“…to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”

On August 18, 1790 George Washington was welcomed to Newport, Rhode Island. Among the addresses given by the town’s citizens was one read by Moses Seixas from the Newport’s Hebrew congregation, expressing their affection and esteem for him and their gratitude to God for “a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship.” The letter also touched on their previous deprivation of rights because of their religion.

In his reply, Washington assured the Hebrew congregation in their unspoken concerns as he affirmed their hopes, “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship,” in his unequivocal declaration of religious liberty, “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.”

He was also laying down a marker for religious liberty. He had been President for only a few months, and the Bill of Rights had yet to be ratified.

“The state legislatures of Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia were in the process of debating the first ten Constitutional amendments (eventually known as the Bill of Rights) during the summer of 1790. Washington utilized heavy rhetoric, consistently reaffirming themes of liberty throughout his tour of Rhode Island.”1

Washington astutely recognized that to speak of tolerance was to imply two classes of citizens, and with the phrase, “All possess alike,” he swept the notion off the table, preempting the idea that, “the exercise of their inherent natural rights,” was to be decided by a select group. By saying that rights were inherent and natural, Washington reiterated the foundational ideas of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, and that certain unalienable rights were endowed by God, not bestowed by man, and as such, the role of government was to secure those rights, not to give or take them away.

“…the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…

“—We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

And the words, “the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” undergirded Washington’s desire that, “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

This congregation later became known as the Touro Synagogue, and Washington’s letter is read annually. This year’s reading will be this upcoming Sunday.

To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island
[Newport, R.I., 18 August 1790]

Gentlemen.

While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people.

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. 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.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. 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.2

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1Yaari Tal, “Touro Synagogue,” The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, accessed August 18, 2017, http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/touro-synagogue.
2“From George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, 18 August 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-06-02-0135. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 6, 1 July 1790 – 30 November 1790, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996, pp. 284–286.]
See also:
Touro Synagogue, National Historic Site, http://www.tourosynagogue.org
.

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April Morning

Here Once The Embattled Farmers Stood,

And fired the shot heard round the world…

Minute Man Concord MA

April 19, 1775

What made the farmers fight in 1775?

Judge Millen Chamberlain in 1842, when he was twenty-one, interviewed Captain Preston, a ninety-year-old veteran of the Concord fight: “Did you take up arms against intolerable oppression?” he asked.

“Oppression?” replied the old man. “I didn’t feel them.”

“What, were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?”

“I never saw one of those stamps. I certainly never paid a penny for one of them.”

“Well, what then about the tea tax?”

“I never drank a drop of the stuff; the boys threw it all overboard.”

“Then I suppose you had been reading Harington or Sidney and Locke about the eternal principles of liberty?”

“Never heard of ’em. We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Watts’ Psalms and Hymns, and the Almanac.”

“Well, then, what was the matter? And what did you mean in going to the fight?”

“Young man, what we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”

Follow the links for the story of the people of that April morning with timelines, commentary, videos, and maps.

April 19th, 1775Patriots’ Day

Hour by HourDetails of the Day

The Old North ChurchOne If By Land, Two If By Sea

Paul Revere’s Ride

Hancock-Clarke HouseBuckman TavernHartwell Tavern

Battle RoadThe King’s Own

Lexington Battle GreenAn Eyewitness Account

Battle at Concord’s North BridgeConcord Battle Road

Meriam’s CornerParker’s RevengeMunroe Tavern

Blogging the RedcoatsBlogging the Revolution

Mapping The RidesMapping The RegionMapping The Revolution

“…for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world…”
John Winthrop, 1630

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Hover your cursor across the phrases, because a few have more than one link!
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Concord Hymn.
Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, (Oxford University Press: 1965) 212-213. Emphasis added.

Christmas Night 1776

“On the night of December 25, 1776, with the winter wind whipsawing the water, with waves ripping across the bows of their leaky boats, and sheets of ice impeding their path, American soldiers rowed across the merciless river, from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. The city of Trenton was their objective….”

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze

Emanuel Leutze’s massive painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It’s approximately 12½ feet high by 21 feet wide. My daughter and has seen it, and reading the dimensions doesn’t measure the impact of the art. It has been scoffed at by those who like to point out various historical inaccuracies or implausibilities, but like all art it is symbolic. David Hackett Fisher writes that the debunkers:

“…rarely asked about the accuracy of its major themes. To do so is to discover that the larger ideas in Emanuel Leutze’s art are true to the history that inspired it. The artist was right in creating an atmosphere of high drama around the event, and a feeling of desperation among the soldiers in the boats. To search the writings of the men and women who were there (hundreds of firsthand accounts survive) is to find that they believe the American cause was very near collapse on Christmas night in 1776. In five months of heavy fighting after the Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s army had suffered many disastrous defeats and gained no major victories. It had lost 90 percent of its strength. The small remnant who crossed the Delaware River were near the end of their resources, and they believe that another defeat could destroy the Cause, as they called it. The artist captured very accurately their sense of urgency, in what was truly a pivotal moment for American history.”1

