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Jewish Synagogue Thanks Washington for His Role in Ensuring Civil and Religious Liberty
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In 1789, President George Washington toured New England but did not visit Rhode Island because it had not yet ratified the Constitution. Rhode Island was the last of the original thirteen states to ratify the Constitution, on May 29, 1790. Fewer than three months later, Washington visited Rhode Island with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and others. On August 18, 1790, Washington stopped at the Touro Synagogue, and Warden Moses Seixas read this letter from the congregation to Washington.

Washington’s reply to the Touro letter (which unfortunately is not printed here) is his most famous letter, and one of the greatest statements on religious freedom. Washington’s declaration that the U.S. government gives “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” is actually drawn from Seixas’ letter to him. Washington made loyalty to the nation, rather than a particular creed, the prerequisite for religious freedom and equality.

[MOSES SEIXAS]. Pamphlet. The American Museum, or Universal Magazine, for June 1791. Philadelphia, PA: Matthew Carey. Final issue of vol 9. Disbound. Including Moses Seixas’ letter to President Washington on behalf of the Newport congregation (based in Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue still standing in America). The Seixas letter appears on p. 40 of Appendix II. 192? pp. 8¼ x 5 in.

Inventory #24159       Price: $1,500

Complete Transcript

Address of the Hebrew congregation in Newport, Rhode-Island, to the president

of the united states of America, August 17, 1790.

            Sir,

            PERMIT the children of the Stock of Abraham to approach you, with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person & merit—and to join with our fellow Citizens in welcoming you to Newport.

            With pleasure we reflect on those days—those days of difficulty and danger, when the God of Israel, who delivered David from the peril of the sword, shielded your head in the day of battle: and we rejoice to think, that the same Spirit who rested in the Bosom of the greatly beloved Daniel, enabling him to preside over the provinces of the Babylonish empire, rests, and ever will rest, upon you, enabling you to discharge the arduous duties of CHIEF MAGISTRATE in these states.

            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 affords 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. This so ample and extensive federal union whose basis is philanthropy, mutual confidence and public virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the Great God, who ruleth in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, doing whatever seemeth to him good.

            For all the blessings of civil and religious liberty, which we enjoy under an equal and benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of days, the great Preserver of men—beseeching him, that the angel, who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness, into the promised land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life—And when, like Joshua, full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your fathers, may you be admitted into the heavenly paradise, to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.

            Done and signed by order of the Hebrew congregation, in Newport, Rhode-Island.

                                                [signed]          Moses Seixas, Warden.

Moses Seixas (1744-1809) was born in Rhode Island to Jewish parents who migrated from Portugal. He became a prominent leader in Newport, as warden of the Touro Synagogue of Congregation Jeshuat Israel, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Rhode Island, and a cofounder of the Bank of Rhode Island.

The American Museum, or Universal Magazine (1787-1792) was a literary magazine published by Matthew Carey (1760-1839) and was one of the first successful American magazines. With $400 given him by the Marquis de Lafayette, Carey established the magazine in Philadelphia and published twelve volumes of the magazine, with monthly issues from January 1787 to December 1792. In its first edition, The American Museum republished Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and also published the proposed Constitution of the United States. Contributors included the first four presidents of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Noah Webster, among many others. Although The American Museum had approximately 1,250 subscribers, the magazine was not profitable and ceased publication at the end of 1792.

Additional Content

This sixty-page monthly issue for June 1791 contains more than twenty prose essays, such as “Observations on the Florida gulph stream” (p303-5), “Remarks on the construction of the heavens” (p307-12), “The negro equaled by few Europeans” (p313-24), “Essay on the influence of religion in civil society, concluded” (p324-27), “Thoughts on smuggling” (p331-32), “Remarks on the slave trade” by Benjamin Franklin (p336-37), and “Detached observations on hemp” (p342-43). The forty-eight-page Appendix I includes more than fifty selections of poetry. The forty-page Appendix II includes a variety of “Public Papers,” including the Rhode-Island Charter, granted by King Charles II in 1663 (p1-10) and the Constitutions of New York (1777) (p12-19), New Jersey (1776) (p20-23), Pennsylvania (1790) (p23-33), and Delaware (1776) (p33-40). The forty-four-page Appendix III includes a variety of foreign and domestic “intelligence” or news on a variety of subjects.

*This item is also being offered in part II of The Alexander Hamilton Collection


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