Each year, on his statutory birthday, this blog pays tribute to George Washington. Now, in light of the Pittsburgh massacre of Jews at worship and the role of President Trump in creating the atmosphere for such actions, it joins with others across the country in recalling one of his writings.
Rhode Island, fearful that is small size would lead to its being run over by the other states, refused to ratify the Constitution. When President Washington toured the entire country, he intentionally skipped Rhode Island. Only after the other states threatened a trade embargo did Rhode Island, by the narrowest of votes, ratify.
Washington then decided he must visit Rhode Island. He traveled by boat from New York, then the capital city, to Newport, Rhode Island. When he stepped off the boat, he was greeted by members of the Jewish congregation there, happy to be part of the United States and honored by the arrival of the president.
The president was an exceptional man. He had refused any offer of a royal title in the new country, even declining to be called “Your Excellency.” A Virginian, he would order that his slaves would be freed at his death, and they were freed more than 60 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.
He sought to be president of all Americans, though he faced opposition from Thomas Jefferson and his new political party. Among the ranks of the Americans fighting the British, he included Roman Catholics and Jews, though both were the objects of discrimination.
He condemned only those who would rebel against the United States. But he did not identify himself with the country and received heated criticism. He understood that whatever he did set the tone for the entire country and its government.
Contrast what he wrote in his letter thanking the Newport Jewish congregation with what President Trump says. The American people need a leader who will rise above partisanship and rabble rousing, just as Washington did.
It would be easy to say that the times are different, and the president can no longer be so civilized. But a true leader must rise above the passions of the times. He or she must remind Americans of their faith in the goodness of their country, not stimulate and exploit their distrust of one another.
Washington is the true American president, not Trump. When people vote, they should keep the difference in mind. Herewith is the letter Washington wrote to the Newport Jewish congregation.
Gentlemen: While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in 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 a 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 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, 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 everyone 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 in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy