Manuscript Document Signed, to William Channing, December 18, 1788. Receipt for carpeting. 1 p., 7¼ x 4 in.
Newport Decr 19, 1788
William Channing Esq
Bot [Bought] of Moses Seixas / 17 yds Carpeting . . . . . . . . . . .4/1 yd. £3..9. 5.
Received payment In full /
[Docketing on verso, in another hand:] Moses Seixas
Moses Mendes Seixas (1744-1809) was born in New York into a Jewish family. His father immigrated from Portugal to New York about 1730 and became a merchant. The family moved to Newport, Rhode Island, in 1765. Moses Seixas married Jochebed Levy in 1770, and they had eight children. He was one of the organizers and first cashier of the Bank of Rhode Island, which conducted business in his house until 1818. After the British occupied Newport during the Revolutionary War, Seixas remained in Newport but was among the signers of a document supporting the patriot cause. In 1790, he was the president of the Congregation Yeshuat Israel (later Touro Synagogue) in Newport. He was also a charter member and first grand master of St. John's Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Newport.
William Channing (1751-1793) was born in Newport, Rhode Island, and graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1769. In 1773, he married Lucy Ellery, daughter of William Ellery, a Newport lawyer who signed the Declaration of Independence, and they had nine children. Channing was elected Attorney General of Rhode Island in 1777, and when Rhode Island ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1790, Channing became the first federal District Attorney. One of his sons was the famous Unitarian preacher William Ellery Channing (1780-1742).
From 15 Sephardic families who arrived in 1658, Newport, Rhode Island's Jewish community grew to be the largest in the colonies. Many Jews left during the Revolutionary War when Newport was occupied by the British. A significant number returned when the British left in 1779. By the time Rhode Island became a state, there were approximately 300 Jews in the thriving Newport community.
Starting while on his way to New York to assume the presidency in April of 1789, George Washington received many messages from civic, fraternal and religious organizations offering congratulations, praise of his deeds in war, peace, and politics, prayers on behalf of congregations or constituents. Washington's replies justly count among his most famous pronouncements, setting a boldly inclusive tone that helped our new nation survive and expand.
After the first session of the first Congress, Washington set out on a tour of the New England states, except for Rhode Island, which had yet to ratify the Constitution. It finally did so in May of 1790, and three days after the second session of Congress adjourned, Washington, Jefferson and others set out to visit Newport. On August 18, Washington and his entourage were greeted with four addresses, written as open letters, and read in a public ceremony. First the town, then from all the Christian clergy, then the Masonic order, and finally from the Hebrew Congregation.
Moses Seixas, on behalf of the Congregation Kahal Kadosh Yeshuat Israel, congratulated Washington on his ascendancy to the Presidency. He invoked the language of the Revolution in arguing that Jews should be entitled to the same privileges as an American of any other religious denomination. Having been previously "deprived…of the invaluable rights of free Citizens," Seixas expressed his hopes for the success of the new "government erected by the majesty of the people, a government which to bigotry gives no sanction—to persecution no assistance; but generously affording to all liberty of conscience."
Seixas' letter moved President Washington, who echoed Seixas' words, and built on them, to make his most celebrated statement on religious freedom. He responded as soon as he returned to the capital, New York, assuring the Hebrew congregation that "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 fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."
Washington's addresses responding to religious congregations included those of Baptist, Congregational, Dutch Reformed, Episcopalian, German Lutheran, German Reformed, Jewish, Protestant, Presbyterian, Quaker, Roman Catholic, and other denominations.
Today, we understand that Washington and his fellow Founding Fathers were oblivious to the realities of other kinds of oppression. Knowing what we know now, how can we still value these slave-owners' declamations on freedom? While acknowledging Washington's ownership of his full share of the universal biases of his age, we can and should still treasure his "to bigotry no sanction" letter as a powerful testament to the promise of America. In the 218 years since Washington responded to Seixas' address, has anyone come up with a better definition of the benefits and responsibilities of American citizenship?
Washington's original letter was acquired by the Morris Morgenstern Foundation in 1948, and is on long-term loan to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. Seixas' letter to Washington is in the Library of Congress, and Seixas' retained copy was acquired by the Morgenstern Foundation in 1949 and is with Washington's letter.
Fine condition, with intersecting folds and slight bit of foxing. (Inventory #: 25418)