The Hebrew Congregation of Newport Congratulates George Washington On His Visit To Their City
On August 17, 1790, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, presented a congratulatory address to President George Washington on the occasion of his visit to their city.
Both the address, written by Moses Seixas, and Washington's response appeared together in several newspapers. They encapsulate Washington’s clearest articulation of his belief in religious freedom and the first presidential affirmation of the free and equal status of Jewish-American citizens.
In 1654, the first group of Jews to arrive in the future U.S. settled in what is now New York. And as early as 1658, Jewish immigrants arrived in Newport seeking religious liberty. Throughout the colonial period, Jews continued to come to North America, settling mainly in seaport towns. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, these immigrants had established several thriving synagogues.
In 1790, the synagogue's warden, Moses Seixas, wrote to George Washington, expressing his support for Washington's administration and good wishes for him. Washington sent a letter in response, which read in part:
...the Government of the United States...gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance...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."
Judah Touro, the son of Isaac Touro and his wife Reyna, made a fortune as a merchant in New Orleans. He left $10,000 in his will for the upkeep of the Jewish cemetery and synagogue in Newport.
A legend exists that the trap door under the tebáh (bimah) was used while the synagogue was a stop on the Underground Railroad. This is unfounded.
In 1946, Touro Synagogue was designated a National Historic Site and is an affiliated area of the National Park Service. The synagogue was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. In 2001, the congregation joined into a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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.”— George Washington, letter to Moses Seixas, August 17, 1790