Readers Write: Washington decries bigotry in letter to Jews

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There is much to be concerned about and disgusted with when it comes to supremacist’s attacks on LI’s Jewish communities, attacks on people of Asian descent in New York City, attacks on Muslims, blacks, gays, all minorities and people in whole. There is no shortage of victims.

The founders of our great nation also dealt with their versions of supremacy, intolerance and cruelty whether British royal decree or coercive anti-social forces that included problems of racism, slavery, religious intolerance and misogyny.

While each struggled with one of these aspects or another—were themselves not perfect human beings—they nonetheless resolved to establish the political and legal framework we are familiar with. When I think about the Preamble to the Constitution and all that followed, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, their purpose was to dispel superstition and seditious faction to compellingly summon support for a more perfect union. To refute antagonists and to lay the sure foundation of a just society, stripped of arbitrary and cruel influences, passions and emotions—as is so often our own trouble. “We the people” cannot be broader.

It is true that life so viewed is romantic, humanistic and sublime. After all, these developed out of the Enlightenment, yet all would be dust and for naught today were there nothing of these ideals to be stirred in ourselves. At the same time, they are not cheap or artificial, subject to superficial whims or change. Prior royal decrees consisting of “because I said so” no longer applied.

The outcome of the American Revolution was the determination of legal action sweeping in extent—and a process of spirit that influences and directs our reality. Fundamental in that it would come to include all citizens. It is this propitious truth that absorbs and carries us along.

At the same time, we must be careful not to be imperfect psychologists, arbitrary moralists, unfair, repressive, or unjust. Patriotism, liberty, and morals must be subordinated to the rational allegiance of justice and society.

In his letter of 1790, George Washington responded to Moses Seixas, warden of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, addressing the ideals of tolerance, liberty and freedom of religion in the newly established nation. What Washington renders in his typical directness, beyond the niceties, are the self-evident truths enshrined by the new nation in law, the moral inspiration that guides us.

When I read Washington’s words, it is with great emotion and I wonder what must it have been like to compose them?

Gentlemen.

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

 

Stephen Cipot

Garden City Park

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