Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

America and Zionism

February 1, 1935
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

From its very inception, the modern Zionist movement has recognized its complete dependence on the good-will of the enlightened nations of mankind. That Zionism in the main did succeed in obtaining this good-will is a matter of record. But in no country of the world, with the possible exception of Great Britain—whose relation to the movement is of a special character—has this good-will been more constant and cordial and genuine than in the United States of America.

The generous and unstinted support given to the cause of Zionism by the people and Government of the United States is, perhaps, one of the outstanding facts in modern Jewish history. It is impossible to hazard a guess what the ultimate fate of this great Jewish movement would have been were it not for the powerful support of America. Whenever the outlook appeared hopeless, whenever the obstacles seems well-nigh insurmountable, it was the magnificent and timely intervention of the United States that saved the day for the Jews and Palestine.


That this sympathy and understanding on the part of the United States is not dictated solely by considerations of internal political expediency, is easily deduced from a review of Zionism in America. Irrespective of the politics of the National Administration, Zionism was championed equally warmly by succeeding Governments. Wilson, on the one hand, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover on the other, were uniformly friendly to our cause.

Moreover, sympathy for Zionism in America is not confined to official circles. The support of practically all classes of the population is, if anything, equally genuine. All organs of public opinion consistently voice their approval of our movement. With rare exceptions the public press of the Republic, its pulpit, its educators and intellectual leaders, its industrialists and labor leaders, have generously upheld the Jewish rights to their ancient Homeland. Their active support had in many cases the effect of turning a Jewish defeat into a victory.


When one stops to consider the reasons underlying this amazing and magnificent manifestation of friendship to the Jewish people and its aspirations, when one delves into the past relationship of the United States to Jewry, one is inevitably led to the conclusion that this attitude of the American people is not a passing whim, dictated by motives of a transitory nature, but may justly be said to constitute a well-defined national policy, whose roots are discernible in the early history of the white settlements in the New World, are imbedded in the cultural heritage of the American Nation, and are woven into the mentality of its people.

In this respect the United States offers a striking parallel to Great Britain. In both countries national characteristics and peculiarities of cultural development made for a fundamental and profound appreciation of Jewish aims in Palestine.


By some curious dispensation of fate, the Jews from the beginning have been peculiarly connected with America. This connection did not express itself only in the overwhelming spiritual influence of the Hebrew Scriptures.

It took on, from the earliest days of colonial history, the form of an ever-increasing stream of Jewish immigration, resulting finally in the establishment of the largest Jewish concentration in a single country in all the history of Jewish dispersion, Discounting the Ten Lost Tribes theory of the American Indians, a notion which has had a remarkable vitality and which was shared by such outstanding Americanists as Roldan, Garcia, Thorowgood, Adair, Lord Kingsborough, to mention only a few, the physical connection of the Jews with America began very early, in the case of South and Central America antedating the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers.


Although it is quite difficult to fix with any degree of accuracy the arrival of the first Jewish settlers to the shores of North America, it is nevertheless a matter of record that by the middle of the seventeenth century Jews were known to have established themselves in the various Colonies of the North.

Gradually the Jews made their way to all of the original thirteen colonies. The most important of the early Jewish settlements was established in Newport, R. I., the colony whose founder, Roger Williams, was one of the greatest, advocates of religious freedom in the history of mankind and a sincere admirer of the Jews. The following passage in his memoirs is very significant: “I have longed after some trading with Jews, themselves, for whose hard measure I fear the nations and England hath yet a score to pay.” Rhode Island was the first to accord Jews full equal rights and privileges.


The Jews soon became very important factors in the life of the rapidly developing Colonies. “There can be no doubt now that the Jews were an incalculable asset to the young colonies…. What was imperatively demanded in those venturing settlements was quick and widening communications. The Jews came with exact knowledge of commerce and the skill and experience to prosecute it. Pioneer settlers, intent upon clearing forests and struggling with savages, had no such equipment. In every seaboard town it was the Jewish element that with capital and enterprise, with wisdom and daring, forwarded business.”

Thus, the Jewish role is summed up by one of the keenest and most distinguished students of American history, Charles Edward Russell. Some of the Jewish merchants of Newport owned extensive fleets of sailing boats connecting the colonial ports with those of Central and South America and Europe. By the time America was ripe to strike out on its own the Jewish population was estimated at not less than two thousand.


Judaism determined, as we had occasion to see, to a large extent the development of the self-governing institution of the thirteen original colonies, the introduction of religious liberty, and the evolution of their legal codes. But this does not end the story of Judaic influence upon the fortunes of the New World. It is to be regarded rather as a beginning, than an end, as in the nature of excavation work on which the Temple of Democracy is to be erected. The full force of Biblical influence came to the fore in those decisive years of mental revolution in America which preceded the War of Independence, culminating in the establishment of American Democracy as we know it today.

In the words of America’s great war President, Woodrow Wilson: “Not a little of the history of liberty lies in the circumstance that the moving sentences of this Book (the Bible) were made familiar to the ears and the understanding of those peoples who have led mankind in exhibiting the forms of government and the impulses of reform which have made for freedom and self-government among mankind.”


In view of the previous experiences of the colonists in applying the Mosaic Code in the ordering of their internal lives, it is not to be wondered that the very passages in the Bible that were used in the undermining of royal authority, stripping the Crown of its cloak of divinity, held up before the Americans the Hebrew Commonwealth as a model of government.

“In the spirit and essence of our Constitution the influence of the Hebrew Commonwealth was paramount, in that it was not only the highest authority for the principle: ‘Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God,’ but also because it was in itself a divine precedent for a pure democracy as distinguished from monarchy, aristocracy or any other form of government.”

This view is universally reflected in the writings of all the political writers and thinkers of that day, notably Thomas Paine, Jonathan Mayhew, Dr. Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, and a host of others. Very characteristic is the following passage taken from the “election sermon” delivered in 1775 by Samuel Langdon, President of Harvard College and leading divine of New England:


“The Jewish government according to the original constitution which was divinely established, if considered merely in a civil view, was a perfect republic. And let them who cry up the divine right of kings consider, that the form of government which had a proper claim to a divine establishment was so far from including the idea of a king, that it was a high crime for Israel to ask to be in this respect like other nations, and when they were thus gratified, it was rather as a just punishment for their folly…. The civil policy of Israel is doubtless an excellent general model, allowing for some peculiarities; at least, some principal laws and orders of it may be copied in more modern establishments.”

The sermon was ordered to be printed by the Congress of Massachusetts Bay and sent to each minister in the Colony and every member of Congress.

In the great historic fight for the ratification of the Constitution by the legislatures of the various States the Bible played a most decisive role, the proponents for the Constitution repeatedly referring to this original model of popular government.


At the outbreak of the Revolution, the Jews numbered about 2,000 out of a total population of 2,000,000, or one-tenth of one per cent. They had developed large commercial interests in the principal seaboard towns in Newport, Philadelphia, New York, Charleston and Savannah. They were largely engaged in intercolonial and English trade. Some of the Jewish traders of Newport and Philadelphia were among the largest shipowners in America.

Their interests, therefore, were on the side of the loyalists. To support the Revolution meant certain ruin. Nonetheless, from the very beginning of the conflict, the Jews were almost to a man enthusiastic supporters of the cause of separation. Jewish names figure prominently in the various non-importation agreements and other measures designed to frustrate British trade.

Recommended from JTA