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Why I Bought the Magna Carta

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David Rubenstein, 65, the Baltimore-born co-founder of the private-equity firm the Carlyle Group, practices what he calls patriotic philanthropy. Among his efforts: buying an original 1297 Magna Carta, an Emancipation Proclamation, and a Declaration of Independence for public display. He also gave $7.5 million to fix the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument.

What is the motivation for your giving?

“Philanthropy” comes from an ancient Greek word that means “loving humanity.” It doesn’t have to mean writing checks. I have more money than I really need, so I am giving it away to places that were good to me, or to good causes. Most of my money actually goes to education or medical research. I like to say that if you have a last name like mine and your father was a postal worker, you might not rise up in every country. Well, I got very lucky, and now I’m trying to give back.

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Thanks to David Rubenstein, National Archive visitors can see this original 1297 Magna Carta.

What is patriotic philanthropy?

The word “patriotic” has been hijacked a bit lately. My idea of patriotism is to buy these documents of freedom, help restore them, then ultimately give them to the American people. They can go to the National Archives now to see the Magna Carta and feel comfortable that it’s always going to be there. Then I realized I could also restore places related to our heritage.

Why doesn't the government handle these things?

Not many people think about giving money back to something connected to the federal government, because the government is always thought to have money to fix the Washington Monument or the Kennedy Center. But in fact it doesn’t have as much money as it used to. I would like to inspire others—not just the wealthy—to help the country. I’d like younger people to say, “I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ll give energy or time.”

David Rubenstein feels that giving isn't just about money. Anyone can be a philanthropist. How do you practice philanthropy, or how would you like to? Let us know—and also tell us who you'd like to see in 3 Questions—in the comments below.