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  • Pastor Paul Davis

GEORGE WASHINGTON’S LETTER TO THE TOURO SYNAGOGUE

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

John Clark, the first Baptist pastor in America, secured a charter for the Rhode Island colony in 1663. Three provisions made this charter, written by a Baptist, unique from all others: 1) It recognized the Indians’ rights to their native land, 2) it allowed the colonists to elect their own governors and write their own laws and 3) it guaranteed religious liberty to all.

The pen of a Baptist pastor and statesman produced a charter that “guaranteed to the people privileges unparalleled in the history of the world.” “From the time of its adoption Rhode Island was practically a free, democratic state, with the amplest provision for liberty of conscience.”

Quakers, shunned in England and outlawed in Massachusetts, soon arrived in the colony as well as Anglicans and Congregationalists. Jew, often ostracized and persecuted in Europe for centuries by Catholic and protestant governments found refuge in Rhode Island. Here they could practice their religion openly. Even before John Clark’s charter, fifteen Spanish Jewish families arrived in Newport in 1658. More would follow and they would flourish. At least twenty-five Jewish families lived in Newport by the time of the Revolution, making it the largest Jewish community in the colonies. Rhode Island would benefit from its benevolence to the Jews.

Industries they developed stimulated a thriving economy, thus exhibiting God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants, “I will bless them that bless thee” (Gen. 12:3).

The Touro synagogue in Newport, built in 1763, is the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America. It stands a short distance from the Baptist church started by John Clark. George Washington would visit Newport in 1790 and receive a hero’s welcome. The Touro Synagogue presented him a letter stating, “Permit the children of the Stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person & merits—and to join with our fellow Citizens in welcoming you to New Port.

“With pleasure we reflect on those days—those days of difficulty, & 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 ...

“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.”

Washington promptly reciprocated: “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 ...

“… 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.” Washington was no anti-Semite.


__________


1 Cathcart, vol. I ,p. 229.

2 Newman, p. 107

4 Ibid.


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