For Christmas 2009 I was given a copy of Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fisher. Fisher’s story is a tale of courage and perseverance in the face of disaster. In the Editor’s Note at the beginning of the book, James McPherson writes:

“No single day in history was more decisive for the creation of the United States than Christmas 1776…Of all the pivotal events in American history, none was more important than what happened on those nine days from December 25, 1776, through January 3, 1777.”2

This providential span of victories stemmed not only from the character and leadership of George Washington, but also “from the acts and choices of ordinary people.” Fisher says for those Americans:

“…Their greatest advantage was the moral strength of a just cause. They were fighting on their own ground, in defense of homes and families, for ideas of liberty and freedom. They had a different test of success. Their opponents had to conquer; the Americans needed only to survive. After the occupation of New Jersey, and British maltreatment of prisoners, Americans became highly motivated by the cruel experience of oppression.

“Another strength was their religion. The Americans were a deeply spiritual people, with an abiding faith that sustained them in adversity….

“In the dark days of 1776, Americans reached deep into this reservoir of strength and improvised a new way of managing a war…”3

As Americans lived through those dark days of 1776, they had no future perspective of their times. Neither do we as we live through these days of coercion and usurpation of power. Do we have “the advantage of the moral strength of a just cause”? We do. Should we call on God to give us an abiding faith in Him that will sustain us in adversity? We should. Fisher writes, “This is a story of real choices that living people actually made.”4 We can make those choices.
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1,2,3,4David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford University Press, New York) 4-5, ix, 368, 364.

“…the acts and choices of ordinary people…”

One reason I love history so much is its stories of courage and perseverance by men and women in the face of disaster. When you read the history of our country, you see this again and again. You also see something else. You see timings and deliverances that can only be called miraculous—when the disaster of one day is turned around by events of the next.

In Washington’s Crossing David Hackett Fischer gives us the circumstances of the writing and impact of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, The American Crisis. After George Washington’s debilitating military defeats in New York from August to November 1776, described by Fischer as a “A Cataract of Disaster,” Washington retreated across New Jersey into Pennsylvania as Cornwallis pursued him. Thomas Paine had previously joined the army in July of that year. In his chapter, “The Crisis: Thomas Paine and the Black Times of 1776,” Fischer writes:

“…The army was shrinking before his eyes, and the people of New Jersey were not turning out to support it. Paine concluded that something had to be done. “It was necessary,” he decided, that “the country should be strongly animated.”

“On November 22, when the army was crossing the Passaic River, Paine came to a decision. He resolved to write another pamphlet, like Common Sense but with a different message….

“A rough draft was more or less complete by the time he crossed the Delaware River. He carried it to Philadelphia, but when he reached the city, he was shocked to find the houses shuttered, the streets deserted….The air of panic in the town increased Thomas Paine’s sense of urgency. He remembered, “I sat down and in what I may call a passion of patriotism, wrote the first number” of his new pamphlet in a final draft.

“He called it The American Crisis. The first sentence had the cadence of a drumbeat. Even after two hundred years, its opening phrases still have the power to lift a reader out of his seat. “There are the times that try men’s souls,” Paine began. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

“…Such was the panic and chaos in Philadelphia that it took Thomas Paine ten days to get his essay into print. Finally, the first number of The American Crisis appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 19, 1776. Four days later it was published as a pamphlet. Paine insisted that it be sold for two pennies, just enough to pay the printer’s expenses. The author asked nothing for himself and encouraged printers everywhere to copy it freely. It traveled through the country as fast as galloping horses could carry it.

“Within a day of its first publication it was circulating in the camp of the Continental army along the Delaware River. Even Paine’s bitter political rival James Cheetham testified to its impact. Cheetham wrote that The Crisis was “read in the camp, to every corporal’s guard, and in the army, and out of it had more than the intended effect.” The troops used its first sentence as a watchword and later as a battle cry….

“There is an old American folk tale about George Washington and the Crossing of the Delaware. It tells us that the new American republic nearly failed in the winter of 1776, that George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas night, and that his victory at Trenton revived the Revolution. All of this story is true, but it is not the whole truth. There was more to it. The great revival did not follow the battles of Trenton and Princeton, important as they were. It preceded them, and made those events possible (though not inevitable). Further, the revival did not rise solely from the leadership of George Washington himself, great as he was a general and a man…it emerged from the efforts of many soldiers and civilians, merchants and farmers, leaders in the army and members of Congress. Most of all it rose from the acts and choices of ordinary people in the valley of the Delaware, as Thomas Paine’s American Crisis began to circulate among them.

“This great revival grew from defeat, not from victory. The awakening was a response to a disaster. Doctor Benjamin Rush, who had a major role in the event, believed that this was the way a free republic would always work, and the American republic in particular. He thought it was a national habit of the American people (maybe all free people) not to deal with a difficult problem until it was nearly impossible. “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity,” Rush wrote “We require adversity and appear to possess most of the republican spirit when most depressed.””1

On December 18, 1776, George Washington had written to his brother, John A. Washington, and to another relative, Samuel Washington. This is the letter to his brother. The bracketed phrase within it was part of his letter to Samuel Washington.

