Tag Archives: Public vs. private use
… the theatre is proposed to be built by private individuals, it is to be their private property, for their own emolument, & may be conveyed to any other private individual. to cede to them public grounds for such a purpose1 whether appropriated, or open spaces, would be a donation of it: and I do not find that the President has a power to make such a donation of the public lands … knowing, as I do, that this enterprise is undertaken with no view to their private benefit, but is really a sacrifice to advance the interest of the place, I am sorry that the accomodation desired cannot be obtained from the public, and that their funds are to be diminished either by a purchase of the site, or a ground rent for it. but I see no remedy…
To Thomas Munroe, April 7, 1803
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Conscientious leaders respect the limits to their authority.
Munroe was Superintendent of the nation’s capital city. He had written a letter to the President with proposed designs for streets and tree-plantings. He concluded with an appeal made to him by private citizens seeking a donation of public land for the building of a theater.
Jefferson responded that it was a private endeavor in every way, including the opportunity for profit. He had no power to donate public lands for private use. He acknowledged that the purpose of the theater was not for “private benefit” but public good, that his denial of a land donation meant some of the funds that could have gone toward that public good must be used instead on a building site. Yet, “I see no remedy,” he replied.
The theater was subsequently built on land donated by an individual.