George Washington to the Touro Synaguge, #OnThisDay in 1790. Congregants of the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, warmly welcomed George Washington today in 1790 to both their place of worship and their city. Washington’s letter of response to the synagogue, delivered on the same day, has become famous for reinforcing the ideal of religious liberty in American life.
Washington promised the synagogue more than mere religious tolerance, explaining that "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.”
The letter continued with the promise that "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."
In addition, Washington responded by offering his own biblical references: "May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, to 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."
Washington's position on religious liberty remained consistent throughout the remainder of his presidency. However, his correspondence with other religious groups was never as explicitly supportive as his words to the Touro Synagogue. Washington's remarks established a precedent for protecting religious liberty and pluralism in the United States that persists to this day.
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