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U.S. Aid to Jews

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Ever since the United States attained its independence—long before the Jewish community gained its present day importance—the national government repeatedly demonstrated its friendship for the Jewish people all over the world and, wherever it could do so with propriety, intervened in behalf of the oppressed Jewries of foreign countries.

In some cases, when the situation demanded heroic measures, the government was ready to stretch a diplomatic point in order to come to the rescue of the “children of Abraham.”


Again, with the exception of Great Britain, whose Jewish policy closely parallels that of our own government in almost every respect, no modern nation did so much, very often unsolicited, for the succoring of Jewish unfortunates wherever their cry of anguish might arise. In a great many of these enterprises, notably those aimed to alleviate Jewish suffering in Morocco, Damascus, Rumania, the diplomatic agents of America found faithful allies in their colleagues of the British foreign service.

The first American President, that great Englishman and father of the American Republic, George Washington, voiced in several letters addressed to various communities in the United States, his attitude of friendship and good-will towards our people. As we had occasion to see, he, the originator of so many constitutional precedents, in this case did not inaugurate anything new, but merely gave expression to what every enlightened Englishman, whether in Great Britain or in America, came to regard as the normal and humane attitude to the Jews.


In a letter addressed to the Hebrew Congregations in Newport, Rhode Island, Washington writes:

“The citizens of the United States of America have the right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of invitation. 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, the 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…. 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 everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”


One of these highlights in the history of America’s championship of the rights of the Jews, is the Damascus Affair of 1840. True to the accepted medieval style, it began with an accusation of ritual murder levelled against the Jewish inhabitants of this ancient town. Immediately a eign of terror began with brutal murder and pillage of the Jewish quarters in its wake. The persecutions and tortures to which some of the most prominent Jews of Damascus had been subjected were reported to the Department of State at Washington by the United States Consul at Damascus.

Upon the receipt of the report, Secretary of State John Forsythe immediately instructed the American Consul at Alexandria, John Glidden, to make representation to the Khedive and to employ all good offices and efforts in the attempt to mitigate the horrors of these persecutions.


Almost simultaneously, the State Department forwarded instructions to the United States Minister to Turkey, David Porter, to do everything possible in his power to influence the Porte in favor of extending protection to the Jews of Damascus, and to clear the innocent victims of the heinous charge lodged against them by anti-Semitic agitators.

In both these communications of the American government to its diplomatic agents the stated reasons for the intervention of the United States were, “because its political and civil institutions make no distinction in favor of individuals by reason of race or creed, but treat all with absolute equality.” Since this doctrine has not been challenged, it would appear to have established an important precedent in international relations. We shall see later, that the American government had quite frequent recourse to this rule it laid down in its attempt to intervene in behalf of the Jews.


Of far greater international importance was the attitude of the United States towards the question of Jewish disabilities in Switzerland. For the first time in the history of the modern world a powerful Christian State demanded in its negotiations with another government equal status for the Jews. Succinctly stated, this agitation began with the transmission, in 1851, to the Senate by President Fillmore of a treaty negotiated in 1850 between the United States Minister at Berne, A. Dudley Mann, and the Swiss Confederation.

In his message accompanying the treaty, the President took exception to the provision which specifically provided that only Christians were to be admitted to the privileges and rights guaranteed to American citizens sojourning or residing in Switzerland.


Daniel Webster, the Secretary of State, and Senator Henry Clay, two of the most distinguished statesmen in American history, announced at once their opposition to the treaty. A movement was set on foot throughout the country, sponsored by non-Jews, to procure religious toleration abroad for American Jews. American Jewry, naturally, was most energetic in defending both its cherished rights and those of its discriminated brothers abroad. The Senate declined to ratify the treaty.

The striking instance of American cooperation with Great Britain in behalf of the Jewish people, was afforded in 1863 when the long suffering Jews of Morocco were subjected to a vicious outburst of pillage and murder. On being apprised of the situation, Secretary of State Seward instructed the United States Consul at Tangier to use his good offices and best efforts for the alleviation of suffering among the Morroccan Jews and to cooperate with the British authorities in furthering the mission of Sir Moses Montefiore.


Since there were no American citizens involved, Seward, like his predecessor in the case of the Damascus intervention, based his act on the ground of justice and humanity. For over two years the American Consul did yeoman work in this enterprise.

Again, in 1878, the United States Consul at Tangier, F. A. Matthews, was called upon to use his influence for the alleviation of suffering among the sorely tried Jews of Morocco. Repeated rioting caused the United States Minister at Madrid, Lucius Fairchild, to proceed in March, 1881, to Morocco to investigate the condition of the Jews. The results of his study he embodied in an exhaustive and sympathetic report to Secretary Blaine, in which he displayed his thoroughly American attitude to the unfortunate Jews of that country.

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