Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On George Washington

"It is now no more
that toleration is spoken of,
as if was by the indulgence of one class of people,
that another enjoyed the exercise
of their inherent natural rights."

-- George Washington, letter to the Hebrew congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, USA.

Where do people find these gems? Eve Sugar, a syndicated columnist, reported this one. I had to read it over several times before I could comprehend, through the archaic syntax, what he meant.

In the young nation of which he spoke, Washington was confident that a new day had dawned, that people now recognized that others had a natural, irrevocable right to think, worship or simply be different. Not by the whims or sufferance of one group did another hope for tolerance, ever fearing a revocation of some Edict of Nantes-like situation.

There have been great statesmen and states-Women in world history -- Churchill, Bolivar, Gandhi, Nagy Imre, Lech Walesa, etc. -- but I have yet to find any who rivaled this man Washington in their absolute indifference to power and their greatness of soul.

And this is all I can blog until tonight, for I have a huge project at work today.

5 comments:

Trisia said...

I've got a couple of suggestions: Václav Havel and Adam Michnik.

Trisia said...

Oh and, by the way, I commend you on having understood that quotation just by re-reading it.
I had to write it down and rephrase it before I could grasp its meaning.

rp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rp said...

Hi. Found your blog in my travels...hope you don't mind my commenting. I could not resist, as it involves discussing not only ideas, but words...my favorite.

Would were Washington's words true today! Toleration is very much spoken of as the "indulgence of one class of people that another" enjoy the right to exist. The very word "tolerance" is too widely used, in my opinion. Perhaps it is because the meaning or connotation is not truly understood [1. to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit. 2. to endure without repugnance; put up with].

I personally prefer the term respect [deference to a right, privilege, privileged position, or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges] or maybe accept [To regard as proper, usual, or right].

George Washington was truly a great man. He could have seized and retained much more power than he did. For not doing so, he is one of this nation's, not to mention my husband's, biggest heroes.

eastcoastdweller said...

Thank you, Trisia -- you have a great grasp of history.

I commend you for being able to determine the meaning of that quote since English isn't your first language.

RP: I welcome your comments! As a matter of fact, the columnist from whom I borrowed the quotation actually goes on to make that point, that genuine tolerance should include some degree of respect.

For example, not merely acknowledging the right of someone of a different faith to say a public prayer, but also not walking out of the room when they do so.

As per Washington: Being an East Coast Dweller, a pilgrimage to Mount Vernon, the home of that august and heroic man, is on my list of things to do this year.