Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Munroe, 7 April 1803

To Thomas Munroe

Washington Apr. 7. 1803.


The letter from the committee of subscribers to the theatre which I recieved from you on the 18th. Ult. has been the subject of enquiry & consideration since my return to this place. 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: nor do I think they would be safe in building on such a donation, on account of it’s invalidity. 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. I have in two or three instances consented to the erection of buildings on public grounds, but with an explanation that whenever the grounds were wanted for the public, they would be resumed; and the buildings proposed have always been of such trifling value as to produce no repugnance towards a resumption from any sacrifice of the value of the building. Accept assurances of my esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr. Thomas Munroe”; endorsed by TJ in ink on verso. Recorded in SJL with notation “theatre.”

letter from the committee: see Munroe to TJ, 14 Mch. 1803.

Instead of on public grounds, the theatre would be built on land donated by John P. Van Ness in Square 349 at the intersection of 11th and C Streets Northwest. Named the Washington Theatre, it held its initial performance in November 1804. Never a financial success, it was damaged by fire in 1820 and sold two years later (National Intelligencer, 22 Apr. 1803; RCHS description begins Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 1895–1989 description ends , 5 [1902], 68–77; TJ to Martha Jefferson Randolph, 3 Dec. 1804).

my return: TJ departed from Monticello on 31 Mch. and arrived in Washington on 3 Apr. His expenses for the journey totaled $18.98½ (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1096; TJ to Wilson Cary Nicholas, 11 Apr. 1803).

1Preceding four words interlined.

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