A letter’s journey, from founding father to religious question
The battle over Washington's letter to a Newport, Rhode Island, congregation rages on.
September 30th, 2011
07:08 AM ET

A letter’s journey, from founding father to religious question

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Standing over the letter, one would never know its unique story. Worth millions at auction, reading it unveils that it stands as a testament to religious freedom in America. But as it stares up, idly sitting there, the stories of “erotic” behavior, twisted ownership and historic encounters are lost on those lucky enough to see it.

The primary spirit of the letter is clear – the United States government will assure religious freedom, giving “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

George Washington wrote those words in a 1790 letter to the the congregation of a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. He was hoping to reassure the congregation that the budding government of the United States would allow free expression to all religions. Since then, Jews in America have flourished.

The letter is addressed “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island,” but it is kept from public view, which hurts and angers those who think private ownership defies the letter’s original sentiment.

George Washington

“The letter starts off to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island,” said Mordechai Eskovitz, rabbi of the Touro Synagogue in Newport. “It was meant for the congregation. It is addressed to the congregation.”

Eskovitz has been the rabbi of Touro for 16 years. He said the almost unanimous sentiment in his congregation is that the spirit of the letter, which he said was intended for the community and not one person, is being dishonored.

“Jews at that time were going through such turmoil and finally they found a safe haven in the United States,” said Eskovitz. “This letter, and its sentiment, is something too valuable for an individual. It is for everyone.”

Washington signed the letter on the back. His signature gives it monetary value, but his words give the letter even more value, experts say.

For the last nine years, people have been unable to see the letter. It sits in a sterile Maryland office park a few hundred feet from FedEx Field. It is in climate-controlled, protective storage. However, for those who make an appointment, it is presented on a mahogany table, devoid of protective casing.

From a hallway adorned with the storage facility's logo, workers can be seen at their computers, almost oblivious to the document in the small conference room. Though there are gadgets on desks that you wouldn’t see in most offices - a seismograph, for example - an unaware observer could mistake this place for another run of the mill office.

But this office holds documents behind lock and key that libraries and museums would love to display.

How did the letter travel from George Washington’s pen to this suburban Washington office building? The journey's twists and turns highlight a community's resolve to hold on to the letter's sentiment, if not the letter itself.

From Washington to Seixas

Moses Seixas, who was president of Touro Synagogue when Washington visited Newport after the Constitution was ratified, sparked Washington's letter. The oldest synagogue in the United States, Touro was built in 1763.

Mary Thompson, the research historian at Mount Vernon, said when Washington became president, he tried to visit every state. During his visit to Rhode Island, Washington came to Touro and was read a letter from Seixas. After he returned home, the president sent his reply.

The fact that Washington visited Rhode Island was a big deal in its own right. The fact that he visited Touro to this day astounds worshipers in Newport.

“It is a sign of how important the Jews were that they were able to meet the president,” said Jonathan Sarna, professor at Brandeis University and a pre-eminent scholar on Jewish-American history.

According to Sarna, the Jewish community in Newport was slowly dwindling at the time, losing residents to larger cities like New York and Boston. “Because the community was so small, apparently the letter (from Washington) was actually held in the Seixas family after the visit,” Sarna said.

The situation became so grim for Touro that in the early 19th century, the synagogue was forced to close. In an ironic twist, after losing people to bigger cities, Touro sent some of its scrolls and other valuables to its mother synagogue, Shearith Israel Synagogue in New York.

The letter, however, was not sent to Shearith Israel.

“You would have thought they got the letter,” Sarna said. “The letter was many times reprinted, people at the time knew it was a significant letter.”

The closure of Touro leaves a gap in the path of Washington’s letter. Touro reopened in the late 19th century, but the letter did not surface at the synagogue.

It wasn't until the early 20th century, when a squat Jewish philanthropist began publicizing his ownership of the letter, that the trail picked back up.

From Newport to New York

Howard Rubenstein had just opened a small PR office on Court Street in New York when he was invited to meet Morris Morgenstern. Morgenstern was a public person in need of a publicist and he hoped Rubenstein would fill the job.

“I went to his office and he was a diminutive person, probably 5-2 or 5-3, very short and very lively. Tremendous energy,” said Rubenstein.

