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Last Tuesday a deputation from the Society of Friends waited on the President of the United States and presented him with the following address:

Being met in this our annual assembly for the well-ordering the affairs of our Religious Society, and the promotion of universal [righteousness], our minds have been drawn to consider that the Almighty, who ruleth in Heaven and in the Kingdoms of Men having [permitted] a great Revolution to take place in the Government of this Country, we are fervently concerned that the Rulers of the [people] may be favered with the Counsel of God, the only sure means of enabling them to fulfill the important trust committed to their charge, and in an especial manner that Divine Wisdom and Grace vouched from above, may qualify Thee to fill up the duties of the exalted Station, to which thou art appointed.

We are sensible thou hast obtained great place in the Esteem and effections of People of all Denominations, over whom thou presidest; and many eminent Talents being committed to thy Trust, we much desire they may be fully devoted to the Lord’s honour and service, that thus thou mayest be an happy Instrument in his Hand, for the Suppression of vice, infidelity and irreligion, and every [species] of oppression on the persons and consciences of men, so that righteousness and peace, which truly exalt a Nation, may prevail throughout the Land as the only solid foundation that can be laid for the prosperity of this or any other Country.

The free Toleration which the people of these States enjoy in the public Worship of the Almighty, agreeable to the [Dictates] of their Consciences, we esteem among the holiest of Blessings; and as we desire to be filled with fervent charity for those who [differ] from us in matters of Faith and Practice, believing that the general assembly of Saints is composed of the sincere and upright hearted of all Nations, Kingdoms and People; so we trust we may justly claim it from others, and in a full Persuasion that the divine principle we profess, leads into harmony and concord, we can take no part in carrying on war on any occasion, or [under] any power, but are bound in Conscience to lead quiet and peaceable lives in godliness and honesty amongst Men, contributing freely our proportion to the indigences of the Poor and to the support of civil Government, acknowledging those that rule well to be worthy of double honour, and if any among us are or have been a of a contrary disposition and [conduct], we own them not therein, having never been chargeable from the first establishment of religious Society, with fomenting or countenancing tumults or conspiracies or disrespect to those who are placed in Authority over us.

We wish not improperly to intrude on thy time or patience, nor is it our practice to offer adulation to any, but as [we] are a people whose principles and conduct have been misrepresented and traduced, we take the liberty to assure thee, that we feel our hearts affectionately drawn towards thee and those in Authority over us, with prayers that thy presidency may, under the blessing of heaven be happy to thyself and to the people, that through the encrease of morality and true religion, divine Providence [may] condescend to look down with a propitious Eye and bless the inhabitants with a Continuance of Peace, the Dew of Heaven, and the Fatness of the Earth, and enable us gratefully to acknowledge his manifold mercies; and it is our earnest concern, that he may be pleased to grant thee every necessary qualification to fill thy weighty and important station to his gory; and that, finally, when all terrestial Honours shall fail and pass away, thou and thy respectable consort may be found worthy to receive a Crown of unfading Righteousness in the Mansions of Peace and Joy for ever.

Signed on behalf of the said meeting.

 

The answer of the President;

Gentlemen,
I receive with pleasure your Affectionate address, and thank you for the friendly sentiments and good wishes [which] you express for the success of my administration, and for my personal happiness.

We have Reason to rejoice in the prospect that the National Government, which by divine providence, was formed by the common Counsels, and peaceably established by the common consent of the People will prove a blessing to every denomination of them; To render it such my best endeavours shall not be wanting, government being among other purposes is instituted to protect the persons and consciences of men from oppression, it certainly is the duty of Rulers, not only to abstain from it themselves, but according to their Stations, to prevent it in others.

The liberty enjoyed by the people of these states, of worshipping Almighty God agreable to their dictates of their consciences, is not only among the choicest of their Blessings, but also of their Rights. While men perform their social duties faithfully, they do all that Society or the state can with propriety expect or demand; and they remain responsible only to their Maker for the religion or modes of faith which they may prefer or profess.

Your principles & conduct are well known to me, and it [is doing] the people called Quakers no more than justice to say, that (except their declining to share with others the burthen of the common defence) there is no denomination among us [that are] more exemplary and useful Citizens. - I assure you very explicitly, that in my opinion, the consciencious scruples of all [men] should be treated with great delicacy & tenderness, and it is my wish and desire that the Laws may be as extensively accomodated to them, as a due regard to the protection and interests of the nation may Justify, and permit.

Signed - George Washington.

Consider the following questions:

  • Why would Thomas Paine be transcribing this exchange for John Hustler? What is the significance of this?
  • In the letter, Paine underlines the following sentences:
    •  "The liberty enjoyed by the People of the States... is not only among the choicest of their Blessings, but also of their Rights—While men perform their social Duties faithfully, they do all that Society or the State can with propriety demand or expect; and remain responsible only to their Maker for the Religion or modes of faith which they may prefer or profess."
      • Why would Paine choose to emphasize this information? 
  • This exchange was also printed in newspapers around the county. How do you think people reacted to Washington's reassurances of religious freedom?

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Thomas Paine, who was in France, wrote this letter to John Hustler in England on December 8, 1789. In it, Paine quotes the entirety of the Quaker's petition to George Washington and Washington's response. The Quakers remind the president that they were a people "whose Principles and Conduct have been misrepresented and traduced."

In his response, Washington reassures the Quaker population that "the Conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy & tenderness," and that they will have the freedom to worship as they please.

The fact that Paine writes this exchange for Hustler shows that Washington's words echoed around the world, and that his ideas were noteworthy. Washington would write to many other religious groups reassuring them of their religious freedom, like the Jewish population of the Touro Synagogue.

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