History- Mosque Debate- What Would George Washington Say?

This congratulatory address, written by Moses Seixas (1744-1809) was presented by the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island to President George Washington .In his address, Seixas referred to past persecutions of the Jews and then lauded the new nation’s commitment to religious liberty:

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.

In his reply, President Washington echoed Seixas’s words:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was 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 two letters were published in several newspapers that year and thus became the first presidential declaration of the free and equal status of Jews in America. Seixas’s original formulation, “To bigotry . . . no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” became–through its use by President Washington–a cherished expression of America’s abiding commitment to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all its inhabitants.

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