American Jews take more than a common interest in the birthday cebebration today of George Washington. The American President, symbolic of religious freedom and liberty, was worshipped in his day by people of all creeds and to the annual tribute paid his menory for the last two hundred years Jews in every State and in foreign countries have added their own hymn of praise.
The archives are rich with stories a anecdotes revealing the friedship which Washington felt for Jewish citizens in New York, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Richmond. Charieston and other centers. Of partticular interest is the correspondence between Hebrew congregations in these cities and the first American President. The letters disclose Washington’s philosophy of political fredom, precepts which have since become an essential part of American tradition.
The American Revolution came to a close in October, 1781. The thirteen colonies were confronted with the unparalleled situation of disunion and bitter economic rivalry, which sprang from the lack of a centralized government.
THE NEWPORT LETTER
Between Boston of the Puritans and Dutchf New York stretched a great distance, literal and theoretical distance, which powerful leadinship alone could obliterate.
The inauguration of Washington as President was cause for rejoicing by the Jewish populace. Washington had not been slow in making elear his personal belief in liberty and tolerance and his avowal that this was to be part of the primciple to guide the new incorporated nation.
A typical letter congratulating him on his election as President came from the Newport, R. I., Congregation, which follow:
“Permit the children of the stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person and merit, and to join with your fellow citizens in welcoming you to Newport.
“With pleasure we reflect on 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 days of battle; and we rejoice to think that the same spirit which rested in the bosome of the greatly beloved Daniel, enabling him to preside over the provinees of the Babylonian Empire, rests and ever will rest upon you, enabling you to discharge the arduous duties of teh Chief Magistrale of these States.
“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 to conscience and immunity of citizenshin. deeming every one of whatever nation, tongue and languge equal parts of the great government machine.
“This so simple and extensive Federal Union, whose base is philanthropy, mutual confidence and public virtue, we connot but acknowledge to be the work of the great God who rules in the armies of the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth, doing whatever seemeth to Him good.
“For all the blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal benign administration, we desire to send up our heartfelt thanks to the Great Preserver of men, be seeching Him that the angel who conducted our forfathers through the wilderness into the promised land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties of this mortal life;and when, like Joshua, full of days and full of honors, may you be admitted into the heavenly paradise to partake of the water of life and tree of immortality.
“Done and signed by order of the Hebrew Congregation in New-port, Rhode Island. “MOSES SEIXAS,” Warden. “Newport, August 17, 1790.”
President Wasington replied as follows:
“While I receive with much satisfaction your address replete with expression of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newpart, 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 ahve wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fial, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
“The citizens of the United States of America have the right to applaud those who have given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy. All possess alike liberty of consience.
“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the execies of their inherent natural rights, for happily the government of the United no sanction, to persecution, noassistance, requires only that they who live under its protection shold demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
“It would be inconsidtent with the franknes 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 land Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while everyone shall sit in safety under his own olive and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
“May the Father of all meries scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, make us all in our several vocation useful here and in His own due time annd way everlastingly happy. “G. WASHINGTON.”
REPLIES TO PHILADELPHIA
Another communication of similar nature was received by Washington from the Hebrew congergations in Philadephia, New York, Richmond and Charleston. The letter was written over the signature of Manuel Joesphson and was dated Philadelphia, December 13, 1790.
In replay, Washington wrote:
“The biberality of sentiment to wards each other which marks every political and religious denomination of men in this coumtry, stands unparalleled in the history of nations.
“The affection of such a peple is a treasure beyond the reach of calculatio.”
TO SAVANNAL JEWS
To Levi Sheftall, president of the Congregation of Savannah, Georgia, Washington wrote:
“I rejoice that a spirit of libery and philantropy is much more prevalent than formerly among the nations of the earth, and that your brethren will benefit in proportion as it shall become still more extensive.”
Historians have dwelt upon the support Washington received from Jewish citizens of the United States. A considerable number of the American Army of Independence were Jewish. Washington conted among his personal friends many Jews. One of teh President’s personal physicians was Dr. David Hosack, a professor of natural history and materia medica and one of the founders of Bellevue Hospital in New York.
INTERVENES IN FRANKS’ BEHALF
One of the stories still told around the freside about Washington recalls his intervention in behalf of David Salishury Franks, patriot of the American Revolution, who was American Revolution, who was exonerated to malicious charges to complicity in the treason of Benedict Arnold.
Franks was a violent opponent of English power in American. He was paymaste of the American garrison in Montereal and in 1778 was named a major and assigned to the military force of Benedict Arnold who occupied Philadeiphia after the departure of the British.