historian Catharine Macaulay Graham (1731–1791) and her young husband, William Graham, arrived at Mount Vernon on 4 June for a ten-day visit. Among the letters of introduction that they brought with them were letters from generals Benjamin Lincoln and Henry Knox, from the old radical Samuel Adams, from the lawyer and reformer John Gardiner (1737–1793), and from James Duane, mayor of New York. Lincoln wrote from Hingham, Mass., on 28 Mar. (a second copy is dated 30 Mar.): “This will be delivered to your Excellency by Mr Grayham whom with Mrs Maccaulay Grayham I do my self the honor of introducing to your acquaintance. The merit of this Gentleman is great and claims the attention of all—The reputation of the Lady extending through the literary world, I need but mention her name—The dignity of her character is already intimately known to your Excellency. . . . The sentiments of genuine republicanism, which this Lady has exhibited in her celebrated history of the Steuarts must render her an object of veneration and esteem to all such as have expoused the cause of America: with your Excellency she ardently wishes an acquaintance. . . .” Writing from Boston on 29 Mar., Henry Knox expressed his pleasure in introducing “the celebrated Mrs Macauley Graham and Mr Graham” and affirmed that “A glorious enthusiasm for the cause of general liberty and human happiness has impelled this Lady and her husband to visit the Country whose inhabitants have had the hardihood to encounter fordimable dangers, rather than submit to a principle of taxation, which though not grevious in the first instance, would probably have terminated in a flagitious abuse of power.” Adams, less fulsome than Knox, wrote on 14 April from Boston: “The Gentlemen who will honour me by delivering this Letter to your Excellency is Mr Graham, who with his Lady the celebrated Mrs M’Cauly Graham has favor’d this Town with their Residence for some Months past.” In his letter of the same date and from the same place, John Gardiner showed himself more interested in reintroducing himself to “the Saviour of your Country” than in introducing the Grahams: “I must flatter myself, from the distinguished attention with which you were so condescending as to honor me, in June 1783 at Camp, when I came introduced to you from the Chevalier de la Luzerne, the minister of France, that I shall not be deemed too presumptous in attempting to introduce your Acquaintance that distinguished female Friend to the Liberties of mankind and our own Country Mrs Catharine MacCaulay Graham and her Consort Mr Graham—No part of my Life afforded me more Consolation or more real Satisfaction than that in which I was honored with the temporary Countenance and Protection of that fine Character of this or of any other Time, General Washington.” James Duane, writing from New York on 5 May, began by thanking GW for his communications of 10 April: “I received with very great pleasure your Excellency’s dispatches which have made a deep Impression on our Corporation. They beg leave to express, thro’ me, the high sense they entertain of your goodness, in so kindly accepting their Testimonial of Affection Gratitude and Esteem for him whom they justly consider as the best Friend and the greatest benefactor of their Country!” Duane then introduced the Grahams in these terms: “This will be presented to you by Mrs Macaulay Graham and Mr Graham who come expresly to pay you a Visit. The high rank which this Lady sustained in the literary world, and the regard she has manifested for the Rights of human nature throughout her works, will secure her a welcome at Mount Vernon, and any other Recommendation must be superfluous.” All of the letters are in DLC:GW.

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