17 August 1790
Permit the children of the Stock of Abraham, to approach you, with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person & merits—and to join with our fellow Citizens in welcoming you to Newport.
With pleasure we reflect on those days—those days of difficulty, and danger, when the God of Israel, who delivered David from the peril of the sword, shielded your head in the day of battle; and we rejoice to think, that the same Spirit who rested in the bosom of the greatly beloved Daniel, enabling him to preside over the provinces of the Babylonish empire, rests, and ever will rest, upon you, enabling you to discharge the arduous duties of CHIEF MAGISTRATE in these States.
Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free citizens, we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold a Government, erected by the MAJESTY OF THE PEOPLE —a government, which to bigotry gives no sanction — to persecution no assistance; but generously affording to ALL liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship: Deeming every one, of whatever nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental machine. This so ample, and extensive Federal Union, whose basis is philanthropy, mutual confidence and public virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the great God, who ruleth in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, doing whatever seemeth him good.
For all the Blessings of civil and religious liberty, which we enjoy under an equal and benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the ancient of days, the great preserver of Men—beseeching him, that the Angel who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness into the promised land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life — And when like Joshua full of days and full of honors, you are gathered to your fathers, may you be admitted into the heavenly paradise, to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.
Done and Signed by the order of the Hebrew Congregation, in Newport, (Rhode-Island)
Moses Seixas, Warden
18 August 1790
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.
(Signed) G. Washington
Consider these questions when reading the letter:
- Consider the history of Judaism in the North American colonies and in Europe. Why do you think the Hebrew Congregation would write such a petition to Washington?
- Why would Washington care to visit Touro Synagogue (the congregation that wrote this petition)?
- What do you think George Washington meant when he wrote "All [citizens] possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship"?
- Who may be excluded in Washington's definition of "citizenship"?
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On August 18, 1790, congregants of the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, warmly welcomed George Washington to both their place of worship and their city with this petition. Washington’s letter of response to the synagogue, delivered on the same day, has become famous for reinforcing the ideal of religious liberty in American life and was circulated in newspapers across the country.