George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Richard Henry Lee, 23–31 July 1785

From Richard Henry Lee

New York July the 23d–31] 1785

Dear Sir,

I lately had the honor of forwarding a packet for you by Post that came enclosed to me from France, by the author of a Dramatic piece on the former situation of Capt. Asgil. The subject is not a bad one, but the Author of this work seems not to have made the most of it.1

On the 1st of May Mr Du Mas writes us, that the parties still continue to negotiate the peace in a very threatening manner—In truth, this whole affair is involved in much mystery, and perhaps the truth is only known in the interior cabinets of the greatest powers.2 The Marquiss de la Fayette, in a late letter seems to think that the collected combustibles may be put in flame by various accidents. The Emperor he says is restless, the Empress of Russia ambitious, the King of Prussia old, with other combining causes renders the peace of Europe precarious—The Marquiss proposes to visit this summer the Manœuvering Troops of Austria & Prussia in the North of Europe.3 We have lately receivd a letter from his most Ch[ristia]n Majesty, in answer to one from Congress to him recommending the Marquiss, in which his Majesty is pleased to express himself in such a manner of the Marquis as promises well for the future promotion of that Nobleman4—Mr Adams writes that he has been received in due form at the Court of London, has had his audience, and deliverd his Credentials to that Sovereign—No treaty when he wrote had been commenced, but we expect soon to hear of the commencement & progress of that business.5 Mr Jay is commissioned by Congress to open negotiations with Mr Gardoque the Spanish Plenepo[tentiary] here, concerning the navigation of Mississippi, Boundary, Commerce &c. The Spanish Minister appears to be well disposed towards us. It gives me singular pleasure to hear that the plan for opening the navigation of Potomac goes on successfully, as it promises such capital benefits to our country. It is sometime since I wrote to Colo. Fitgereland desiring that he would put me down for a share.6

Is it possible that a plan can be formed for issuing a large sum of paper money by the next Assembly? I do verily believe that the greatest foes we have in the world could not devise a more effectual plan for ruining Virginia. I should suppose that every friend to his country, every honest and sober Man would join heartily to reprobate so nefarious a plan of speculation.7 Be pleased Sir to present my best respects to your Lady and be assured that I am, with sentiments of the greatest respect, esteem, & regard, dear Sir Your most affectionate and obedient servant

Richard Henry Lee.

P.S. Altho I began this letter on the 23d my ill state of health and much business have prevented me from finishing it until this day the 31st of July8—I thank God that my health is now much better than it has been. R.H.L.


1For the “Dramatic piece” based on the Asgill affair, see Le Barbier to GW, 4 Mar. 1785, and the source note of that document. See also GW to Lee, 22 August. Lee’s most recent letter to GW, dated 18 April 1785 from New York, was by mistake not printed in volume 2 of Papers, Confederation Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1992–97. description ends ; it appears in Memoir of Richard Henry Lee, description begins Richard H. Lee. Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee, and His Correspondence with the Most Distinguished Men in America and Europe, Illustrative of their Characters, and of the Events of the American Revolution. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1825. description ends 2:63–64.

2The letter from Dumas has not been found in DNA:PCC. Dumas wrote to GW on 28 May 1785.

3After his return to Paris in late January, Lafayette wrote to a number of Americans in the spring about the political situation in Europe, but none of those printed or listed in Idzerda, Lafayette Papers, description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends volume 5, fit the description that Lee gives here. On 16 Mar. Lafayette wrote Lee: “matters are now taking a pacific turn”; and as early as 8 Feb. he wrote to John Jay from Versailles: “Upon the whole, I strongly am of opinion No War will take place, at least for this Year” (ibid., 306–7, 293–95).

4The letter from Congress to Louis XVI is dated 11 Dec. 1784 (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 27:682–83); the king’s response is dated 10 May 1785 (DNA:PCC, item 120).

5A packet from England arrived in New York on 24 July bringing John Adams’s letter of 1 June to Secretary John Jay reporting that he had presented his credentials and had been received by the king on that day. Not until 26 Aug. did Lee and the Continental Congress receive a decoded copy of Adams’s famous letter to Jay of 2 June in which Adams gives a full account of his conversation with George III at their meeting on 1 June (Jay to the president of Congress, 22 July, 26 Aug., DNA:PCC, item 80; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 29:662–63).

6This is John Fitzgerald of Alexandria, one of the directors of the Potowmack Company.

7Reporting on the recently completed session of the Virginia legislature, James Madison wrote Thomas Jefferson on 22 Jan. 1786: “A considerable itch for paper money discovered itself, though no overt attempt was made” (Rutland and Rachal, Madison Papers, description begins William T. Hutchinson et al., eds. The Papers of James Madison, Congressional Series. 17 vols. Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., 1962–91. description ends 8:472–82).

8Lee was absent from Congress from the middle of August until the end of September when he went to visit springs near Philadelphia for his health. See Lee to GW, 11 Oct. 1785.

Index Entries