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Letter from Arthur Lee, London, to Richard Henry Lee



London, March 18th, 1774.

DEAR BROTHER: The affairs of America are now become very serious; the Ministry are determined to put your spirit to the proof. Boston is their first object. On Monday the 14th, it was ordered in the House of


Commons, that leave be given to bring in a Bill "for the immediate removal of the officers concerned in the collection and management of his Majesty' s duties of Customs from the town of Boston, in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, in North America; and to discontinue the landing and discharging, lading and shipping of goods, wares and merchandise, at the said town of Boston, or within the harbour thereof."

If the Colonies in general permit this to pass unnoticed, a precedent will be established for humbling them by degrees, until all opposition to arbitrary power is subdued. The manner, however, in which you should meet this violent act should be well weighed. The proceedings of the Colonies, in consequence of it, will be read and regarded as manifestos. Great care, therefore, should be taken to word them unexceptionably and plausibly. They should be prefaced with the strongest professions of respect and attachment to this country; of reluctance to enter into any dispute with her; of the readiness you have always shown, and still wish to show, of contributing according to your ability, and in a constitutional way, to her support; and of your determination to undergo every extremity rather than submit to be enslaved. These things tell much in your favour with moderate men, and with Europe, to whose interposition America may yet owe her salvation, should the contest be serious and lasting. In short, as we are the weaker, it becomes us to be suaviter in modo, however we may be determined to act fortiter in re. There is a persuasion here that America will see, without interposition, the ruin of Boston. It is of the last importance to the general cause, that your conduct should prove this opinion erroneous. If once it is perceived that you may be attacked and destroyed by piecemeal, actum est, every part will in its turn feel the vengeance which it would not unite to repel, and a general slavery or ruin must ensue. The Colonies should never forget Lord North' s declaration in the House of Commons, that he would not listen to the complaints of America until she was at his feet. The character of Lord North, and the consideration of what surprising things he has effected towards enslaving his own country, makes me, I own, tremble for ours. Plausible, deep, and treacherous, like his master, he has no passions to divert him, no pursuits of pleasure to withdraw him, from the accursed design of deliberately destroying the liberties of his country. A perfect adept in the arts of corruption, and indefatigable in the application of them, he effects great ends by means almost magical, because they are unseen. In four years he has overcome the most formidable opposition in this country, from which the Duke of Grafton fled with horror. At the same time he has effectually enslaved the East India Company, and made the vast revenue and territory of India, in effect, a Royal patronage. Flushed with these successes, he now attacks America; and certainly, if we are not firm and united, he will triumph in the same manner over us. In my opinion, a general resolution of the Colonies to break off all commercial intercourse with this country, until they are secured in their liberties, is the only advisable and sure mode of defence. To execute such a resolution would be irksome at first, but you would be amply repaid, not only in saving your money, and becoming independent of these petty tyrants, the merchants, but in securing your general liberties.

You are, however, more capable of judging what is proper and practicable. My great wish is to see you firm and united. Adieu. Yours affectionately,


Richard H˙ Lee.