At their first meeting, Morgenstern brought up a letter he had purchased, a letter signed by George Washington and addressed to the Hebrew congregation of Newport.

Rubenstein doesn't know how Morgenstern came upon the letter, but according to The Jewish Daily Forward and a 1951 New York Amsterdam News article, Morgenstern acquired the letter in 1949. From who and at what price is unknown.

Using the letter, Rubenstein devised a way for Morgenstern to increase his philanthropic giving. The duo turned viewing the letter into an honor given to prominent people who Morgenstern would get to meet. Morgenstern also would give the viewers of the letter $5,000, a large sum of money at the time, for the charity of the person's choice.

The plan worked.

Morgenstern and the letter were able to meet former President Herbert Hoover, former President Harry Truman and then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, as well as former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. “The only thing I asked these people was when you greet Morris, indicate that you have read the letter and you were delighted to see it,” Rubenstein said.

Morris Morgenstern, center, showed a number of notable people his prized letter, including then-Sen. John F. Kennedy. Howard Rubenstein is at right.

According to Rubenstein, Harry Truman even hugged Morgenstern when they met and said, “I have heard all about your letter and am so excited to see it.”

After the duo stopped publicizing the letter, Rubenstein lost touch with Morgenstern. Rubenstein said he looks back on those days fondly.

“It was a very exciting time for Morris and for the country, because the publicity that it generated about a country opposed to bigotry was very important,” said Rubenstein. “I thought I was doing an important thing in those days.”

Morgenstern also believed the letter he owned was important. According to Rubenstein, Morgenstern cherished the letter so much, he would sleep with the framed letter under his bed at night and would take it almost anywhere he went. Rubenstein called the relationship “treasured.”

In 1957, Morgenstern loaned the letter to B’nai B’rith International, according to Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of the organization.

Why Morgenstern made the loan is unknown. He died in 1969.

New York to suburban Maryland

Mariaschin said former B’nai B’rith’s president Phillip Klutznick secured the loan for the organization's museum in Washington. Klutznick was a well-known Jewish leader and Jimmy Carter’s secretary of commerce. Mariaschin says it was that relationship that cemented the loan.

When CNN contacted the Morris Morgenstern Foundation, Paul Goodnough, the foundation's accountant, said he didn't think this “very private family” would like to talk about the letter.

“If they reach out to you, they want to talk. If they don’t, it is a no comment,” Goodnough said.

The Morgenstern Foundation did not contact CNN.

B’nai B’rith displayed the letter from 1957 to 2002 in its Washington museum, Mariaschin said. The organization downsized in 2002, moving to a smaller office on K Street, an office with no street level location for a museum. Though the organization maintains a reservations-only gallery in its current space, the letter’s unique storage needs were too much for an office environment, so B’nai B’rith contracted Artex, the warehouse in suburban Maryland, to store the letter.

“We are in active discussion now with several institutions about partnering in terms of the display of this very nice collection that the Klutznick museum has,” said Mariaschin.

Since the letter went into storage in 2002, a number of prominent libraries and museums have asked to display it for B’nai B’rith and the Morris Morgenstern Foundation.

Among them was the Library of Congress, which asked to display the letter during a 2004 exhibit celebrating the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in America. Jennifer Gavin, director of communications at the Library of Congress, said the letter was requested but not obtained.

“It’s not unusual for institutions like the library to reach out to owners of rare documents for such purposes and find that, for a variety of reasons, the loan can’t be accomplished,” said Gavin.

Sarna helped advise the Library of Congress’ celebration of Jewish life. He said the people he worked with were astonished by the rejection.

“Usually people would die just to be invited to display their property,” Sarna said. “If the Library of Congress wanted something of mine, they would have it the next day with insured mail.”

This part of the letter's history distresses Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward. The unwillingness to display the letter, she says, hides not only a critical piece of Jewish American history, but also of American history in general.

"We have flourished in America and it is largely because we have been allowed to," said Eisner. "That spirit of tolerances and acceptances was expressed so beautifully by Washington in that letter."

But where is the letter's rightful home?

Bernard Bell has become disillusioned with Touro Synagogue over the years. Twenty-five years ago, he began a scholarship program at Brown University in honor of the synagogue. Before that, he was a member.

Bell is outspoken, and without much prodding he will bluntly tell anyone who listens that he believes the Morris Morgenstern Foundation does not rightfully own the letter.

