August 18, 2010

Beyond Toleration: George Washington's View of Liberty

Via Cato @ Liberty, quoted from a letter of President George Washington's to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, 220 years ago today:

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. 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.

As Cato's David Boaz points out, note particularly Washington's dismissal of "toleration" as "the indulgence of one class of people," tolerating another and its practices. The full meaning of freedom is not the mere toleration of what a majority may otherwise frown upon or wish to restrict but the exercise by all of "their inherent natural rights."

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