From Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport, August 21, 1790:
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were 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.
Read it carefully, and then reread it. Washington is saying that the time of mere tolerance (“toleration”) – where one group can decide whether or not another deserves rights – is over. The country Washington was working to build “requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.”
It is undeniably worth applying a sizeable grain of salt to anything written on the topics of equality by the Founding Fathers. Most (all?) of them were sexist, racist, and classist. Nevertheless, they laid an impressive foundation on which to build a truly equal and equitable society.
I’m reminded of this passage as the news continues to come about South Dakota’s anti-trans bill, about the person in Washington who – by all accounts – took advantage of pro-trans laws, and the seemingly endless stream of anti-trans, anti-woman, anti-POC, anti-immigrant, anti-poor, anti- anti- anti- news from around the country.
“It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights…”
My existence cannot depend on mere tolerance from cis people. The existence of PoC cannot depend on mere tolerance from white people. The existence of the poor cannot depend on mere tolerance from the wealthy.
Washington – slaveholder, sexist, classist as he was – nevertheless hinted at a fundamental truth we are still striving to reach over two hundred years later.
Let us speak no more of toleration as if our rights should be subject to the indulgence of those with more power and privilege.