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George Washington Visits Newport

On August 17, 1790, George Washington, the first president of the United States, visited the Newport synagogue during a grand tour of New England. Moses Seixas, minister of the congregation, welcomed the President and delivered a congratulatory speech. Not long after his visit, Washington wrote a letter thanking the congregation for their hospitality.

Excerpts from the speech and Washington's letter appear here.

 

  In his speech, Moses Seixas began by comparing Washington to several outstanding biblical figures, and then praised the United States for its embrace of religious freedom.

Deprived as we hitherto 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. . . .

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 Antient 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 honor, 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. . . .

  In the following excerpt from Washington's letter, he rejects the idea of "toleration" for the more democratic one of "equality."

. . . .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.

 

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