I’m starting what I call the George Washington Pledge.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON PLEDGE
“I pledge to give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. I pledge to work toward a world where everyone may sit under their own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make them afraid. A world that scatters light and not darkness in our paths, and makes us all in our several vocations useful here, and in due time and way everlastingly happy.”
Where did that come from, what does it have to do with George Washington and don’t I know that George Washington was a bigot who kept slaves? To answer the second question first, yes. I know that it is one of the great and cruel tragedies of history that George Washington himself, while expressing these concepts, was committing the ultimate bigotry and persecution by holding slaves and asserting that those of African descent were not fully human. Nevertheless, while this pledge made by the First President of the United States has never been fulfilled, it time we committed to making it true.
We live now in a time when it is the duty of those of us committed to the success of the American Experiment in self-rule to remember the promises and values which the founders of our country made the foundation of governance. Whatever their past success, whatever the sincerity of those who wrote the words, it falls on us to do our part to make these foundational values real. To quote the words of our first President: “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.”
So where do the words of the George Washington Pledge come from? And what do I mean when I commit myself to it? See below . . .
From George Washington’s letter to the Jewish Community of Newport, RI August 18, 1790.
“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.” (Emphasis added.)
As I observed above, George Washington himself fell disastrously short of his own pledge. It is one of the greatest and cruelest tragedies of history that Washington, the champion of ‘natural rights,’ violated the most fundamental of natural rights by treating his fellow human beings as property, and regarding African Americans as inferior. But we can, and must, make good on the promise of the Father of Our Country and our first President that the United States: “To Bigotry No Sanction, To Persecution No Assistance!” Now, as George Washington reminded people then, our government requires that those who consider themselves “good citizens” must give “on all occasions their effectual support” to make this pledge a reality. That includes, I most firmly believe, reminding our government — and particularly our next President — of this pledge of our first President. That the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.
George Washington addressed this letter to the Jewish community because in all the rest of the world, Jews could not legally be citizens or possess legal rights. At the time George Washington wrote, Jews in the rest of the world, when permitted to live there at all, were “tolerated” rather than citizens with rights. In America only did Jews enjoy, at least, legal equality. Even here, however, Jews had to fight to earn these basic rights and not allow the New World to slip into the habits of the old. In 1775, in the same Newport, R.I. revolutionaries asked 76 residents — including the prominent Jewish merchant Moses Michael Hays — to sign a declaration of loyalty to the colonies “upon the true faith of a Christian.” Hays refused, offering to affirm that the Revolution was a just cause, but refusing to swear by any religious test. After much argument, Hayes persuaded the Revolutionary supporters to simply omit the Christian phrase, helping to establish the clear precedent that the Government of the United States has no test of religion.
It was to this nervous community that George Washington sent his letter and pledged that America would be a country that “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” From long and bitter experience, the Jewish community of Newport (and the rest of the United States) knew how quickly popular sentiment could change from acceptance to intolerance. So George Washington concluded his letter with a prayer:
“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.”
From the language of this letter, I have constructed what I call the George Washington Pledge. As one who would, to paraphrase Washington’s words, regard myself as a good citizen and provide to the Government my assistance in making this a land where none shall make us afraid, I feel it my duty to publicly affirm the sentiments of George Washington, first President of the United States and renew my commitment to live by the fundamental value of mutual respect and good will for one another on which this country was founded.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON PLEDGE
I pledge to give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. I pledge to work toward a world where everyone may sit under their own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make them afraid. A world that scatters light and not darkness in our paths, and makes us all in our several vocations useful here, and in due time and way everlastingly happy.”
Please join me in being true to the promise of America as spoken by our first President. Take the George Washington Pledge. Copy and share this post. Remind us all what our founders, despite their flaws as human beings and failure to meet their own ideals, intended as the result of the American Experiment. “To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Stay tuned . . . .
Harold, I commented a couple of days ago about your pledge on Gary
McGath’s Livejournal; but since Gary’s post is friend-locked, and
since I think my comments, and your response if you choose to respond,
are important for people to see, I’m repeating my comments here.
The problem I see with your pledge is that it is expressed in
generalities without any clear concrete meaning, which many people
will interpret in completely contradictory ways. I can’t support it
without clarification about what it means concretely.
For example, I can imagine Donald Trump reading the pledge, as it is
written now, and enthusiastically endorsing it; and then saying
something like “and since Islam is a bigoted religion, by requiring
all Muslims to register with the police I’ll be giving to bigotry no
To take an example on which I’m not certain what your answer
will be: what does the pledge mean regarding the controversies over
religious bakers, photographers and florists who have refused to work
for same-sex weddings? The only reasonable and consistent way I can
see to apply it is to recognize that the lawsuits that such people
have been subjected to, in some cases having their livelihood ruined,
are a terrible form of persecution; and that anyone who takes seriously a
pledge of “to persecution no assistance” is obligated to resist it.
The only sensible meaning of “work toward a world where everyone may
sit under their own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make
them afraid”, on this issue, is to work towards a world where those
who choose to marry someone of the same sex and those who choose not
to work for such weddings can all co-exist, free to live by their own
choices without fear of being prosecuted or sued for it. And yet I’m
certain that many people will read your pledge, claim to
enthusiastically agree with it, and then cheer or cooperate in the
persecution of these bakers and photographers, telling themselves that
“these people are bigots so we should give them no sanction”.
How do you understand your own pledge as applied to this issue? I hope
will respond to this comment and tell us.
If you fill it in with specifics, your pledge can potentially be a
very honorable rallying-cry that all decent Americans, with differing
views on many issues, can unite around. Without more specifics, I’m
afraid it is nothing more than meaningless feel-good platitudes.