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PREFACE TO GENERAL LEE'S MEMOIRS.
The following Memoirs and Letters of the late MajorGeneral Lee have been in the possession of the Editor since the year 1786. They were transmitted from America to England by the gentleman whose name is subscribed to the Memoirs, and who was a member of Congress for the state of Georgia, for the purpose of publication. In their manuscript state they have been seen by several persons in England, who expressed a strong desire of putting them to the press, which the avocations of the person to whom they were entrusted, and his not being acquainted with such undertakings, had caused him to neglect.
As the subject of Revolutions is again renewed by what has occurred in France, it is presumed, that whatever relates to the Mother-Revolution, that of America, will, at least, afford entertainment to the curious, and contribute to increase the general stock of historical knowledge.
The reader may expect to find, in almost every thing that relates to General Lee, a great deal of the strong republican character. His attachment to principles of liberty, without regard to place, made him the citizen of the world rather than of any country; and from his earliest youth to the end of his career, this general trait in his character may be traced.
So little of the courtier had he about him, that he never descended to intimate any thing. Whatever he spoke or wrote was in the fullest style of expression, or strong figure. He used to say of Mr. Paine, the author of Common Sense, in America, and since of Rights of Man, in England, (of whose writings he was a great admirer,) that " he burst forth upon the world like Jove in thunder;" and this strength of conception, so natural to General Lee, had it not been mixed with a turn equally as strong for satire, and too much eccentricity of temper, would have rendered his conversation perpetually entertaining.
Though the Memoirs and every letter in this publication are most faithfully printed from the copy transmitted from America, the Editor has omitted many whole letters, and also his trial before the court-martial, as not sufficiently interesting to balance the expence to which they would have extended the work. But if any of the particular friends or relations of General Lee should be desirous of seeing them, they may be indulged with the opportunity, by leaving a line at the publishers, directed to the
TO MR. SECRETARY DUNDAS.
Letter the First.
Si a, London, June 6, 1792.
As you opened the debate in the House of Commons, May 25th, on the Proclamation for suppressing publications, which that proclamation (without naming any) calls wicked and seditious, and as you applied those opprobrious epithets to the works entitled " RIGHTS OF MAN," I think it unnecessary to offer any other reason for addressing this letter to you.
I begin, then, at once, by declaring that I do not believe there are to be found in the writings of any author, ancient or modern, on the subject of Government, a spirit of greater benignity, and a stronger inculcation of moral principles, than in those which I have published. They come, Sir, from a man, who, by having lived in different countries, and under different systems of Government, and who, being intimate in the construction of them, is a better judge of the subject than it is possible that you, from the way of those opportunities, can be ;—and, besides this, they come from an heart that knows not how to beguile.
I will farther say, that when that moment arrives in which the best consolation that shall be left will be that of looking back on some past actions, more virtuous, more meritorious, than the rest, I shall then with happiness remember, among other things, I have written the RIGHTS OF MAN.—As to what proclamations, or prosecutions, or placemen, or place-expectants—those who possess, or those who are gaping for office may say of them, it will not alter their character, either with the world or with me.
Having, Sir, made this declaration, I shall proceed to remark, not particularly upon your own speech on that occasion, but on any other speech to which your motion on that day gave rise ; and I shall begin with that of Mr. Adah.
This Gentlemen accuses me of not having done the very thing that I have done, and which, he says, if I had done he should not have accused me.
Mr. Adam, in his speech, (see the Morning Chronicle of May 26,) says, " That be had well considered the subject of Constitutional Publications, and was by no means ready to say (but the contrary) that books of science upon government, though recommending a doctrine of system different from the form of our constitution, (meaning that of England) were fit objects of prosecution; that if he did, he must condemn (which he meant not to do) Harrington for his Oceana, Sir Thomas More for his Utopia, and Hume for his Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth. But, (continued Mr. Adam,) the publication of Mr. Paine was very different; for it reviled what was most sacred in the constitution, destroyed every principle of subordination, and established nothing in their room."
I readily perceive that Mr. Adam had not read the Second Part of Rights of Man, and I am put under the necessity, either of submitting to an erroneous charge, or of justifying myself against it; and I certainly shall prefer the latter.— If, then, I shall prove to Mr. Adam, that, in my reasoning upon systems of Government in the Second Part of Rights of Man, I have shewn as clearly, I think, as words can convey ideas, a certain system of Government, and that not existing in theory only, but already in full and established practice, and systematically and practically free from all the vices and defects of English Government, and capable of producing more happiness to the people, and that also with an eightieth part of the taxes, which the present system of English Government consumes; I hope he will do me the justice, when he next goes to the House, to get up and confess he had been mistaken in saying, that I had established nothing, and that I had destroyed every principle of subordination. Having thus opened the case, I now come to the point.
In the Second Part of RIGHTS OF MAN, I have distinguished Government into two classes or systems; the one the hereditary system, the other the representative system.
In the First Part of Rights of Man, I have endeavoured to shew, and I challenge any man to refute it, that there does not exist a right to establish hereditary Government; or, in other words, hereditary governors; because hereditary Government always means a Government yet to come, and the case always is, that the People who are to live afterwards, have always the same right to choose a Government for themselves, as the People had who lived before them.
In the Second Part of Rights of Man, I have not repeated those arguments, because they are irrefutable; but have confined myself to shew the defects of what is called hereditary Government or hereditary succession, that it must, from the nature of it, throw Government into the hands of men totally unworthy of it, from want of principle, or unfitted for it from want of capacity.—James H. is recorded as an instance of the first of these cases; and instances are to be found almost all over Europe to prove the truth of the latter.
To shew the absurdity of the hereditary system still more strongly, I will now put the following case:—Take any fifty men promiscuously, and it will be very extraordinary, if out of that number, one man should be found, whose principles and talents taken together (for some might have principles, and others might have talents) would render him a person truly fitted to fill any very extraordinary office of national trust. If, then, such a fitness of character could not be expected to be found in more than one person out of fifty, it would happen but once in a thousand years to the eldest son of any one family, admitting each, on an average, to hold the office twenty years. Mr Adam talks of something in the constitution which he calls most sacred; but I hope he does not mean hereditary succession, a thing which appears to me a violation of every order of nature, and of common sense.
When I look into history, and see the multitudes of men, otherwise virtuous, who have died, and their families been ruined, in the defence of knaves and fools, and which they would not have done, had they reasoned at all upon the system; I do not know a greater good that an individual can render to mankind, than to endeavour to break the chains of political superstition. Those chains are now dissolving fast, and proclamations and prosecutions will serve but to hasten that dissolution.
Having thus spoken of the hereditary system as a bad system and subject to every possible defect, I now come to the representative system, and this Mr. Adam will find stated in the Second Part of Rights of Man, not only as the best, but as the only theory of Government under which the liberties of the people can be permanently secure.
But it is needless now to talk of mere theory, since there is already a Government in full practice, established upon that theory; or, in other words, upon the Rights of Man, and has been so for almost twenty years. Mr. Pitt, in a speech of his, some short time since, said, " that there never did, and never could exist a Government established upon those Rights, and that if it began at noon, it would end