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I&A.com: The First GW
March 7, 2005 by Howard Blas
In honor of George Washington’s birthday on February 22, I ran an Internet search on the relationship between the first president and the Jews, and found some interesting results.
For a good overview of Washington’s life, including the apocryphal “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree story, it is useful to check out his entry in the free encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org
There we learn that Washington was a man of great personal integrity, treated his personal slaves well, had bad teeth (he lost one tooth a year from the age of 24), enjoyed the game of cricket, and was an early supporter of religious pluralism.
Proof of the latter can be found in the full text of the 1790 exchange of letters with Moses Seixas, warden of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, found at http://gwpapers.virginia.edu
In it, Washington wrote: “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 fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.” At the Jewish Virtual Library website www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org, you can view Washington’s correspondence with members of the Savannah, Georgia, Jewish community.
correspondence is also posted at http://www.itszone.co.uk
as part of a four-page
give-and-take discussion on George Washington and the Jews, on a website entitled, “War without End: The Global War Against Terror from a British Perspective.” The correspondence is posted to rebut the claim of a participant in the on-line
discussion that “George Washington despised the Jews.”
There are other distortions. An entry at http://www.snopes.com
a site for checking out urban legends, debunks a quote reportedly made by G.W. in 1779, in which he was said to have said: “They work more effectively against us than the enemy’s armies. They are a hundred times more dangerous to our liberties and the great cause we are engaged in. It is much to be lamented that each state, long ago has not hunted them down as pests to society and the greatest enemies we have to the happiness of America - The Jews.” Snopes calls the quotation false and exposes it as a “recasting of something Washington said regarding currency speculators, who sought to profit by taking advantage of soldiers and others during the Revolutionary War.”
Washington had a connection with Hayim Solomon, a Jewish financier from Philadelphia. The National Park Service site, at http://www.nps.gov
contains info about the Polish-born
Jewish immigrant who arrived in 1775. More on Jews of the period, including one who fought at the famous battle of Bunker Hill just outside Boston, can be found at http://jewishmag.com
Solomon, by the way, is also portrayed on film; an article on the “100 Best Conservative Movies” at http://www.freedomsite.org
notes that in the 1939 short movie “Sons of Liberty,” Claude Rains was cast as the Jewish financier. The film probably isn’t playing at your local cinema, but according to http://www.loc.gov
it was shown recently in the Library of Congress’s film fest on the 350th anniversary of Jews in America.Howard Blas