“The possession of the letter was in the hands of the congregation and I don’t believe at the time that it was sold that anyone had the right to sell it,” Bell said.

Bell said the majority of Newport Jews, especially those who have been around for quite awhile, agree with him. He said the problem is, “There is nobody in the congregation that I am aware of that has the guts to go after that letter.”

To Bell, the power of the letter is not just its historical significance, but also its monetary value.“It is the most valuable piece of work outside of the synagogue that we have. No one had the right to sell it and it shouldn't sit in the warehouse,” Bell said.

The letter has not been valued lately, but Dana Linett, a colonial documents expert, said the letter could be worth millions.

“I would think that the Touro is a million-dollar or better, it might bring multiple millions, depending on the condition and how it reads,” Linett said.

Linett said he has seen documents like the Washington letter have what he called a “runaway sale.” When a group so identifies with the document, the sale at auction could defy actual valuation, he said. The symbolic power of the letter could mean more than money. In cases like this, Linett said he has seen documents once valued at $1.5 million shoot up to $8 million in a matter of minutes at auction.

“It is a national treasure. That is what this letter is in its truest sense,” Linett said.

Linett is not alone in valuing the letter's sentiment. John L. Loeb Jr. has put his money behind that opinion.

Loeb spent about $12 million to found the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, which opened in 2009. Since first reading the letter, Loeb said, “I have been deeply interested that everyone gets to know it. It is one of the great letters about religious freedom that has ever been written and perhaps the earliest by a head of state.” The institute, near Touro in Newport, serves that purpose by displaying a copy of the letter.

Newport is home to the Touro Synagogue, the Loeb Touro Visitors Center and the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom.

Loeb speaks excitedly about the letter’s sentiment. However, Loeb, a former ambassador to Denmark who has committed most of his philanthropic life to the letter, seems reflective when he talks about displaying only a reproduction.

Loeb said though he would like to house the original letter, it is the sentiment that is more important. It is the sentiment, not the physical letter, that moved him to build the institute.

“To me, the uniqueness of America is the acceptance of everybody,” Loeb said. “That is what made America possible. And this letter symbolizes what America is all about.”

Read George Washington's letter.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Judaism

soundoff (594 Responses)
  1. Candise S. Kane

    Another vote for the same kind of President is here as well.

    November 17, 2011 at 2:14 am |
  2. Truthbeetold

    Jewish folks should not support this perpetrator of Native genocide- don't condemn one and celebrate another... tear the damn letter up and burn it already!

    November 16, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  3. Jimmie Hughes

    At the beginning of the article it says, "...stories of erotic behavior." What is THAT all about?? Nothing in the article explained it.

    November 16, 2011 at 6:22 am |
    • Sockeyerama

      I know! I read almost the whole article before I figured it was just about philosophy and intellectual things. Very deceiving.

      November 16, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  4. totallyconfused

    Judaism, Christianity, Muslim, Catholicism and countless other religions all have one thing in common. Self-righteous egotistical believers. It is ALL nonsense. So now the Jews have another issue to beat to death. A letter. Silly, silly, silly.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  5. brett

    George Washington for President 2012!!

    November 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  6. John Brennan

    Treaty of Tripoli, signed by President John Adams and ratified unanimously by Congress on January 3, 1797-Article 11. "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

    November 12, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • will

      Christianity NEVER replaced the Jewish God! The Jewish Apostles of Christ were monotheists, sold out to the Hebrew "Schma" Hear, Israel the LORD OUR GOD IS ONE (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). They saw the unique relationship of Jesus of Nazareth with God and this was so radical in their minds they could not deny that Jesus "was equal with God" and that in the words of Jesus "I AND MY FATHER ARE ONE." Also Biblical Truth points to another idea rarely mentioned in the contemporary argument of the person of Jesus. And that is the Old Testament predictions of Israels rejection of the the Holy One in their midst. They rejected the very presence of God, His voice and His Word which served as an precursor of the rejection of God's Holy One, Jesus of Nazareth who was manifested in the flesh, crucified and raised from the dead and who God said to "HEAR" (Matthew 17:1-5). The divinity of Christ was and is not something Christians conjured up because NONE OF THE SECT OF THE NAZARENES where considered Christians. That term came later, read Acts 11:26. The sect of the Nazarenes were one of many sects in first century Judaism. They believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:13-18; John 1:45-49) and that the Word of God who became flesh was God (John 1:1,2). Has authority with and from God (Matthew 9:1-6) and has power to forgive sins, AND YA DON'T STOP! And only God can forgive sins and His Name is Jesus!

