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Significant Washington letter to the Jewish congregation of Newport...



Item # 704389

September 15, 1790

GAZETTE OF THE UNITED STATES, New York, Sept. 15, 1790  The back page contains one of the more significant Judaica items found in an American newspaper.
It presents the full text of the: "Address Of The Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island To the President of the United States of America", signed in type by the warden, Moses Seixas, welcoming the President to the city. This is followed by Washington's historic letter of response addressed: "To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island" signed by him in type: G. Washington.
Moses Seixas poured out his heart full of gratitude to George Washington for his leadership in the establishment of a new government. He expressed the hope that this new country would accord all of its citizens respect and tolerance, whatever their background and religious beliefs.
Seixas' eloquent message reads in part: "...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...".
The Seixas letter moved the President. He responded by assuring the Hebrew congregation that “...every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid...”. This was a very poetic way of saying they would be safe in their homes and houses of worship. He also said this would be a country which “...gives to bigotry no sanction...”, one of the most notable & significant utterances of any President concerning religious tolerance.
Further to Washington's response, he takes care to echo Seixas' language regarding religious freedom: "...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...".
These few words affirmed the founding fathers' commitment to the principals of religious freedom as a cornerstone of democracy in America. More information on this newspaper is available online.
Washington’s concluding paragraphs perfectly expresses the ideal relationship among the government, its individual citizens and religious groups: "...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 under his own vine and fig tree, 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.”
This letter was written during Washington’s first term as President and is Washington’s clearest statement of religious tolerance. It is considered a stepping stone for the First Amendment that would come the following year in 1791 and is considered a fundamental document establishing Washington's belief in the separation of church and state.
Although it pales in comparison, page 3 contains "By the President...A Proclamation" signed in type: G. Washington, concerning a treaty with the Creek Indian Nation, followed by another "Proclamation" signed by him as well. This is then followed by the text of the treaty, which takes close to a full column.
Note: To provide some relevance to the rarity & desirability of this content, a Sotheby's auction from January, 2023 sold this same content in the a Boston newspaper dated Sept. 7, 1790 for $529,200.
Complete in 4 pages, some rubbing at front page folds, a small archival mend to page 2 but obviously of no effect to the back page content. A small ink stain in the masthead, evenly & lightly toned, ample margins, cleanly disbound, very nice condition.

Item from Catalog 344 (released for July, 2024)

Category: The 1600's and 1700's