CHAPTER 13|Document 11
Richard Henry Lee to Mrs. Hannah Corbin17 Mar. 1778Letters 1:392--93
My Dear Sister,
Distressed as my mind is and has been by a variety of attentions, I am illy able by letter to give you the satisfaction I could wish on the several subjects of your letter. Reasonable as you are and friendly to the freedom and happiness of your country, I should have no doubt giving you perfect content in a few hours' conversation. You complain that widows are not represented, and that being temporary possessors of their estates ought not to be liable to the tax. The doctrine of representation is a large subject, and it is certain that it ought to be extended as far as wisdom and policy can allow; nor do I see that either of these forbid widows having property from voting, notwithstanding it has never been the practice either here or in England. Perhaps 'twas thought rather out of character for women to press into those tumultuous assemblages of men where the business of choosing representatives is conducted. And it might also have been considered as not so necessary, seeing that the representatives themselves, as their immediate constituents, must suffer the tax imposed in exact proportion as does all other property taxed, and that, therefore, it could not be supposed that taxes would be laid where the public good did not demand it. This, then, is the widow's security as well as that of the never married women, who have lands in their own right, for both of whom I have the highest respect, and would at any time give my consent to establish their right of voting. I am persuaded that it would not give them greater security, nor alter the mode of taxation you complain of; because the tax idea does not go to the consideration of perpetual property, but is accommodated to the high prices given for the annual profits. Thus no more than 1/2 per ct. is laid on the assessed value, although produce sells now 3 and 400 per cent above what it formerly did. Tobacco sold 5 or 6 years ago for 15s and 2d--now 'tis 50 and 55. A very considerable part of the property I hold is, like yours, temporary for my life only; yet I see the propriety of paying my proportion of the tax laid for the protection of property so long as that property remains in my possession and I derive use and profit from it. When we complained of British taxation we did so with much reason, and there is great difference between our case and that of the unrepresented in this country. The English Parliament nor their representatives would pay a farthing of the tax they imposed on us but quite otherwise. Their property would have been exonerated in exact proportion to the burthens they laid on ours. Oppressions, therefore, without end and taxes without reason or public necessity would have been our fate had we submitted to British usurpation. For my part I had much rather leave my children free than in possession of great nominal wealth, which would infallibly have been the case with all American possessions had our property been subject to the arbitrary taxation of a British Parliament.
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 13, Document 11
The University of Chicago Press
The Letters of Richard Henry Lee. Edited by James Curtis Ballagh. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan Co., 1911--14.
Easy to print version.