Charles Lee argues for independence (1776)


This letter was written by General Charles Lee to Patrick Henry and was dated May 7th 1776. In the letter Lee argues in favour of an immediate declaration of independence. Henry had earlier argued that move towards independence should be delayed until the Continental Congress had a better understanding of French attitudes, both towards America and the possibility of joining a war against Britain.


“Sir,

If I had not the highest opinion of your character and liberal way of thinking, I should not venture to address myself to you. And if I were not equally persuaded of the great weight and influence which the transcendent abilities you possess must naturally confer, I should not give myself the trouble of writing, nor you the trouble of reading this long letter.

Since our conversation yesterday, my thoughts have been solely employed on the great question, whether Independence ought or ought not to be immediately declared. Having weighed the argument on both sides, I am clearly of the opinion that we must… without a moment’s delay declare for Independence. If my reasons appear weak, you will excuse them… no man on this Continent will sacrifice more than myself by the separation. But if I have the good fortune to offer any arguments which have escaped your understanding… I think I shall have rendered the greatest service to the community.

The objection you made yesterday… to an immediate Declaration, was, by many degrees, the most specious. Indeed it is the only tolerable one that I have yet heard. You say, and with great justice, that we ought previously to have felt the pulse of France and Spain. I more than believe… that it has been done… But, admitting that we are utter strangers to their sentiments on the subject, and that we run some risk of this Declaration being coldly received by these Powers, such is our situation that the risk must be ventured…

The most probable chances of our success [are] founded on the certain advantages which must manifest themselves to a [French] treaty of alliance with America. The strength and weakness, the opulence and poverty of every [American] state are estimated in the scale of comparison with her immediate rival. The superior commerce and marine force of England were evidently established on the monopoly of her American trade. The inferiority of France, in these two capital points, consequently had its source in the same origin. Any deduction from this monopoly must bring down her rival in proportion to this deduction…

Should it now be determined to wait the result of a previous formal negotiation with France, a whole year must pass over our heads before we can be acquainted with the result. In the mean time we are to struggle through a campaign, without arms, ammunition, or any one necessary of war. Disgrace and defeat will infallibly ensue; the soldiers and officers will become so disappointed that they will abandon their colours and probably never be persuaded to make another effort.

But there is another consideration still more cogent. I can assure you that the spirit of the people cries out for this Declaration. The military, in particular, men and officers, are outrageous on the subject. And a man of your excellent discernment need not be told how dangerous it would be in our present circumstances to dally with the spirit, or disappoint the expectations of the bulk of the people. May not despair, anarchy, and finally submission, be the bitter fruits? I am firmly persuaded that they will

In this persuasion, I most devoutly pray that you may not merely recommend, but positively lay injunctions on your servants in Congress to embrace a measure so necessary to our salvation.

Yours sincerely

Charles Lee”