George Washington and the Jews

George Washington and the Jews

George Washington and the Jews

George Washington and the Jews

Synopsis

This volume explores the background and circumstances that brought about a milestone relationship between George Washington and the Jews. President George Washington was the first head of a modern nation to openly acknowledge the Jews as full-fledged citizens of the land in which they had chosen to settle. His personal philosophy of religious tolerance can be summed up from an address made in 1790 to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, where he said May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid, Was it Washington's respect for the wisdom of the ancient Prophets or the participation of the patriotic Jews in the struggle for independence that motivated Washington to direct his most significant and profound statement on religious freedom at a Jewish audience? Fritz Hirschfeld is a documentary historian.

Excerpt

There has never been—and it is unlikely that there ever will be—a version of the Holocaust in this country. the precedent for religious toleration that George Washington established in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790 was deliberately aimed at precluding exactly such a calamity. Although Adolf Hitler and the German-dictated Holocaust lay 150 years in the future, the Founding Fathers were keenly aware of the disasters inflicted on the societies of Europe by centuries of religious conflicts and inquisitions. and all of them were determined not to allow the new nation to be torn apart by religious differences and sectarian strife. President Washington undoubtedly spoke for the great majority of public opinion when he placed the national government squarely on record as being opposed to any form of religious bigotry and persecution.

Washington’s written address was directed at the Jews of Newport, but his message was intended for a much wider audience: “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation.” We do not know specifically who he had in mind when he set down these words. If Washington were alive today, he would not have to look far to see religious disputes still destroying lives and ruining communities in countries throughout the world. But this much can be said with certainty: George Washington clearly understood the threat posed by the virus of religious hatred and intolerance and he did not hesitate to denounce it. Whether or not his message would be heard and listened to in other corners of the globe was beyond his influence and control. At best, he could hope that perhaps the enlightened American example that he personally sponsored and endorsed would not be lost on the rest of mankind.

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