I recieved lately a letter from Genl. Lawson solliciting a charity which he desired me to send through your hands. I had yielded last year to an application of the same nature from him [sending him $50] and although I think his habits & conduct render him less entitled to it than many others on whom it might be bestowed, yet (pour la derniere fois) [for the last time] I inclose for him 30. Dollars which I must ask you to apply to his use as you may think most serviceable for him.
To James Monroe, July 20, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Soft-hearted leaders have to know when charity becomes enabling.
Robert Lawson had served in America’s continental army and had some connection with the Cinncinati Society, an organization of retired army officers. Through both poor choices and poor health, Lawson was reduced to asking for money for living expenses. Jefferson had already given him $50 and was now asked for more. He thought others were more deserving of his help. Somewhat grudgingly, Jefferson, who was known to be generous, made a final contribution of $30.
Lawson asked any contributions for him be sent to James Monroe. Jefferson did so but asked his protege to spend it on Lawson’s behalf, rather than simply turning the money over to him, where it could be wasted.