George Washington's Letter To Today

12/09/2016 12:20 pm ET Updated Dec 09, 2017
Vintage American history print of the first twenty-one Presidents of The United States seated together in The White House. It
Vintage American history print of the first twenty-one Presidents of The United States seated together in The White House. It reads, Our Presidents. 1789 - 1881. Included presidents are from right to left, James Madison, James Monroe, Martin Van Buren, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Pierce, George Washington, Zachary Taylor, John Tyler, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, Chester Arthur, James Buchanan, John Adams, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, Millard Fillmore, John Quincy Adams, and Rutherford B. Hayes.

A letter that George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island seems so relevant to where we have been lately and where - sadly- we appear to be going after the Trump inaugural.

Washington's letter reassures those of the Jewish religion who had fled religious intolerance for a fresh start and a new life in a new nation that the government would not interfere with matters of conscience and belief, nor threaten their safety. Quoting the Old Testament, Washington writes: "every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid." He continues with his own comments: "For happily the Government of the United States 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."

Washington suffered from the original sin of owning slaves - one which still resonates in our world where some African Americans are still denied fundamental rights like a decent education and a safe place to live and flourish, and in some cases life itself - but Washington's words regarding religious liberty nevertheless take on a broader meaning in our time. His Old Testament bible quote "every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid" could be applied to immigrants today, and freedom of dissent and thought - all under attack by Trump and his cohorts. Substitute Syrians or Mexicans for Jews and the words still hold an essential truth - that right to sit safely under ones own vine..."and there shall be none to make him afraid." The fear that is pervasive in America today following the uptick in antisemitism, anti-Muslim assaults, and anti-black outrages, is the very fear that the Founding Fathers wanted to calm - so that those GOP conservatives who cling to the "originalists" like their mother's breast have no understanding of the intention of the Founders to provide a safe haven for all refugees - citizens and non citizens - not threats of internment camps and expulsion. We still need the safety of our own vine and fig tree - only today those vines and that tree are under threat by the incoming government. Beware of these little men with large hatchets. We are being offered a rogues gallery of greed and ignorance for a cabinet, to be headed by a man who should be in command of a pirate ship, not the United States government.