      November 15, 2011 at 2:15 am |
    • shawn

      "not founded on the Christian religion"...BUT....founded by Christians.....the Mayflower wasn't packed with atheists or Muslims.....believers landed here and built this land. Believers are still in the majority, and will never succomb to the illogical atheist musings.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • Sockeyerama

      Say shawn, could you share a little about how logical Christianity is? Everybody's so into science nowadays that appealing to them with your no-nonsense Christian logic should serve as a very enticing evangelical strategy. Maybe you could start with why it's cool to slash your kid's throat, cut him up into bits and cook him when called upon by your Christian God. Of course you'll want to present this highlighting the more logical aspects and compelling arguments for this sacrifice.
      Thank you.

      November 16, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Lesieie

      Shawn, go into your American history again. Fast forward a couple hundred years, past the Salem witch trials (1692), past Johnathan Edwards' sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741), to the Founders, the Revolution (1776), and the Federalist Papers (1787-88). Although it was customary at that time to have a religion, several of the founders were Deists: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison,–even one of George Washington's pastors proclaimed him "...a Deist!" Deists were most assuredly NOT "Christian."

      November 17, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  7. Ben

    Americans praising their Masonic Leaders, LOL! Washington is rolling in his grave laughing at everyone, for being as easy to manipulate as the masons, Rosicrucians (like Lincoln) thought we would all be.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • richard

      IV. Religion and the Congress of the Confederation, 1774-89
      The Continental-Confederation Congress, a legislative body that governed the United States from 1774 to 1789, contained an extraordinary number of deeply religious men. The amount of energy that Congress invested in encouraging the practice of religion in the new nation exceeded that expended by any subsequent American national government. Although the Articles of Confederation did not officially authorize Congress to concern itself with religion, the citizenry did not object to such activities. This lack of objection suggests that both the legislators and the public considered it appropriate for the national government to promote a nondenominational, nonpolemical Christianity.

      November 11, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  8. Lillian Williams


    November 6, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Willy

      Dear Lillian Williams, the ship with jews in 1939 and even in periods after WWII were not accepted into the USA. Only about 4500 holocaust survivors were accepted into the USA in the year after 1945. The US government preferred them to go to Israel but was afraid of the arab reaction and the US reliance on oil for the war and for the rebuilt after the war. In fact the US political stance on Israel and jews was really not that favorable to the jews and the holocaust survivors until many years later when it changed dramatically with the strategic alliance with Israel.

      November 6, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • skatimmy737

      Caps lock implies screaming.

      November 9, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Raka

      Why are you shouting?

      November 12, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Lesieie

      Oh, stop shouting. If you can't push your views politely, go away.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  9. lostmind

    • Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!
    o George Washington in a note to his gardener at Mount Vernon (1794), The Writings of George Washington, Volume 33, page 270 (Library of Congress)

    November 6, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Duncan

      Yes, because Hemp is a hardy plant that has many uses, chief among them its profitablity. Which GW knew America needed to become prosperous. Not much has changed has it...

      November 15, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  10. palatot

    Nations of the Western World have long ago distanced themselves from leaders who promote them religion. Undoubtedly, it is the result of centuries of experience and suffering from such evil. When will Americans have the wisdom to keep religion to themselves and/or elect an atheist as President?

    November 6, 2011 at 3:17 am |
    • JoeProfet

      palatot for President!

      November 7, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Kathy G

      So true, the history of the hebrew nation in the old testament is a history of failed religious leadership, over and over again. God initially did not want a king, the first king, Saul, failed completely. David did well, but he was corrupted, and all the others kings failed after him. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, it does not matter. Society should be blessed with religious freedom, and led by secular leadership. When the state must enforce religious dogma, the churches (temples, mosques, etc) have failed. Kg

      November 11, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  11. Charles L. Clarke

    I don't have a problem with religious freedom, except somethimes I wish the Jewish People hadn't created god in a human image. Unless they adopted God from some predecessors. I think it's possible the jews might be responsible for religious strife of all kinds, hey even the Amish beard cuttings. What a wonderful world this would be it man hadn't created God.

