February 19, 1776


In Charleston, South Carolina, the Provincial Convention, apprehensive of a British attack, votes to summon militia to defend the city.

Meanwhile, John Adams writes to General Charles Lee:  “My dear Sir – The Congress have seen such a Necessity of an able Commander in Canada, as to destine you to that most arduous Service. I tremble for your Health, yet I hope the Campaign will rather promote it than otherwise.  We want you att N. York. We want you at Cambridge. We want you in Virginia. But Canada seems of more Importance than any of those Places. And therefore you are sent there. I wish you as many Laurells as Wolf and Montgomery reaped there, with an happier Fate, Health and long Life, after a glorious Return.  But I am ashamed to go on, in such a Strain, when writing to you whose Time is so much better employed than in reading it, when I took up my Pen only to introduce to your Acquaintance a Countryman of yours and a Citizen of the World, to whom a certain Heretical Pamphlet called Common sense, is imputed. His Name is Paine. He is travelling to N. York for his Curiosity and wishes to see a Gentleman, whose Character he so highly respects.  A luckier a happier Expedition than yours to N. York never was projected. The whole Whigg World is blessing you for it and none of them more than your Friend and sert.”

It is perhaps useful to take a step back and look at what is going on here.  George Washington has been sent to the Boston area and was chosen as the Commanding General of the army.  Charles Lee, however, has his adherents, both political and otherwise.  Despite Lee’s strong philosophical credentials which come from many of his writings claiming loyalty and support for the American cause, his birth in Europe bars him in the eyes of congress of leading the army.  However, his Whig credentials – i.e., his democratic impulses – are seen as stronger than Washington’s by many who are concerned that any Commanding General who receives the accolades that are beginning to stream in for Washington cannot help but become a tyrant.  Beyond that, Washington is beginning to show that he requires a stronger role by the congress, and that he needs an army with more than one year enrollments.  Lee believes in an army of the people, unlike any European army, that will be strengthened, not weakened, by the democratic impulses of the colonies.

And so, when John Adams writes that “the whole Whigg World is blessing you” he is not exactly saying that he would support him over Washington, but he is bringing these political issues into the discussion.  Lee knows as well as anyone what he needs to do in order to gain a larger role, perhaps the leading role, in the army, and that is to win.  Therefore, his role in the possible defeat of the British in Canada is as important to him personally as it is to the Colonies.

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