brief thoughts on tolerance from george washington via sarah vowell

there’s a lot of talk recently in various quarters about “tolerance” and who is and who is not — individually, nationally, etc. not all of it makes sense or rings true.


it was nice, then, to come across this snippet from a letter from george washington written after the war for the independence of the united states, in vowell‘s new lafayette in the somewhat united states. as with all things of the era, it reflects ideals rather than being a perfect mirror of reality, but it is in keeping with a whole ethos of working to become less imperfect. vowell writes:

after the war, in 1790, newport’s synagogue would go on to inspire one of washington’s finer moments as a president and a person. responding to a letter from touro’s moses seixas, who asked the president if ratifying the bill of rights was, to paraphrase, good for jews.


washington would send a letter addressed to the hebrew congregation at newport. the first amendment, he explained, exposed tolerance as a sham, because intolerance implies one superior group of people deigning to put up with their inferiors.


it is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed for the exercise of their inherent national rights,’ washington wrote.for, happily, the government of the united states… gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.


emphasis added. the book (30 pages shy of the end) is recommended.

Published by hlanthorn

ORCID ID: 0000-0002-1899-4790

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