    November 5, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Willy

      Dear Charles, the first of the 10 commandments actually contradicts you totally. The jewish bible prohibits the creation of a personified god. Since Christianity and Islam could not take physically the jewish god, they simply replaced the jewish religion with their own version...

      November 6, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Charles L. Clarke

      Willy if you're so narrow minded in your view of Judism or Christianity or Islam that you can't see the plagiarism of god, by the Christians and then the Muslims, and initially the Jews created God for a profit. This gain is always broad in scope and leads to winning others to one's point of view, gain of supporters and ultimately a gain in money.

      November 6, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • JoeProfet

      "I don't have a problem..." Wrong Charles, you do have a problem, you are in denial! 🙂

      November 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • BasedInReality

      Not many people read theological historians, but if one reads Mark B. Smith, a very scholarly man teaching at university, you can find out that history shows that Yahweh is only 2600 years old as the monotheistic god of the jews. The jewish tribes were polytheistic prior to the cult of Yahweh forcing its way over the rest of the tribes after their time ensalved in Babylon, where they picked up the stories later re-written as creation story in Genesis and the like.

      November 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  12. pillar of salt

    Completely unbiased religious freedom can only be garanteed by a secular government. The founding fathers, several of whom were agnostic, understood this.

    November 1, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • TRH


      November 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Jak3

      Well said my man, I agree with you one hundred percent.

      November 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Charity

      Actually, they figured that that certain truths were 'self evident' based on the idea that: Romans 2:14-15
      14" (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)" NIV. So while the country wasn't founded 'Christian' there were certainly defending a moral code that is now being redefined.

      November 2, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • ZZeyn

      So true!

      November 2, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Majestic_Lizard

      And some idiot quotes the bible.

      November 6, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Soda Bob

      I'm agnostic myself, but while many of the founding fathers were Deists (Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine for sure, and possibly Washington – who never took the sacrament – and Jefferson, perhaps others), I know of NONE that were agnostic – at least not openly.

      November 10, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • Godfrey

      Soda Bob: true, although Paine does come close.

      November 12, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  13. mike smith

    Glen Beck said that Washington meant to say that evangelicals rule(literarily) and the rest of you are heathens. He proved all of this on his dry erase board with a flow chart. He may have mentioned something about nazis but I forgot.

    October 30, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • If I had a penny for every stupid Republican I'd be rich!

      Glen Beck's rants have nothing to do with reality.

      November 1, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • ZZeyn

      Haha 🙂 Too funny.

      November 2, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • ernest

      "If I had a penny for every stupid Republican I'd be rich!" They'd try to get you to invest it in securitized subprime mortgages.

      November 6, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • EVIL



      November 6, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Dude

      Go to youtube and search for Nazi Tourettes. There is a great video of Lewis Black discussing Glen Beck.

      November 12, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  14. cregis

    We have copies of the letter. Isn't the content more important that the actual paper? Let the hogs keep their "treasure".

    October 30, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Michael

      Hogs? I'm sure there is something in your house that I would like to have but I understand that it is yours. While I may agree that it is in bad taste to not display something like this in a museum, I wouldn't go so far as to call the rightful owners hogs. When's the last time you've donated something that is valuable/significant to you?

      October 30, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  15. toibry

    Why do the nations rage and the people's plot in vain?

    October 29, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  16. jbm66

    George Washington was a man ahead of the times, wise and of course brave. How fitting for this person to be the father of our country.

    October 28, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  17. george

    the principles are eternal and the founder put his wisdom to pen.

    The US entanglement and continued involvement between fight between israel and arbas as 'blessed are the peacemakers' is nonsense and goes against the founding fathers wise advise. It is also the reason why 1.6M muslims support al qaeda and taliban, but their respective countries won't admit it publicly.

    Its no secret, no matter how much Israelis lobbyists and their american minions deny vocifeously on TV and Radio, out of all the other free and wealthy nations of the world, we were attacked on 9/11 is because we continue to interfere in countries where we have no business to do so.


