Epilogue: Securing the Republic
[Volume 1, Page 672]
CHAPTER 18|Document 12
Richard Henry Lee to Henry Laurens6 June 1779Letters 2:62--63
However, after all that has happened I cannot help yet hoping, that a majority will be found among the representatives of young Republics who will support able and honest servants, whilst they properly censure and discountenance the knavish abusers of public trust. Methinks our Congress should direct to be written in large characters and placed in the most visible part of their Session Hall the following just sentiment of the excellent Montesquieu "There is no great share of probity necessary to support a Monarchical or Despotic government. The force of laws in one, and the Princes arm in the other, are sufficient to direct and maintain the whole. But in a popular state, one spring more is necessary, namely Virtue." If he had added Vigilance his fabric would have been complete. I know there are Mandevilles among you who laugh at virtue, and with vain ostentatious display of words will deduce from vice, public good! But such men are much fitter to be Slaves in the corrupt, rotten despotisms of Europe, than to remain citizens of young and rising republics. The Committee of Philadelphia have my free consent to send all such within the enemies lines. I think this useful Committee would have no difficulty in saying with certainty Thou, & Thou, & Thou, & Thou, & Thou, & Thou, & Thou art the man. Tho not perfectly pure after this selection, such a Load would be removed, that a young and vigorous constitution might soon work itself clean and perfect health take place.
The Letters of Richard Henry Lee. Edited by James Curtis Ballagh. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1911--14.
© 1987 by The University of Chicago