“I have no doubt but that General Howe will still make an attempt upon Philadelphia this Winter. I see nothing to oppose him a fortnight hence, as the time of all the Troops, except those of Virginia (reduced almost to nothing,) and Smallwood’s Regiment of Maryland, (equally as bad) will expire in less than that time. In a word my dear Sir, if every nerve is not strain’d to recruit the New Army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up, owing, in a great measure, to the insidious Arts of the Enemy, and disaffection of the Colonies before mentioned, but principally to the accursed policy of short Inlistments, and placing too great a dependence on the Militia the Evil consequences of which were foretold 15 Months ago with a spirit almost Prophetick….

“You can form no Idea of the perplexity of my Situation. No Man, I believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties and less means to extricate himself from them. However under a full persuasion of the justice of our Cause I cannot [but think the prospect will brighten, although for a wise purpose it is, at present hid under a cloud] entertain an Idea that it will finally sink tho’ it may remain for some time under a Cloud.”2

Those letters were written the day before The American Crisis was published in the Pennsylvania Journal and five days before it was printed as a pamphlet for widespread distribution. Washington did not know the events that would follow in the days after he wrote those bleak words. But that great man persevered.

Paine opened his December Crisis by writing, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Today again our souls are tried and tested, and who will we discover that we are? I don’t know. I cannot tell you the extent or depth of the character of our country or if the acts and choices of ordinary people of today will fare well. Our souls are tried individually, but our acts and choices always affect and influence others.

Is the game pretty near up for us? Again, I don’t know. But I encourage and exhort you not to mire yourself or others in cynicism or contempt, but within your own realm of influence to speak the truth, to build up others, and to consider the task that with your soul and your skill you should do.

Remember what I wrote earlier about timings and deliverances in our nation’s history that can only be called miraculous—when the disaster of one day was turned around by events of the next? I would also encourage and exhort you to pray. Some of you who read this may not share my faith, but for those who do, remember to seek God’s mercy and help for our nation.

When Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting in 1863, he wrote, “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own…3 Read Lincoln’s words. May God grant us to turn back to Him, for the results of the poverty of our lack of a deep and abiding faith in God is seen everywhere.

These are the days of the acts and choices of ordinary people. Of grit and endurance. Of everyday exasperation and depressing setbacks. Whether the game is up for us or not, remember the courage and faith of those who preceded us. Be worthy of them, and leave the results in the hands of God.
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Thomas Paine, The American Crisis: The first page of the original printing of the first volume. {{PD-US}} – published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.
1David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford University Press, New York): 80, 127, 138, 140-143.
2The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799: Library of Congress. Thanks to Stacey McCain for his post, ‘I think the game is pretty near up,’ that I found after my initial writing of this post. The phrase caught my eye, and I tracked it down to these letters of Washington.
3Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day: Abraham Lincoln Online.

Giving Thanks

For some of you giving thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day will be easy because of the abundance of His blessings you’ve known this past year. For others gratitude that’s not just lip service, but a real expression of your heart, is difficult because of grievous calamities or grinding stress.

Giving thanks frequently receives short shrift when we talk about it, because we tend to discuss it either superficially when we are at ease in our circumstances or else in denial of the pain of our difficulties. We give moralizing lectures about it or sometimes present the idea of giving thanks to God as a sort of magic charm.

In our shallow treatment we skate over the reality of life in a fallen world and fail to acknowledge that sometimes in our giving of thanks to God we hold on to God in faith in His character and care for us in the midst of our griefs. Gratitude gives us insight into our understanding of life, of other people, of ourselves, and of God. Even Cicero of pagan Rome recognized its importance and said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”1

Giving thanks is the antithesis of Romans 1:21. It’s intriguing to me that the long litany of sins in that chapter has its root in these words:

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

Look at the Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day signed by Abraham Lincoln on March 30, 1863:

“And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

“It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

In the midst of the Civil War what does this Proclamation declare to be the sins of the nation? Ingratitude and pride. The Proclamation’s call for humility, confession, and prayer is because of these sins of presumption.

Have you ever thought about the humility, dependency, and trust in God necessary to truly be thankful? Giving thanks calls us to understand and recognize that which we do not have except by God’s mercy and grace. We so easily succumb to presumptuous sins.

Giving thanks is the fruit of faith in God. He does not mock us in affliction by demanding our thanks for pain. He calls us to trust Him when we are caught up in the inscrutability of suffering and to live in gratitude for what He has given to us.

On Thanksgiving Day honor God as God and give thanks. And as you pray, remember our nation. As never before we are rife with ingratitude and pride. We need humility, confession of sin, and prayer for forgiveness.

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

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Waiting: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1Robert A. Emmons, Thanks! (Houghton Mifflin Company, New York NY:2007) 15.
Dr. Emmons is not a Christian and I have my points of disagreement with him, but his book contains careful research and profound thinking on gratitude.