    October 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Cynic

      George Washington warned us against entangling foreign alliances. John Quincy Adams said that America would not go abroad looking for monsters to destroy. Apparently, the early presidents in this country were considerably brighter than the ones we have had lately.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Observer


      The early presidents lived in times where they didn't have all the modern technological advances that make us part of a global economy. The days of isolationism are as gone as the horse and buggy as the source of "rapid transportation".

      November 1, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Sam

      To "not go abroad looking for monsters to destroy" is not the same thing as isolationism. Staying out of Iraq would not have been considered "isolationism".

      November 1, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  18. george


    for all those jewish americans brandishing this famous letter. let me remind them and our fellow americans re washington's equally famous if not more so, last farewell address to his beloved nation. the url above. I have included the passage that
    specifically deals with several jewish americans allegiance to the country of Israel today.

    for all those jewish americans lobbying for and demanding americas attachment to Israel today, please read this letter
    as well from washington whom you like all of us americans love and cherish.




    Foreign Relations, the Dangers of Permanent Foreign Alliances, and Free Trade

    Washington dedicates a large part of his farewell address to discussing foreign relations, and the dangers of permanent alliances between the United States and foreign nations. This issue had taken special prominence in American politics during conflict between France and Britain, known as the French Revolutionary Wars, and the efforts of the Federalists to join sides with Britain and the efforts of the Democratic-Republicans to convince Washington to honor the 1778 Treaty of Alliance, which established the Franco-American alliance, and aid France. Washington had avoided American involvement in the conflict by issuing the Proclamation of Neutrality, which in turn led to the Neutrality Act of 1794. He clearly tries to further explain his approach to foreign policy and alliances in this portion of the address.

    Once again making reference to proper behavior based upon religious doctrine and morality, Washington advocates a policy of good faith and justice towards all nations, and urges the American people to avoid long-term friendly relations or rivalries with any nation. He argues these attachments and animosity toward nations will only cloud the government's judgment in its foreign policy. Washington argues that longstanding poor relations will only lead to unnecessary wars due to a tendency to blow minor offenses out of proportion when committed by nations viewed as enemies of the United States. He continues this argument by claiming that alliances are likely to draw the United States into wars which have no justification and no benefit to the country beyond simply defending the favored nation. Washington continues his warning on alliances by claiming that they often lead to poor relations with nations who feel that they are not being treated as well as America's allies, and threaten to influence the American government into making decisions based upon the will of their allies instead of the will of the American people.
    Citizen Genêt was the French minister who interfered in U.S. politics

    Washington makes an extended reference to the dangers of foreign nations who will seek to influence the American people and government. He makes a point to say that he believes both nations who may be considered friendly as well as nations considered enemies will try to influence the government to do their will and it will only be "real patriots" who ignore popular opinion and resist the influence of friendly nations to seek what is best for their own country. Washington had a recent experience with foreign interference, when in 1793 the French ambassador Edmond-Charles Genêt organized demonstrations in support of France, funded soldiers to attack Spanish lands, and commissioned privateers to seize British ships. His mobilization of supporters to sway American opinion in favor of an alliance with France crossed the line and he was ordered to leave.

    Washington goes on to urge the American people to take advantage of their isolated position in the world, and avoid attachments and entanglements in foreign affairs, especially those of Europe, which he argues have little or nothing to do with the interests of America. He argues that it makes no sense for the American people to wage war on European soil when their isolated position and unity will allow them to remain neutral and focus on their own affairs. As a result, Washington argues that the country should avoid permanent alliance with all foreign nations, although temporary alliances during times of extreme danger may be necessary, but does say that current treaties should be honored although not extended. (Despite his claim that current alliances should be honored, Washington had in fact through the Proclamation of Neutrality not honored the Treaty of Alliance, which promised aid in case the French were ever attacked by the British.)

    Washington wraps up his foreign policy stance by advocating free trade with all nations arguing that trade links should be established naturally and the role of the government should be limited to insuring stable trade, defending the rights of American merchants, and any provisions necessary to insure that the government is able to insure the conventional rules of trade.

    October 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Blaise Pascal

      Interesting, but that was then and this is now. Events in Europe and elsewhere have everything to do with the American economy today.

      October 27, 2011 at 3:59 am |
    • Grace Of The Witch

      Things are so different today.
      The Neocons wrote PNAC (Plan for the New American Century)
      In this they clearly laid out the plan that oil is the most important security threat to America
      and oil must be secured by any means.

