George Washington’s “Abrahamic tradition” letter to the Jews

George Washington's letter to Jews in Rhode Island

George Washington‘s letter to Jews in Rhode Island

George Washington, first president of the United States, reached out to the small Jewish community in Rhode Island in 1790. The letter was addressed to Moses Seixas and the Hebrew Congregation at Newport. The letter is the origin of Washington’s famous “to bigotry no sanction” quote.

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.

Washington’s letter is important in light of current relations between non-Muslims and Muslims in the United States. Although Washington was not writing specifically to Muslims in his letter, he was speaking to a broader connection between Christianity and Judaism in the Abrahamic tradition, which Islam is also part of. In addition, Washington made it clear that American identity is based on civil liberties and citizenship and not ethnic or religious components.

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