In the wake of what was unarguably a turbulent week in the United States, it would serve us all to look backwards. Hatred is anti-American. Those of us who place so much faith in the texts and acts of the founding fathers have only to look back to the examples set by some of people whose sacrifices and courage defined the new nation to see an example for today.
After the revolution, Washington traveled the country meeting politicians, scholars, and theologians. His goal was to survey the growing population of the new nation. As religious liberty was a fundamental right of our new constitution, many of those who had been persecuted overseas sought an audience with the new President.
In 1790, he visited Rhode Island. While there, Washington met with a Hebrew congregation in New Port. After, he wrote the group this message.
“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 in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid,” he wrote.
In return, he asked that they participate fully in the new democracy.
“[T]he Government of the United States, […] 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.”
While the country had obvious faults when this letter was composed, the framework for our welcoming tolerance is clearly evident.
Here’s the full text of Washington’s letter:
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions 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 Newport 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 have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
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 were 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.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness 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 of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety 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, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.