TEXT

Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport

President George Washington wrote this letter, dated August 18, 1790, to a Hebrew congregation in Newport, Rhode Island.
Author
George Washington
Grade Level

To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island

[Newport, R.I., 18 August 1790]

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 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.

Go: Washington

Source
This text is in the public domain.
Text Dependent Questions
Question
Who does Washington refer to as the “Children of the Stock of Abraham”?
Answer
The Jewish people; followers of Judaism; specifically, the members of the Hebrew Congregation he is addressing.
Question
Washington writes: “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.” Restate his meaning in your own words.
Answer
Responses will vary but should touch on the hope and optimism of Washington’s words.
Question
Would you describe the tone of Washington’s letter as optimistic, pessimistic or indifferent? How do you know? Support your opinion with evidence from the text.
Answer
Responses may vary, but should draw on Washington’s optimistic and positive tone and his warm and friendly message.
Question
How can you tell that Washington is addressing a Jewish audience and writing about religious freedom, even though he does not directly mention religion or mention a god? Cite evidence from the text in your response.
Answer
Responses may vary, but should draw on context clues and other phrasing, such as “Hebrew,” and “Children of the Stock of Abraham” and the terms “liberty of conscience” and “toleration” as referring to religious freedom.
Question
Washington writes, “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.” What can we infer about Washington’s definition of toleration from this quote?
Answer
That it ought to be guaranteed as a right and not as a privilege that is merely conditional upon the kindness or willingness of others in more power.
Question
What does Washington mean when he writes that the Government of the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction” and “persecution no assistance”? Evaluate the merit and authenticity of his words based on what you know about the American culture, society and politics circa 1790.
Answer
Responses should critique the authenticity and merit of Washington’s claim by identifying that, while he is establishing the United States as a place where the government will not practice prejudice against specific groups [ bigotry] or unfairly harm, hurt or punish particular groups of people [persecution], several groups were experiencing bigotry and persecution in the United States at that time, including women who were regarded as second-class citizens, American Indians who were being slaughtered and whose land was being stolen, and people of African descent, almost all of whom were being bought and sold as slaves.