The Trump campaign has given me a lot of new respect for George Washington. On August 18, 1790, exactly 226 years ago today, President George Washington sent a letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. In the letter, Washington explained why he could never support a candidate like Donald Trump as his successor, but he declined to say who he would vote for in future elections.
Washington visited Newport that August along with other representatives from the new federal government in recognition that Rhode Island had just ratified the United States Constitution and to lobby for passage of amendments to the Constitution that would become the Bill of Rights. Among the local leaders who welcomed Washington and his entourage was Moses Seixas of Touro Synagogue in Newport. Seixas read a letter of greeting explaining that it was a relief to live in a republic "deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental Machine." Washington's letter was an answer to Seixas.
Washington wrote, "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." The United States government, according to its first President, "gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance . . . Every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."
I know George Washington was an unrepentant slaveholder. But at least here he was a spokesperson for a more inclusion vision of the United States. As the Trump campaign has escalated racial and ethnic tension and bullying in schools, this letter by George Washington becomes essential reading in every social studies and history class as a reminder of what the Founding Fathers actually believed.
George Washington's Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island
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 alike 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 every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, 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.
If readers email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I will assemble your ideas on Election 2016 into a follow-up post. Follow Alan Singer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ReecesPieces8