In 1781, while the war was still uncertain, Samuel Adams writes to his good friend and fellow patriot encouraging him to help inattentive citizens return to the first principles of liberty.
It would be indeed alarming, if the United States should ever entrust the Ship in which our all is at Stake, with inexperiencd or unprincipled Pilots. Our Cause is surely too interesting to Mankind, to be put under the Direction of Men, vain, avaricious or conceald under the Hypocritical Guise of Patriotism, without a Spark of publick or private Virtue.
To Richard Henry Lee.
—Opinion of Arthur Lee—Recurrence to First Principles.—
PHILADe, Jany 15th, 1781
MY DEAR SIR
YOUR second Letter came to hand in due Season. My much Esteemed Friend Mr Arthur Lee will take the Charge of this. I will say to you as I have said to my Boston Friends, who are sollicitous to know what Treatment he meets with here. The more I have conversd with him, the more I have been confirmd in a good opinion of him, and lamented the Mistakes and Prejudices of some Men & the Wickedness of others. His Enemies, I think, dare not openly attack his Reputation or Conduct. But the Whispers of Envy & Malice, have sometimes Influence enough to prevent the Justice due to the virtuous Citizen. When this is the Case, it affords a Symptom of the Decay of. publick Spirit, more threatning to the Liberties of a Common Wealth than Hosts of foreign Enemies. Monarchs have their Favorites who serve as Pimps on their honest Subjects. But Republicks should examine the Conduct of their Servants with an impartial Eye; and it discovers the Want of publick Virtue, as much, to withhold their Smiles from the wise and good as to bestow them on the wicked & unfaithful. Mr Lee has as yet had neither Smiles nor Frowns. I am still in hopes, he will meet with the Rewards which I am sure he would have receivd if he had returnd a few years ago. He will have them, when the Trustees of the Publick shall have Fortitude enough, to be uninfluencd by great Names & Characters given to Men of base & depraved Minds. You will ask, when that will be. Perhaps not in this Age. But the Historian will in some future time draw forth the Proofs of his Patriotism, & unprejudicd Posterity will acknowledge that Arthur Lee has borne a great Share in defending & establishing the Liberties of America. I say Posterity; for I believe that a wiser Generation will enjoy the Fruits of the Toil of Patriots & Heroes in the present Day.
My Friend, we must not suffer any thing to discourage us in this great Conflict. Let us recur to first Principles without Delay. It is our Duty, to make every proper Exertion in our respective States to revive the old patriotick Feelings among the People at large, and to get the publick Departments, especially the most important of them, filled with Men of Understanding & inflexible Virtue. It would be indeed alarming, if the United States should ever entrust the Ship in which our all is at Stake, with inexperiencd or unprincipled Pilots. Our Cause is surely too interesting to Mankind, to be put under the Direction of Men, vain, avaricious or conceald under the Hypocritical Guise of Patriotism, without a Spark of publick or private Virtue. We may possibly be more in Danger of this, than many of our honest Citizens may imagine. Is there not Reason to apprehend, that even those who are inimical to our Cause may steal into Places of the highest Trust? I need not remind you that Men of this Character have had Seats in Congress from the begining. Where is Galloway, Low, Allen & Alexander?—If it was so in those Times of Vigilance & Zeal, how much more is it to be expected, when the Love of many is waxen cold, & their Minds are distracted with the Pursuit of Pleasure & exorbitant Riches. We cannot be perswaded to believe that bad Men have been sent by their States with a View of giving a fatal Stab to our Cause in its Infancy; but is it unreasonable to suppose that their Elections were secretly influencd by artful Men, with that Design. Our most dangerous Enemies may be in our Bosoms.
Mr Lee will inform you how Matters go on here.
I must let you know that when your Kinsman Mr William Lee was in Boston in Sept 1779 he borrowed five hundred Dollars of Moses Gill Esqr, and drew his Bill on his Brother Mr George Lee of Westmoreland County. I wish it may be paid on Sight, for it was advancd on my Application.
My Regards to Mrs Lee &c. Adieu & believe me to be