I recieved … [your letter that] you had … 90.D. [$90] recieved for me as rent for the salt-petre cave at the Natural bridge, and asking it as a donation for the female academy of that neighborhood. I have ever believed that the duty of contribution to charitable institutions would produce the greatest sum of good by every one’s devoting what they can spare to the institutions of their neighborhood, or in the vicinity of their property; because under the eye of their patrons they would be more faithfully conducted than at a distance from them … the applications to me from every part of the union being more than any income but that of the union, could supply. on this principle I am persuaded you will think twenty five Dollars a donation fully proportioned to my property in that quarter, giving this sum therefore to the institution there, I will thank you to remit the balance …
To William Carothers, September 7, 1809
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Charitable leaders give to charities wisely.
Caruthers, Jefferson’s agent in a western Virginia county where he owned property, held $90 rent owed to him. Caruthers asked if Jefferson would like to donate it to support a local school for girls. Jefferson’s reply:
1. Everyone had a duty to support charitable institutions to produce the greatest good for all.
2. Donations were best made to charities where donors lived or owned property, so they could carefully monitor its use.
3. He received more requests for donations than he could ever honor.
4. He would donate $25 to the school and wanted the remaining $65 sent to him.
He might have used his reasoning in #2 to decline any donation, because he lived 100 miles away, beyond any possible oversight. Yet he did own real estate in the vicinity, though he visited it rarely. He thought it more important to give than decline.