In a word: Politics
Here is the background.
Initially a rival of George Washington, Maj. Gen. Charles Lee abruptly fell from grace and left the Continental Army after the 1778 Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey. Leading the Patriot vanguard, Lee attacked the British who were repositioning forces from Philadelphia to New York City. When the British counter-attacked with superior numbers, Lee’s forces became confused, faltered and began to retreat.
At this moment, Washington with the main Continental Army units encountered the helter skelter retreating Patriot forces. Famously Washington confronted Lee, they argued and Lee was immediately sent to the rear, relieved of command. Convicted in a high-profile, public court-martial, Lee left the army in disgrace and died a few years later.
However, there is another side to Lee.
Although a former mid-level British Army officer, a newly emigrated Lee became an ardent (small r) republican and strongly advocated independence for the colonies. Supporting the Revolution, a remarkably literate Lee wrote several monographs espousing personal liberty and democratic principles. He positioned himself as a “man of the people.”
Now turning to the political climate in the 1790’s
With the initial formation of the two-party system, the Democratic-Republicans, portrayed themselves as the party of the common people and painted the Federalists as the party of privilege, high social rank and wealth. The Democratic-Republican leaning paper, the Washington, Kentucky The Mirror prominently published portions of a 1776 letter Lee wrote to Patrick Henry on its front page. In this letter (reprinted below), Lee eschewed pompous honorific titles such as your excellency, which was Washington’s preferred address during the Revolutionary conflict.
By reprinting this Revolutionary War letter, the The Mirror publisher sought to discredit the Federalist led by Washington and John Adams while advancing the political agenda the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans. So that is why a discredited Revolutionary General was featured on the front page of a leading Kentucky newspaper twenty years later.
Lastly, The Montor’s publication of Lee’s old letter causes us to question why certain notable politicians and generals are cited in the press today.