HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
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Longfellow and the Jewish Cemetery at Newport

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Commemorating an Historic Correspondence

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Commemorating an Historic Correspondence / Maine Historical Society

Pride and humiliation hand in hand
Walked with them through the world where'er they went;
Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
And yet unshaken as the continent.


In 1790 Moses Seixas, warden of the synagogue and successful business man (he was one of the founders of the Bank of Rhode Island) wrote a letter of welcome to President George Washington honoring his August visit to Newport (during Washington's tour of New England, following Rhode Island's ratification of the U.S. Constitution). In the letter, Seixas referred to the persecution suffered by the Jewish people previously, but noting their pleasure at having found a home under a "Government which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." These words became famous when George Washington echoed them in his own letter to the synagogue. This letter is considered a vital document in American history, guaranteeing religious freedom even before the establishment of the Bill of Rights.

 

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