Log In Register

Source & Citation Info

title:“Richard Henry Lee to Patrick Henry”
authors:Richard Henry Lee
date written:1789-9-14

permanent link
to this version:
last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:09 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Dec. 5, 2023, 6:23 p.m. UTC

Lee, Richard Henry. "Letter to Patrick Henry." Creating the Bill of Rights. Ed. Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991. 295-96. Print.
Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress

Richard Henry Lee to Patrick Henry (September 14, 1789)

{I have} since waited to see the issue of the proposed amendts. to the Constitution, that I might give you the most [exact] account of that business. As they came from the H. of R. they were very far short of the wishes of our Convention, but as they are returned by the Senate they are certainly much weakened.1 You may be assured that nothing on my part was left undone to prevent this, and every possible effort was used to give success to all the Amendments proposed by our Country-We might as well have attempted to move Mount Atlas upon our shoulders-In fact, the idea of subsequent Amendments was delusion altogether, and so intended by the greater part of those who arrogated to themselves the name of Fœderalists. I am grieved to see that too many look at the Rights of the people as a Miser examines a Security to find a flaw in it! The great points of free election, Jury trial in criminal cases much loosened, the unlimited right of Taxation, and Standing Armies in peace, remain as they were.2 Some valuable Rights are indeed declared, but the powers that remain are very sufficient to render them nugatory at pleasure.
The most essential danger from the present System arises, {in my} opinion, from its tendency to a Consolidated government, instead of a Union of Confederated States-The history of the world and reason concurs in proving that so extensive a Territory {as the} U. States comprehend never was, or can be governed in freed{om} under the former idea-Under the latter it is abundantly m{ore} practicable, because extended representation, know{ledge of} character, and confidence in consequence, {are wanting to sway the} opinion of Rulers, without which, fear the offspri{ng of Tyranny} can alone answer. Hence Standing Armies, and des{potism} follows. I take this reasoning to be unrefutable, a{nd} therefore it becomes the friends of liberty to guard {with} perfect vigilance every right that belongs to the Sta{tes} and to protest against every invasion of them- taking care always to procure as many protesting States as possible-This kind of vigilance will create caution and probably establish such a mode of conduct as will create a system of precedent that will prevent a Consolidating effect from taking place by slow, but sure degrees. And also not to cease in renewing their efforts for so amending the federal Constitution as to prevent a Consolidation by securing the due Authority of the States. At present perhaps a sufficient number of Legislatures cannot be got to agree in demanding Convention-But I shall be much mistaken if a great sufficiency will not e'er long concur in this measure. The preamble to the Amendments is realy curious-A careless reader would be apt to suppose that the amendments desired by the States had been graciously granted. But when the thing done is compared with that desired, nothing can be more unlike...3 By comparing the Senate amendments with {those} from below by carefully attending to the m{atter} the former will appear well calculated to enfeeble {and} produce ambiguity-for instance-Rights res{erved} to the States of the People-The people here is evidently designed fo{r the} People of the United States, not of the Individual States {page torn} the former is the Constitutional idea of the people-We the People &c. It was affirmed the rights reserved by the States bills of rights did not belong to the States-I observed that then they belonged to the people of the States, but that this mode of expressing was evidently calculated to give the Residuum to the people of the U. States, which was the Constitutional language, and to deny it to the people of the Indiv. State-At least that it left room for cavil & false construction-They would not insert after people thereof—altho it was moved.4

Resource Metadata