George Washington’s letter to the Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island

By | October 28, 2018

On August 18,1790, during his second year in office as America’s first president, George Washington wrote:

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 every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, 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.

As America has become an insult to the vision of its founders, it’s time to remember the bedrock of this country’s foundation: that all people, irrespective of religion, race, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation, are created equal with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Somewhere along the way, the pursuit of happiness got displaced by the pursuit of personal wealth — a desire sustained by the fiction that happiness can be found in isolation and exclusion.

And yet Washington was clear in his hope that this would become the land of a happy people, recognizing that by its nature happiness is something that must be shared.

We either become a happy people embracing our diversity and caring for each other, or the fissures already fragmenting this society will continue to widen until there is no society at all.

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