February 20, 2024

President’s Day was always a weird holiday for me. When I was growing up, we usually got off school for both President Lincoln’s AND President Washington’s birthdays. I don’t remember when we stopped celebrating President Washington’s birthday by itself and had his lumped in with President’s Day. But I digress.


I bring this up because an interesting email came across my inbox yesterday that included an article about a letter written by President Washington to the relatively small American Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790.


Moses Seixas, the warden of the Touro Synagogue, wrote a letter to newly elected President George Washington upon his visit to Newport, Rhode Island, in August 1790. Seixas was not the only person to write to President Washington upon his arrival; other leading citizens of Newport also presented him with letters of welcome. However, Washington’s reply to Seixas’s letter is considered the earliest insight into how this new nation would strive for religious liberty and not interfere with personal beliefs of conscience.


In the spirit of President’s Day and celebrating our freedom to practice our faith, just like other people of faith, here in the US, I wanted to share with you Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport:




While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.


The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people.


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. All possess a like liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.


It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. 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 everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.


G. Washington



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