      Read it again.......BY ANY MEANS !!!

      You say, there is no oil in Afganistan.
      There is oil (and natural gas in abundence)
      In Uzbekistan (North of Afganistan)
      Unical (Oil company) wanted to build a pipeline from Uzbekistan
      down thru Afganistan, into pakistan (To the coast)
      and ship the oil to China (And make a nice profit)
      The Taliban, then in control of Afganistan said NO.

      911 happens.
      The order to attack Afganistan was sitting on George W Bush's desk in the oval office to be signed
      as Bush sat in that classroom in Florida reading about a goat.
      We attack/Invade Afganistan, remove the taliban
      place Karzai in as president of Afganistan (Karzai was on the board of Unical)
      The pipeline is on.
      American troops used to remove the government of Afganistan
      Haliburton put in place to build the pipeline
      All is good for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and friends.

      All true, and easy to research.
      No i am not a Republican hater.
      The neocons have labeled themselves republicans
      to get power, and they now call themselves the TEA PARTY.
      They want that power back, as they have unfinished business.
      The United States Of America is no longer a country.
      Its a corporation, and the CEO is in the white house.
      Democrat or Republican no longer matters,
      you can pick Vanilla Ice Cream
      or Chocolate Ice Cream
      But both Ice Creams are owned by the same people.

      But – WARNING **********
      When you hear any political party say they want to take back the country....
      They already have, they just dont want you to know it.
      Its what they are taking you back to...................That should scare you to death.

      All the Crazy talk about "big brother" or the "New world order" is not crazy.

      World trade organization
      Wall street (The federal reserve)
      Oil companys...............
      They all work together.


      October 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Jessy

      "That was then, and this is now"

      That is a very common quote I see among the public these days. But how did we get to this "now" from the "then"? Simple, the people between the "then" and the "now" have ignored the warnings set by our wisest leaders. Let me elaborate.

      George Washington was never supportive of the idea of political parties influencing our country. But the leaders that came after decided to ignore the warning that he gave during his farewell speech back 1796 about the dangers of political parties. As a result, we are now stuck in a vicious cycle where the people constantly (and foolishly) elect either a democrat or a republican when there are better people to elect.

      Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us of the dangers of diving this great nation into the Military Industrial Complex. We ignored those warnings. Look where we are now. Unnecessary wars that Eisenhower himself (a former 5-star general of WW2) would never have approved had he been alive today.

      October 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Cynic

      These are all thoughtful comments. Too bad that you people are not in the White House, Congress or the Supreme Court instead of the idiots we have now and have had for far too long.

      It's about time that We the People started saying NO to the fools in office who are ruining this country.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  19. Rob

    If I were a jewish guy, the last thing I'd want to do is propel the jewish stereotypes and wouldn't try to make money off of a historic letter...

    October 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Dave

      Rob, take a good look at the article. Morgenstern was giving away $5000 of his own money to be donated to the charity of the viewer's choice. He wasn't making anything off the deal. Far from propelling a Jewish stereotype, he was fulfilling a Jewish religious obligation–giving to charity.

      October 27, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • Going In Circles


      If I were a jewish guy, the last thing I'd want to do is propel the jewish stereotypes and wouldn't try to make money off of a historic letter...

      You dont read very well, do you ?

      October 29, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  20. N.Shaipiro

    There are no Jewish Fundamentalist movements, no Jewish group, from the most Orthodox to the most Refomed is so ignorant of the Bible {Tanach] that it believes in its literal meaning.
    Maimonides, [Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon] warned against biblical literalism.
    Jews, of all groups, search for a deeper meaning of the text, a process called "Midrash".

    And BTW, Jefferson edited the "Jefferson Bible" actualy razoring out the parts of the NT he thought were false.

    October 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • lathebiosas

      Excellent point Shaipiro. Have you read Karen Armstrong's "The Bible". Excellent reference source on biblical history.

      October 28, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • UhYeaOk

      So Jefferson is the one and only authority on the subject? I didn't realize he was all knowing and perfect...

      October 31, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Cynic

      UhYeaOk, I don't remember reading that N. Shaipiro thought that Jefferson was perfect and the sole authority. Try reading the comment again without having a chip on your shoulder.

      October 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.