[UNITED STATES, CONSTITUTION]. LEE, Arthur (1740-1792). Ten autograph letters signed ("Arthur Lee"), nine to SIR WILLIAM PETTY, FIRST MARQUIS OF LANSDOWNE, AND SECOND EARL OF SHELBURNE, (1737-1805), one to Sir William Jones, New York, Alexandria ("Potomack River, Virginia"), "Lansdown Plantation, on Rappahanoc," 3 July 1769, 22 July 1786-10 May 1792, and n.d.. Together 50 pages, 4to (size varies slightly), with one original envelope, a few minor defects, but generally in excellent condition.
A VIRGINIA GENTLEMAN'S 25-YEAR CORRESPONDENCE WITH ONE OF ENGLAND'S MOST INFLUENTIAL POLITICAL FIGURES, WITH DETAILED COMMENTARY ON THE NEW CONSTITUTION AND SENDING A PORTRAIT OF WASHINGTON
An exceptionally rich, entirely unpublished series of letters, ranging in date from the early agitations against the Stamp Act, through the troubled period following the peace treaty of 1783, the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention, the debates over ratification and the implications of the French Revolution. Arthur Lee of Virginia, the younger brother of Richard Henry Lee and Henry Lee, had been educated in Britain, attending Eton College and later Edinburgh University, where he studied medicine. An early supporter of American independence, he was sent with Benjamin Franklin to France as U.S. representative in 1776-1779 and carried out several secret missions on behalf of his country. Shelburne had long moved in the highest circles of the British ministry since the 1760s; a friend of Pitt, he had attacked the Stamp Act and as Secretary of State for the southern department from 1766, urged conciliatory policies toward America. Forced to resign in 1768 he spend the next 14 years in opposition to the nation's policy on America. Brought back into the government in 1782, he backed the Treaty of Paris which acknowledged American Independence but was driven from office the same year. 3 July 1769: on Lansdowne's offer to fund scholarships in the colonies: "Before I left London, I consulted with Dr. Franklin, concerning your benevolent & generous intentions towards the Colonies...eight or ten Scholarships were what your Lordship fixed upon; & as it happens, there are just eight Colleges on the Continent. We therefore thought that a Scholarship for each College, would bid fairest for answering the purpose of the foundation...The Colleges are Harvard...Rhode Island College, Yale College...New-York College [Kings, College], New Jersey College,...Philadelphia Col., William & Mary College...Bethesday Col. Georgia." Lee makes suggestions for the awarding of Lansdowne's scholarships, at the request of Dr. Franklin, inquires about some lands in Pennsylvania granted to Lansdowne, and sends "papers from Virginia, relative to the conduct of the Late Assembly, which I hope your Lordship will think has acted becoming a free people aggrieved & insulted" (probably referring to the Assembly's resolutions on the Townshend Acts). 22 July 1786: An important letter stating the American position on British infringements of the Treaty of 1783. Lee criticizes "the whole tenor of the conduct of the British Administration since the peace"; which lacks "acts of graciousness & liberality" for "reattaching those who were detached by Treaty and reanimating those cords which naturally drew the two people together." How, he charges, can the Prime Minister "really believe us such children as to suppose, that maintaining strongholds garrisoned within the acknowledged territory of the U.S., is in truth because some states have passed laws which delay the payment of British debts?" Britain, he contends, has infringed "the Article which respected the Negroes" (Britain's obligation to compensate American owners of slaves seized by the British during the Revolution), and complains that "the King's Minister does not seem to understand the actual situation of the British debt in Virginia." Britain, he writes, "should remember that she is an old, opulent & great nation; & that it does not become her to take every advantage in her power of an infant & unorganized government like ours." He is forwarding a "compleat set of the Journals of Congress," and promises to send future volumes as printed. 1-5 June 1787: Long letter announcing the Constitutional Convention. Recalling the intrigues surrounding negotiations for the Treaty of Paris, he asserts that "I know a great deal & have the proofs...showing, how deep the Nation you speak of [France?], had laid her plans for maturing the power of her intriguing spirit among us; & her unbounded ambition, in continuing the war, in order to pull down the firmest barrier in Europe against her inordinate pursuit of power & never-resting spirit of intrigue. Happily the acknowledgement of our independence, & the disobedience of our commissioners to the traiterous Instructions given by Congress...sav'd the U.S. from the infamy." He comments on Indian affairs in the Northwest and reports that "Our national Convention is now sitting to revise the Confederation," and that it is "composed of the first Men among us for wisdom, character & property...The British Constitution will always be kept in view by us as the most perfect model...Genl. Washington is chosen unanimously President of the Convention." Regarding certain acts of Congress, he reports that "the difficulty will be the greatest in Virginia, where the people are deeply in debt & heavily taxed...The Federal head has always preserved the public faith inviolable. But in such entirely Democratic Assemblies as those of the several States, it is impossible to govern always by truth & wisdom." 5 July 1787: Lee comments on debts owed to British merchants by Americans, noting that the Constitutional Convention "are deliberating but have determined nothing." 1 October 1787: "I have the honor of enclosing the form of a Constitution proposed by the Convention. The plan of it meets with very general approbation. What will be its fate is uncertain; but I am inclin'd to think it will be adopted with all its faults. They are certainly many & great. There is no Declaration of Rights--the Vice President is a useless & yet dangerous appointment--the Senate is a most improper mixture of Legislative, judicial & executive powers, which ought always to be separate & independent--liberty of conscience is not sufficiently secur'd--trial by Jury is secur'd in criminal causes only--the federal Court is made original; which should only be in federal questions." He expresses fear that "if the several [state] Conventions attempt to amend it, there will probably be an incongruity in their amendments which will endanger a rejection of the whole. They are therefore willing to accept the Constitution as it stands, rather than risque its loss." In Virginia, he predicts, "the opposition to it will be strong & probably successful." 24 Sept 1789: Long letter considering the new Constitution and its political support: "Our new government is now in full operation. How the People, who have adopted it will like it, when they feel its effects is not easy to say." He raises various concerns, and observes ruefully that "the misfortune of moral as well as political life generally is, that we cannot preserve a temperate medium, but are almost always running into extremes. There are two great Parties in this Country. The one is for preserving the State Governments in such a degree of vigour, as to be a check on the general Government...The other is for the total annihilation of the State powers, & trusting every thing to the general Government. They are not content with its being supreme-they want it to be sole." [September 1790]: Lee sends "a picture of General Washington...in all respects an exceedingly good likeness," and he reports that Congress has determined to move to Philadelphia for ten years, and then "to fix their permanent residence on the east side of the Potowmack."