George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Hebrew Congregations of Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, and Richmond, 13 December 1790

To the Hebrew Congregations of Philadelphia, New York, Charleston, and Richmond

[Philadelphia, 13 December 1790]


The liberality of sentiment toward each other which marks every political and religious denomination of men in this Country, stands unparalleled in the history of Nations. The affection of such people is a treasure beyond the reach of calculation; and the repeated proofs which my fellow Citizens have given of their attachment to me, and approbation of my doings form the purest source of my temporal felicity. The affectionate expressions of your address again excite my gratitude, and receive my warmest acknowledgments.

The Power and Goodness of the Almighty were strongly Manifested in the events of our late glorious revolution; and his kind interposition in our behalf has been no less visible in the establishment of our present equal government. In war he directed the Sword; and in peace he has ruled in our Councils. My agency in both has been guided by the best intentions, and a sense of the duty which I owe my Country: and as my exertions have hitherto been amply rewarded by the Approbation of my fellow Citizens, I shall endeavour to deserve a continuance of it by my future conduct.

May the same temporal and eternal blessings which you implore for me, rest upon your Congregations.

Go: Washington.

LS, ViRVal; LB, DLC:GW. According to John C. Fitzpatrick the original is endorsed by Tobias Lear “Deld. Decr. 13th 1790” (Fitzpatrick, Writings, description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. 39 vols. Washington, D.C., 1931–44. description ends 31:185).

Manuel Josephson, a merchant and leader of the Mikve Israel congregation of Philadelphia, initiated an unsuccessful appeal to the various Hebrew congregations to join in an address to GW in 1789. Josephson (c.1729–1796) was born in Germany and emigrated to New York City. He was a sutler during the French and Indian War and as a merchant during the Revolution supplied the Continental army with weapons. In 1762 he was named president of the Shearith Israel congregation in New York. He fled to Philadelphia during the Revolution and was elected president of Mikve Israel congregation in 1785 (Wolf and Whiteman, Jews of Philadelphia, description begins Edwin Wolf II and Maxwell Whiteman. The History of the Jews of Philadelphia from Colonial Times to the Age of Jackson. Philadelphia, 1957. description ends 152–53; Marcus, Early American Jewry, description begins Jacob Rader Marcus. Early American Jewry. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1951–53. description ends 2:491–93).

Josephson’s appeal was later revived by the trustees of the Shearith Israel congregation of New York, who issued a circular letter to other Hebrew congregations in the United States, dated 20 June 1790, indicating that “We are desirous of addressing the President of the United States in one general address, comprehending all the Congregations professing our Holy religion in America, as we are led to understand that mode will be less irksome to the president then troubling him to reply to every individual address.” On behalf of the congregation, the trustees asked the recipients to give “us permission to Include you in the Address” and suggested that each “transmit us a draft in what manner you would be desirous of having the address worded, that thereby we may collect the different Ideas of the Congregations, in whose behalf we may address.” The circular letter was signed on behalf of the trustees by Isaac Moses and Solomon Simson, president of the congregation. It was delivered to the leaders of the Hebrew congregations in Newport, R. I., Philadelphia, Richmond, and Charleston, South Carolina.

This new effort was apparently prompted, in part, by the address sent to GW by the Mikve Israel congregation of Savannah, Ga., a few weeks earlier (see GW to the Savannah, Ga., Hebrew Congregation, c. May 1790). The circular letter from the New York congregation noted that “We do not by any means, conceive ourselves well treated by the Georgians, who have officiously come forward without any previous notice . . . as nothing of that nature could have been required of them, unless done on a general plan” (“Items Relating to Correspondence of Jews with George Washington,” PAJHS, description begins Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society. 1893–. description ends 27 [1920], 217–18).

Responses to the New York circular were not uniformly favorable. Writing on behalf of the Hebrew congregation in Newport, R. I., Moses Seixas replied on 2 July 1790 that his congregation, while sympathetic with the idea, was reluctant to give offense to the state legislature by addressing the president before that body had done so. Seixas was critical of the New York congregation for not having presented an address to the president earlier, contending that the New York congregation “from its Location ought [not] to have been second to any other Religious Society whatsoever, and what plea you can now make to him for your apparent neglect, which almost amounts to disrespect, We cannot conceive, unless it is—That you waited in full confidence of this State acceeding to the Federal Constitution so as you might be join’d by us in the address” (ibid., 218–20). If this was the case, Seixas wrote, then the Newport congregation would consent to be included in the address. Seixas added that the independent action of the Savannah congregation had been entirely warranted by the neglect of the New York congregation. No further correspondence on this matter between the two congregations has been found, but when GW visited Rhode Island in August, the Newport congregation presented its own address to the president (see GW to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, R.I., 18 Aug. 1790).

The Beth Elohim congregation of Charleston, S.C., responded favorably to the circular in a letter of 15 July 1790 and enclosed a proposed draft, but it received no reply from New York and eventually became dissatisfied with the undertaking. On 20 Nov. 1790 Philip Hart of the Charleston congregation wrote to Moses and Simson complaining that “we are left in the dark and know not whether such general address has ever been presented, at all events should it not, on the receipt of this we beg you will not include us in the same, as we think it has been too tardy in the delivery” (“Items Relating to Correspondence of Jews with George Washington,” PAJHS, description begins Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society. 1893–. description ends 27 [1920], 221). This request came too late; on 25 Nov. 1790 Simson wrote on behalf of the New York congregation to Manuel Josephson, asking him to present the address to Washington.

With the impending move of the federal government to Philadelphia, Josephson had apparently assumed responsibility for completing the address and delivering it to GW sometime in the fall. Josephson presented the address to GW in person on 13 Dec. 1790. The address reads: “It is reserved for you to unite in affection for your Character And Person, every political and religious denomination of Men; and in this will the Hebrew Congregations aforesaid, yield to no class of their fellow Citizens.

“We have been hitherto prevented by various circumstances peculiar to our situation from adding our congratulations to those which the rest of America have offerd on your elevation to the Chair of the Fœderal governmt. Deign then illustrious Sir, to Accept this our homage.

“The wonders which the Lord of Hosts hath worked in the days of our Forefathers, have taught us to observe the greatness of his wisdom and his might, throughout the events of the late glorious revolution; and while we humble ourselves at his footstool in thanksgiving and praise for the blessing of his deliverance; we acknowledge you the Leader of the American Armies as his chosen and beloved servant; But not to your Sword alone is our present happiness to be ascribed; That indeed opend the way to the reign of Freedom, but never was it perfectly secure, till your hand gave birth to the Foederal Constitution, and you renounced the joys of retirement to Seal by your administration in Peace, what you had achieved in war.

“To ‘the eternal God who is thy refuge’, we Commit in our prayer the care of thy precious Life, and when full of years Thou shall be gatherd unto the People ‘thy righteousness shall go before thee’, and we shall remember amidst our regret, that the Lord hath set apart the Godly for himself; whilst thy name and thy Virtues will remain an indelible memorial on our minds” (DLC:GW).

On 14 Dec. 1790 Josephson reported to Simson: “In consequence of your Letter of 25th November covering proceedings of the Trustees of that day, impowering me to include your Congregation & those of Charleston & Richmond in our intended address to the President of the United States; I complied with your wish: And yesterday had the honour to present the same to him in person, and was favoured with his answer, as you will observe by the Newspaper herewith inclosed—I made it a point to inform the President verbally, the reasons of your Congregation’s seeming remissness in not having paid their respects before; and he appeared perfectly satisfied” (“Items Relating to Correspondence of Jews with George Washington,” PAJHS, description begins Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society. 1893–. description ends 27 [1920], 221–22).

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